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Brad Eden

Essays, Poems, Thoughts. . .

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Alan Briere

A LETTER TO GENE HILL

Dear Gene,

I've been reading your stories for years and I love the way you write. You left a legacy and a following in your wake.

Over the past couple of years there has been a random bunch of upland hunters visiting a website that have been lining up to hear you read your own stories. The cd's are on their second North American tour, and the waiting list grows.

I write this with a personal agenda however. I received the cd's today and have always found myself unable to settle in on exactly what I could attach myself to. I finally found a target to shoot for.

You Gene; in your writings, create an identity for the true sportsman that I aspire to be!

Your military service and literary contribution to this nation is an inspiration. But your writings both inspire and guide the actions of future generations of hunters.

While our earthly life ends, your writings live on. Thanks for the honesty and wisdom.

Sincerely,

Alan

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WIPartridge

I'm a sucker for those outdoor stories where everything goes right.  Sure it never really happens, but that doesn't keep me from dreaming.  Here's my perfect day - it's called simply "Bird Camp"

_

I was at work the other day, struggling in a 92 degree office with a broken air conditioner and a pile of orders on my desk that was threatening to topple and bury me at any moment.  It was lunch time, the sweat was running down my face in rivers, and my clothes had been essentially soaked since shortly after I arrived at 6 AM.  This was day 6 of the typical summer heat wave, and I feared we were only at the beginning of it.  It was July 9, and I knew the heat wouldn’t really go away until the middle of August, which may as well have been August of next year.  Today I had reached the end of my rope and decided I couldn’t take the summer heat any more.  I wanted to get outside and get away from the noise of the mill, get away from the heat and steam and dirt and grime, if just for a little while.  I longed for the feeling of crisp October air, and the stillness that comes on a 30 degree morning.  I closed my eyes and rubbed them with the palms of my hands for a moment, and soon headed off to a different place.

In front of me was a crackling fire, around me were only the stillness and dark, and over my head hung a thousand lights of the heavens.  My canvas tent was set up at the end of a small clearing in great hardwoods far into the backcountry of northern Wisconsin.  Deacon, my Llewellin, was lying with his head on my leg as I stroked his ears and scratched at his belly.  The coffee pot was keeping warm on the fire and the smoke was slowly whisping from the end of my pipe.  Next to me on the ground was an empty plate that recently held the breasts of three good partridge.  I was in bird camp and nothing on earth could be finer.  I sat by the fire for a while longer, giving my little side by side 20 gauge some care and reading from Gordon MacQuarrie by the light of my lantern.  By 9 PM the air was starting to get a bite to it, and the miles from the day’s romp were telling me to go to sleep, so we decided to turn in for the night.  I stripped to my longjohns and laid my wool hunting coat down for Deacon next to my cot.  He likes to sleep on it, and probably uses it more than I do.  A few sticks of wood went into the small camp stove to keep the frost out and we were both soon chasing birds in our dreams.

Morning came quickly, and found us up and about at 6 AM.  I didn’t feel the need to be up before the crack of dawn, so we slept in a little.  Soon the bacon was hissing and eggs frying as the eastern horizon changed from deep blue and purple to bright pinks and oranges, until the sun finally started peeking through the trees.  Deacon was anxious, but I knew we didn’t have to hurry - rule number one is that any type of haste in bird camp is strictly prohibited.  We had a week of this to go, and we were only at day three.  I cleaned up around camp and got myself ready for the day as Deacon toured the area right around camp.  I laced my high top boots, buttoned up my vest and swung the little LC 20 on an imaginary bird, then clipped on Deacon’s silvery bell and declared us ready to be off.

We started down the tote road to the North, heading for a forty that had been cut over 8 years previous, which I thought would now be prime habitat for both partridge and woodcock.  I wasn’t holding my breath for too many of the latter, however, as the weather had been steadily cooling down, and we had our first frost earlier in the week.  However, as a bonus to this spot, there is a 4 acre pond where a creek is dammed up a quarter mile further on where we might find some ducks if the uplands didn’t cooperate.  Heck, even if the uplands did cooperate, a little color in the bag wouldn’t hurt.

Halfway to our destination, Deacon headed off the road into a little wet area edged by spruce and some magnificent birches.  I watched with no small bit of interest as he locked in on point by a clump of alders.  He took a few quick steps forward as I came up behind him, and I thought the bird was running away from him.  Expecting the bird to be out in front of us a ways by that point, I was completely caught off guard as the bird rocketed out from a clump of grass almost at my feet.  The gun hit my shoulder and both barrels were hot with nary a feather ruffled on the bird.  Deacon went after him, but I called him back, knowing full well the bird was OK, having seen his copper tail plain as could be as he flew to safer havens.  I made my standard apologies to the dog, got the evil eye for a moment, and then all was forgotten.  I’ve come to learn that having an understanding bird dog that doesn’t hold a grudge is a key element to a successful hunt when chasing partridge.  I fear he would have quit on me long ago if he harbored ill feelings about missed shots.  But, he happily plods along for the next opportunity, regardless of my shooting record.  Who’s keeping score anyway?

We made good time to our destination in the cool morning air, then veered off the tote road and moved through the open hardwoods along the edge of the clearcut to get into the back corner.  I was planning to work into the slight breeze, which was coming out of the Northwest.  We hit our starting point and I gave Deacon a squirt of water before we got down to business.  A couple strokes under the chin with some words of encouragement, and I released him to the popples.  He went off like a dash, and I could see from the start that he was working wonderfully.  He had his usual zip, but almost amazingly, he wasn’t going so hard that he was out of my control.  That alone told me it would be a good day.  He can sometimes tend to be a bit hard headed when we first start out until he wears off the initial rush of excitement, but, after all, he’s still got a lot of puppy in his system.

Deacon was in for maybe 3 minutes when he got birdy.  The sudden change in his behavior, which all gun dog owners know about, told me all I needed to know about whether the birds were here or not.  He zeroed in on a clump of balsams growing amidst the popples.  He locked up in classic pointing style and I moved in to flush.  He eyed me up for a moment as I came alongside him, then the bird busted out hard to my right.  The gun came up and I claimed the bird with the first barrel.  Good thing, too, as he was inches from freedom when I connected.  I marked the bird as Deacon went after him.  A second later he came out of the long grass with the bird in his mouth.  He was reluctant to give up his prize, but a little coaxing and he was soon in my hand, a fine big ruff.  I spread the ghostly gray tail and admired him, letting Deacon sniff his reward before slipping him into my pocket.

I dropped in a fresh shell and snapped her shut, and we were back at it.  We worked down one entire edge of the clearcut with only one more flush, a wild bird that neither of us even saw.  At the end of the clearcut we came to the edge of a heavy cedar swamp.  It brings to mind so many November days I’d spent in there with my .30-30, trying to still hunt a buck.  But back to the business at hand…

We turned and came back up through the middle of the clearcut to get to the edge where we had started.  We worked along the bank of Four Mile Creek, Deacon moving in and out of the alders that grow along its edges.  At a spot where a steep hillside comes down to a corner in the stream Deacon once again locked up.  In an instant he broke and was going back and forth between the creek and hillside, before locating his prize and locking up again in front of a clump of alders.  As I came up to him the woodcock lifted almost straight up before rocketing up the hillside for heavier cover.  I missed clean with the first barrel, but folded him up with the second.  Deacon labored up the hill after his quarry, before returning him to me.  I had no trouble getting that bird from him, for he seems to detest retrieving our long billed foes.  In the bag he went, and we climbed up the hill to reach the remnants of a logging road that runs at the top.  We followed this back to the South corner of the clearcut, back to the main tote road we had walked in on.  Two more birds had busted out from thick cover on our walk out, but neither had even given me time to shoulder the gun.  Two hours in and we had two birds in the bag, and I had hit two out of three that offered me a shot.  Not a bad record for me.

We continued heading north down the tote road, going for the aforementioned pond.  A couple hundred yards down the road, where Four Mile Creek runs under the road through the old metal culvert, I sent Deacon off to the left side of the road.  I followed along, hoping to find one more woodcock.  Just in off the road, he turned and started coming back toward me, eyes and nose glued to the ground.   Halfway back, he went on point at a small clump of popples on the edge of the creek.  As I moved in, a partridge thundered out and across the creek.  I fired off the first barrel and hit nothing but branches.  I swung with him until he came through the next opening to my right, and gave him barrel number two.  He sailed back across the road, with no sign of slowing down.  Once again I let out a slight laugh and muttered an excuse under my breath as Deacon eyed me up.  I mentioned something about slippery footing with the mud and all, and nervously cleared my throat as I started on down the creek.  

We continued following the creek until the pond and marsh were almost in view.  There is a fine highland around the South edge that always holds birds, but I wanted to hold off until we checked the pond for ducks.  I crossed the creek on a log while still a hundred yards off, giving Deacon a chance to catch a drink.  After we got across, I healed Deacon so he wouldn’t rush in and chase of any potential ducks.  Moments later a partridge busted out from some balsams in front of us, and the straightaway shot was quick and easy, not something that happens often when chasing old ruff.  I kept Deacon healed, and we retrieved the bird together, a twin to the first I had shot that morning.  I noticed after I shot that we had sent a bunch of mallards flying off the pond.  We walked in the rest of the way through the tall grass and alders to stand on a rock at the edge of the pond.  As expected, it was now empty.  The only disturbance on the water came from a single orange maple leaf that fluttered down and landed near the middle.  I peered into the water in front of me at the hard bottom, and a single small brook trout swam past.  Only six inches, yet he stirred my imagination of past seasons spent chasing his kind on similar streams and beaver ponds with my little six and a half foot fly rod.  I backtracked around the pond and recrossed the creek, making our way to a point of land that sticks out into the pond.  We sat down between two small spruce trees and waited for the ducks to return.  Deacon curled up on my bird vest as I pulled lunch out of my pack - two fat ham sandwiches on homemade bread.  Again, nothing could be finer in the world than that moment by the side of my little pond.  Hardly a breath of wind stirred and the sun was beginning to warm things up to a comfortable level.  I was glad I had left the hunting coat back at the camp.  Deacon nipped at pieces of ham that I fed to him and soon laid his head down to commence his midday nap.  I stroked his ears until he gave me a bite on the wrist, as if to tell me to let him a lone while he dozed.  I stretched out and pulled my cap down over my eyes and just listened to the sound of - nothing.  Absolute silence in the world, save for the sounds of some squirrels and chickadees in their endless search for food, of course.

I woke suddenly with the sound of whistling wings over my head.  There were six mallards on the pond, and two more came in to land with a splash as I took in my surroundings.  A check of my watch showed only about 20 minutes had passed.  Deacon’s ears were perked as he watched the ducks barely 40 yards away.  We were hidden well by a screen of tall grass between us and them and by the two pines we sat under.  I laid my hand on him to keep him from jumping up at the sight of the birds, and slowly grabbed my gun to ready myself for a potential shot.  I had to be mindful of dropping one out in the water, as Deacon didn’t have much experience retrieving floating game, and I didn’t particularly need a swim today if he didn’t want to cooperate.  In one motion I stood up and brought the gun to my shoulder.  The ducks saw me and lifted off the water with a rush of wings.  I followed a pair of drakes that broke hard to my left for an opening in the trees at the outlet of the pond.  I fired the first barrel as they started to near shore, and one bird crumpled, landing about 10 feet out in the water.  I followed the second and shot the other barrel at him, missing cleanly.  I watched as he continued his trek along the creek down the marshy lane through the trees.  The others were gone by that point.  Deacon ran over to the spot where the first duck had fallen, but he just paced nervously back and forth on shore before letting out one deep throated bark at the bird.  He looked at me as I walked up, as if to ask me “why’d you do that for?  How’m I supposed to get to him?”  I motioned to the bird and told him to fetch, but he just kept pacing back and forth on the shore, giving the duck several good barks (to no effect I may add.)  Finally he waded in a few feet but jumped right back out and just looked at me.  I spied a popple tree that had blown over nearby and broke off a long branch.  I had to wade in to the top of my boots to reach him, and was able to get the duck with only one wet foot.  I gave Deacon a look he should be well familiar with by now (one he had given me a hundred times), then held the drake for him to get a whiff as I admired the beautiful colors.  He was certainly a sight after looking at the brown and gray mottled patterns of partridge and woodcock that morning.  I laughed at my good fortune and slipped him into my vest.

My vest was heavy now with the weight of four birds, so we started our trek for camp in the early afternoon warmth.  We went to the top of the high ground and took one more sweeping view of the pond bathed in autumn sunshine.  Deacon was off and heading out toward the logging road already, so I turned to follow.  We decided to take the long way home, since the walking was easy and the weather was perfect.  We turned onto a road that follows the edge of a great cedar swamp well known for the deer it draws in the winter.  I always like to walk along this road, with the dark swamp on one side beckoning me to enter.  Maybe in November, I say, when the snow is flying and there’s a rifle in my hands, but there’s other business to attend to today.  A half mile further on, as we started back up into the high ground that the camp sits on, a bird rocketed out of the upper branches of a yellow birch on the right side of the road, surprising both of us.  He was safe for now, though - I had the gun broke open and resting over my shoulder.  I gave Deacon a pat and kept him headed down the road toward home.  We got back to camp and I spread the birds out on one of the logs I had pulled up by the fire pit.  A fine mix of a bag, so I snapped a couple of pictures as Deacon snooped around.  This would be a hunt to remember for sure!

A while later I had the two partridge breasts roasting over the fire, while the woodcock and the duck were soaking up the flavors of a secret marinade.  Deacon, temporarily worn out from the romp, found a spot in the sun where the grass was soft and was soon asleep.  It’s funny how he can go from wide open hunting to nap time in a matter of minutes.  I don’t think he wiggled the whole time I was eating my early dinner and cleaning up around camp.  It was still a little early for my evening plan, so I lay back in the hammock for a little dream time.  Well, Deacon heard me get in there and decided he wasn’t going to be left out on the cold ground when I was napping in luxury.  He came over and hopped up on me big as he pleased and nuzzled right in.  I was scratching his belly when the sounds of the woods started to fade, and the drone of equipment came back to me.  I looked around at my office and the work I had left to do, and listened to the sounds of the mill.  I felt a little better, and jumped back into my work with vigor I didn’t have earlier in the day, and really hadn’t had for quite some time.  I took a pause and glanced up at the calendar hanging on my peg board.  Only 68 more X’s to make until opening day…

Copyright 2007

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John

Today was one of those days when I missed you.

I had some thoughts I wanted to share with you and remembered you were no longer around.  I missed you.

That realization made me think of lots of things that I had wished I could have shared with you.  I miss you.

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Wisconsin

Pre-Season Ramble

by

Ken M. Blomberg

    Hunting is a walk in the woods set to music.  

    Whether tagging along behind an upland bird dog, sitting in the front row of a cattail marsh, or perched high in a tree - hunting is much more than pulling the trigger.  

    This hunter’s ritual – that is, to mentally and physically position for autumn - begins the day I flip the calendar page to August.  It starts out like a slow burn, reaching a peak by month’s end.  The boss would tell you that I am a bit of an anomaly - as I often deviate from normal seasonal activity – making those preparations when summer’s still in full swing.  Even as others wear shorts and sandals, I’ve been known to dress for fall.  The countdown to another hunting season is underway.

    What power is it that pulls a certain segment of outdoor enthusiasts to the woods each fall armed with guns?  For non-hunting friends, please indulge my urge to share.  For my hunting friends, well, you will understand.  

    The tug to hunt for many is fueled by a fire deep within - that for the most part is hard to explain.  I will attempt to illustrate - without being too cliché - why I love all things related to the hunt.

    I love the smells – as in wet popple leaves, decaying pine needles and puppy breath.  I adore the sights – like the gaze from older, veteran dogs, frosty morning meadows and the beauty of fall’s spectrum.  I find the music irresistible – melodies like dog bells echoing in the uplands, the thunder of a grouse flushing from a deadfall, or the clamor of geese as the fog lifts off the marsh.  I sense the tranquility – the feeling captured while sitting alongside woodpeckers and squirrels, as I wait for a mere glimpse of a white-tailed buck.  I love just being there.  These are but a few of the things that feed the soul of this old hunter.

    Long hours spent with a friend in a blind - set for waterfowl - are not wasted on trigger-itch, but better yet, cashed-in on good conversation, pondering and sight-seeing.  Hiking miles off the road to secret spots, only to come back empty-handed, tired, yet quite satisfied.  You see, hunting is much more than just pulling the trigger.

    It’s also about anticipation, organization and scouting.  It’s about sharing a stump with chickadees and field mice.  It’s about falling asleep propped up against an mature oak tree on a sunny, bluebird day - or pausing by a hidden pond to breath in air sweeter than wine.  Sometimes it’s about stopping and listening to absolutely nothing – as silence, to some, is music in itself.  It’s about successful hunts and savoring the meat that ends up dinner, because nothing graces the table more than wild game shared with family and friends.

    It’s about the grouse, the deer, the goose, the bear, the woodcock and the rabbit – the game we hunt – the animals we love and respect and the landscape they inhabit.  It’s about conservation and land ethics – supporting both is what hunters do.

    The hunters in your life are quietly counting the days, only some of us are doing it a bit louder than others these days.

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Wisconsin

Thought you'd enjoy a recent column I wrote about my son Erik's (RI) recent visit home.  He's back in Reno, and promised to post some pictures soon.

In the mean time, here's a few pictures for the mind.

Ken

Up the Creek: Familiar fishing trip made sweeter by son's return

KEN BLOMBERG • FOR THE JOURNAL • AUGUST 14, 2008

It was a homecoming of sorts, when No.1 son returned recently for a short, two-week visit. Back from the university and mountains of Nevada, his plans included -- much to my delight -- a day devoted to his old man.

He and I traveled upstream to a place we'd both been before, a location dear to him, as well as his brother, several close friends and yours truly. A river that flows through our minds and beckons year after year, especially when the leaves turn shades of fall. A river that runs through county, state and federal lands and offers those of us that follow a bounty of fish and fowl.

This outing we were after smallmouth bass with fly and spinning rods on a river that cascades leisurely among a thousand boulders before tumbling swiftly over a falls -- all the time singing the song of water in motion.

We fished above and below the waterfalls and for a while I sat on the high banks and watched as my son handled his fly rod with the skill of a master. He can fling a streamer with precision -- from one boulder eddy to the next. When something like a large rock gets in the river's way, the water is forced to slow down, change direction and whirlpool. He knows fish like that - laying in wait for food to swing by. I watched as he stood high on top of a car sized boulder -- my son, no longer boy, but a man of talent, handling life as skillfully as he handles a fly rod.

As I get older, finding pleasure in undemanding tasks becomes easier, like watching from afar as my son fished in quiet solitude. I felt warm all over, keeping watch as he waded the rocky river, fly rod in hand and camera around his neck. Sitting safely on my perch in the riverbank pines, I found myself envying his strong, young legs, as he deftly maneuvered the boulders.

The sun glistened against the rippling water and I drifted off in reflection. The sky above was blue, the wind gentle and the woods was choked in green and smelled of pine and popple. I paused to write, then looked up and saw he'd caught another bass.

The only sound I heard was from the wind and the river -- their songs competing, as a current of air slipped through the pines and water rolled around the boulders. I wrote down some thoughts and then looked up again to see my son moving upstream, only to stop and cast once more. Sitting in the shade among the waist high bracken ferns, I pondered a question friend Brian once posed: what makes the sound? Was it the wind, or the pine branches holding the needles? Was it the rushing water, or the boulders? Without the boulders, our river would cease to sing. Absent the flowing river, the boulders would lay silent. I stop pondering just long enough to look up again at my son. I whistled and he waved while changing flies.

Together, the wind and needles strike up a conversation with my imagination. A babbling river brings tales from far upstream to my mind's eye. Together, wind, needles, water and boulders sing songs of inspiration.

Again, my son stepped into a stretch of open stream, glanced my way and took a picture.

It was a homecoming of sorts, short, sweet and over in a blink. But in between his arrival and departure, No. 1 son managed to squeeze in two family get-togethers, a wedding, separate musky and trout fishing trips up north and a very special day with his old man on a river we both know so well.

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John

Joanne Holt

Feburary 6th 1940- October 22nd 2008  Passed away quitely in the company of her children at 111 am.  Her warm sense of humor, love and kindness will be missed by all she has touched.  

A mothers love can never be replaced, only cherished, remembered, and shared for a life time.

""I'll love you forever,

I'll like you for always,

as long as I'm living

my baby you'll be."

-Robert Munsch

HoltObit.jpg

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WIPartridge

“THE OLD WAYS”

THE OLD GANG’S DIED AND GONE ON

THE SUN SET BENEATH THE GROUND;

THE SHADOWS AT CAMP ARE ALL LONG

NOW IT’S QUIET THE WHOLE YEAR ROUND

THERE WAS A TIME WHEN MANY GATHERED HERE,

GATHERED AS MEN, TOUGH AND COLD;

AND THEY DRANK AND CUSSED AND CHASED DEER

WHERE THE “OLD” WAYS NEVER GOT OLD

THEY’D STOMP OUT HOLES AND RAVINES

SEARCHING FOR HORNS UP HIGH;

THEY ENDLESSLY PLAYED OUT THE SCENE

WHERE THE DEER AND THE LEAD WOULD FLY

AND BACK TO CAMP THEY WOULD RUN

DRAGGING THEIR TROPHY IN TANDEM,

THEN HOIST HIM UP HIGH IN THE SUN

WITH A TOAST TO THE FELLA THAT LANDS HIM

BUT THE SEASON HAS NOW COME AND GONE,

THE SHACK IS AGAIN PUT TO BED;

AND THEY LEAVE WITH FACES ALL LONG

FOR THEY KNOW THEY’VE COME TO THE END

NOW NO ONE REMEMBERS THEIR TALES

NO ONE TODAY KNOWS THEIR FACES

AND WHAT LITTLE IS KNOWN REALLY PALES

TO THE TRUTH OF THOSE BOYS AND THOSE PLACES

BUT SOON A NEW SUN WILL RISE

WHEN AGAIN THE WOODS RING WITH CHEER

AS A NEW GANG DEVELOPS ITS TIES

TO AN OLD WAY OF CHASING DOWN DEER

THEY’LL DUST OFF OLD MAPS AND OLD GUNS

FROM THE CUTOVER LAND OF PINE LUMBER;

AND THEY’LL BRUSH OUT ALL THE OLD RUNS

AS TRADITIONS ARE WOKEN FROM SLUMBER

copyright 2006

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WIPartridge

"January in the Homeland"

The silence in the world was deafening as I took my snowshoes off the wall of the wood shed.  At 5 degrees below, not many creatures are stirring, and the blanket of snow hushes all sounds but those that are close by.  The only thing I hear is the endless chattering of the chickadees and nuthatches as they fill themselves from the feeder.  Now and then I hear the gentle whoosh of snow falling off the branches of a nearby balsam.

The snow squeaked under my feet as I walked out into the yard in front of camp.  I strapped my feet into the bindings, adjusted my pack for comfort, and deemed myself ready to be off.  I stood still for a few moments and soaked in the silence that was around me.  There wasn’t a breath of wind, and the sun was not quite up yet, though the sky was brilliant with the light hues of pink so common on cold winter mornings.  I didn’t stand still for long, as the cold was starting to creep in on me.  I was dressed for walking more than standing, with a new lightweight pair of wool pants going on their maiden voyage in the cold.  Already I was glad for changing from my old canvas winter work bibs.  These would be so much quieter and more comfortable - the best of both worlds.

My destination was to be an area roughly a mile and a half away from camp.  There is a cedar swamp with high rocky bluffs on one side, an area that is deep into wild territory and far from any roads.  Not many people go there - not so much because it is a long walk, but more the fact that there’s no direct route, and some bushwhacking is in order if you want to get there.  That has always been one of the biggest attractions of the place for me, along with the fact that it is one of the roughest pieces of ground we have in northeast Wisconsin.  I wanted to find a new place to hunt deer next fall, so I had my excuse to go there.  Besides, there’s no finer way to travel than on snowshoes on a cold, clear January day.

I started off for the back corner of our property, making good time through our three forties.  We have a well packed trail that we ski on during the winter which made the going easy for this first leg of the trip.  As I traveled, the first thing I noticed was a definite lack of deer sign in the snow.  The few deer remaining in our area had yarded up for the winter, the first time that has happened in nearly twenty years, owing to the particularly hard start to winter that we had experienced.  The extreme northern end of their yard was the cedar swamp I was destined for that day, and one of my goals was to check on the herd.  What I did see here in the hardwoods and highland swamps, however, was a large amount of sign from two of my favorite friends of the timber - partridge and fishers.  The two are straight adversaries, so the presence of fisher tracks told me there were good numbers of birds around.  I hoped to get a glimpse of the furbearer before the day was out, but knew very well I would be lucky indeed to see one, as they are such wary and solitary animals.  We have not seen much of them for several years, but the increase in the partridge population, as well as the recent boom in the turkey population in the area, has no doubt boosted the number of predators that are looming around.

The sun was just beginning to peek through the trees as I got to the point where I would step off of the packed trail.  While my face and lungs burned with the cold, I was nonetheless very comfortable in my wools.  I stopped for a few minutes to get a drink of water and listen to the woods.  Again, the silence enveloped me except for the sound of a woodpecker probing a nearby dead birch snag for his morning meal and the distant sound of trees popping in the cold.  A moment later my gloves were back on and I was on my way.  The squeaking of the frames of my snowshoes and the swishing of the snow, though quiet as a mouse under other circumstances, shattered the silence around me.  It was not unwelcome, though, and those sounds made me feel good to be doing what I was doing.  A clear day such as this is made for snowshoes and quiet reflection.

I was now standing at the edge of a forty that was clearcut 15 years ago, which was now filling back in with popple and birch.  I climbed a nearby bluff that afforded me a relatively clear view to the east, brushed the snow off a windfall and sat just in time to see the sun coming up over the trees.  The tree tops above me and higher bluffs behind me were bathed in the warm golden glow of the morning sun.  As I sat for a minute, I heard more trees popping loudly in the distance, and then nearly fell off my maple perch when a tree less than 10 feet away went off like a firecracker.  Regaining my wits and with renewed energy I was off on my journey again.  Back down the bluff, I started down the remnant of a logging road that led to the interior of the clearcut.  The popples enveloped me, and I couldn’t see more than 30 or 40 yards in any given direction for a while.  Everything around me looked exactly the same except for the faint traces of the logging road.  At times it was no more than a feeling of where it ran, rather than an actual opening in the trees.  I knew my way, though, as I’ve been here many times in all of the seasons, and traversing that ground was like greeting an old friend.  Another hundred yards and the ground began to slope down away from me, and I heard a lone partridge thunder off to my left.  I never saw him, so I didn’t feel too bad that I wasn’t carrying the old double barrel today.  I descended the hill and walked out into an open marsh, maybe 5 acres in size.  I stopped and looked around just before stepping out into the open to see if anything was stirring on the other side, but nothing moved in the morning light.  The snow-laden trees to the west were now fully ablaze in the sun.  Just then a blue jay flew from across the marsh and landed above me.  His cry seemed to echo for miles it was so loud.  His call is one of the surest signs of a cold winter day, and it makes me think of other days I’ve had like this.  I smiled at my fortune to be where I was, and pitied the rest of the world for missing out on it.

I worked to the woods across the marsh, and hit another logging road.  This one had been kept open since the cutting, and was fairly easy to walk on.  I followed it around a steep rock bluff, and then the trail dropped down into a hole that is rimmed with rocky bluffs on all sides but one.  Here there is a fork in the skidding trail, and I chose the right hand path, which bears to the west and runs to the edge of the forty.  This would take me to the lower end of Death Valley - a long valley that runs north to south along the west forty line, all of it marsh and muck that is edged with steep rock on both sides.  It is called Death Valley because it looks like a fantastic funnel for deer when viewed from the rocks above, but in reality, it holds almost no animal activity due to the soft, wet bottom and the amount of blown down trees and stray rocks scattered throughout.  Travel through that bottom is nearly impossible when it is not frozen - I’ve attempted it many times and didn’t consider any of those attempts a success.  Many a hunter has sat on the rocks above and watched this valley for days, sure that it was a fantastic spot, only to see no living thing traverse the area.  Today, however, that soft floor was hard as cement, and under two feet of snow.  On a day like this, it is hard to term an area so peaceful and inviting as “Death Valley”, yet traditions are traditions, and memories of this place in warmer months allows the moniker to remain.  The southern reaches of the valley end at the northernmost arm of the great cedar swamp.  I cut through the thin finger of cedars to reach the high ground on the other side - the dark interior giving me the feeling of stepping through a room after having been in the bright openness of the marsh.  I can see the attraction for deer that are trying to elude the icy grip of Old Man Winter - the cedars themselves seem to give off a warm comfort, even as the “outside” looks so cold.  I look at the deer runs in the snow, and check for the amount of available browse.  There’s plenty of it in easy reach, for it’s been a long time since any number of deer have lived off this winter delicacy in this place.  With good snow the rest of the year, the deer will have no trouble getting through the winter with plenty to eat, especially considering the small number of deer left in the area from years of failed management practices by those in charge of such things.  Even if the snow goes down and they can’t reach the browse, the nearby second growth popple will give them enough to live on, albeit with a bit harder going in the deeper snow.  Just before continuing on to the edge of high ground, I catch the sight of two deer bedded down 75 yards further into the swamp.  A doe and last year’s fawn no doubt, owing to their relative size.  They watch me intently, but seem content to stay in their places as long I’m heading the other direction.  I watch them through my binoculars for a few minutes before continuing on to the high ground and the hardwoods.

The air opens up and once again I’m “outside” in the cold air.  I turn south and follow the right edge of the cedars for 200 yards before I come to a spot I’ve been looking forward to reaching since I left camp.  There is a trio of giant hemlocks up toward the top of the ridge to my right.  I make the difficult climb up to them, admiring the giants who dwarf the maple and ash that surround them.  It’s touch and go a few times as I lose traction on the steepest parts of the ascent, my old snowshoes not having the traction claws under the toe like newer ones, but make the climb without serious incident.  I turn back to face east and see what I’ve been waiting for.  Over the top of the cedar swamp I can see the beaver dam - a large open marsh that was once a huge beaver pond.  The creek is but a thin ribbon winding through the middle of it today.  I am a bit surprised that it’s not completely lost in the snow by now.  Beyond the marsh is a thin strip of woods, and then the old farm - the homestead where my family’s story in this country began over a hundred years ago.  It is a full half mile away, yet I see it easily in the cold clear air.  I reach into the back pocket of my coat and take out my lunch sack.  I clear a spot beneath the hemlocks and prepare for the mid-day break.  In short order I’ve got a small stack of wood and a fire is going nice and hot.  It’s easy to build fires when the air is as still as it is today - I can remember many times trying to get one going in much harsher weather than this and being thankful to get any sort of a flame to stick.  I sit next to the fire with my back to one of the trees and feed it kindling until I’ve got a good bed of coals made.  Into my tin cup goes snow until I’ve got the cup full and boiling hot.  A small pouch with coffee goes in to soak while I ready my sandwich to be warmed up.  Minutes later the coffee and sandwich go down quickly and I wish I would have brought more to eat.  Two pieces of sweet bread finish off the meal and I sit and sip two more cups of coffee.  Despite the temperature of the air, the sun feels warm and the fire lets me keep my gloves off.  With the hot coffee warming my insides, I’m as comfortable as can be.

I sit by the fire for almost an hour observing the world around me.  I was kept entertained for a while by a red squirrel bolstering his food supply and dropping flecks of bark on me from above.  My eye caught some movement below me, and for the next twenty minutes I watched as the doe and fawn I had seen earlier worked their way along the edge of the swamp.  They were using my snowshoe tracks to ease their travel, then ducked back into the cedars where I turned and came up the hill.  It’s funny how they let down their guard around people a bit when a bigger foe - winter - has them concerned.  After they are out of sight, I snuff out the fire and pack my gear.  I will cut down through the middle of the cedar swamp to find that same creek that flows through the beaver dam, and will follow it upstream to its beginnings in the swamp behind camp.  I take one last look out over the expanse of “mig hemland” laid out before my eyes.  My schedule may prevent me from experiencing this moment again before next winter, so I soak it in for a bit and burn the image into my mind to be recalled on less exciting days.  I reach down and tighten my bindings and start back down the hill, ready for the second leg of this journey and a hot fire in the wood stove when I get back to camp.  As I get to the edge of the cedar swamp, I catch the faint flick of a dark tail going away from me to the south - my fisher making his way to safer havens.  Despite what happens the rest of the way, my day is now complete.

copyright 2008

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loomisfun

Bailey's Last Rooster

I took my aging Brittany on what would be her final trip west.  She had hunted for the first 4 weeks of the 2006 bird season without incident.  Her eyesight was poor but she slowed herself down to accommodate for that.  Everything else was that of a dog 4 years younger according to her vet.  Seemingly overnight she lost her vision.  Apparently what happened is that the cornea hardened and eventually "froze" the pupil open which let WAY too much light in for her to see effectively.  Her night vision was still pretty good.  Anyway, on the story....

She made the trip with me as she had 15 times previously.  It was obvious though that once we arrived there were too many perils in the field for her to contend with.  Fences, ditches, trees, you name it she ran into it.  She rode around with us all day from field to field and was ready to go as soon as we opened the door.  Being the veteran that she was she knew what she was missing but resigned herself to riding shotgun and protecting the truck while we were off in the grass.  I tried to find areas that I could run her and try to get what I knew would be her last bird.  

My dad and his friend decided to hunt a slough and I said that I would sit it out as the cover wasn't suitable for 3 guns.  I decided at the last minute to instead walk the roadside ditch along the fields that we had access to.  The wind was blowing pretty hard but was favorable for Bailey to catch sent of any birds in the ditch.  I had gone only about 50 yards when 6 hens busted out ahead of us.  I could tell that Bailey was working them but also knew that she had neither heard nor seen them vacate.  She moved along a little slower and locked up on point about 25 yards ahead, exactly where the birds had just left.  She was pointing on the other side of the fence and was actually halfway through it although I have no idea if she even knew it was there.  On the road behind me came the farmer, of the ground we were on, with two loaded grain wagons. I waved as he went by.  I left Bailey on point as I didn't want her to realize the birds had gone and jump out into the road in front of the tractor.  It took the farmer 3+ minutes to get by us as he had to stop at the corner that we had been working towards and then bring his rig back up to speed.  All this while Bailey was on point and I was certain that the birds (hens) had already left.  I walked up to her side and praised my old dog for holding such a fine point and stepped on the bottom strand of wire while pulling the second strand up to allow her passage through.  At that moment I was caught off guard by a rooster jumping from the grass and turning with the wind.  I emptied my gun but he kept beating his wings and was lost from sight moments later as he had cleared a rise and I was down in the ditch.  We finished the walk and I returned back to the truck, dejected.  I was extremely disappointed in myself for not coming through for my pup.  

My Dad and his friend hunted back to the truck about 10 minutes later.  They had heard me shoot.  They both were excited that Bailey had found and pointed her last bird and that I was able to connect on it for her.  I said, "What, I didn't get that bird" to which they replied it dropped stone dead from the sky.  From their vantage point they watched the bird fall some into a cut corn field.   We spent the last hour of shooting time finding the dead bird.  The bird was found 400 yards from where I had shot at it and it had indeed dropped dead.  The golden pellet had come through for me.  We were able to get some good photos of Bailey and her last bird after all.

Loomisfun

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WIPartridge

"Preseason Jaunt"

In August, as the dog days of summer start drawing to a close, an outdoorsman’s mind begins to wander, his condition becomes restless, and his temper agitated.  All of this starts when that first set of cool nights breaks the monotonous drudgery of heat and humidity that seems to drag on endlessly through the months of summer.  I am no different than most others in this regard – as I’m sure my wife will attest to this fact.  In fact, I find that there is almost always an exact moment where I first detect that the end is coming for my old foe Summer, and the sweet months of Autumn are close at hand.  

This year that moment happened smack dab in the middle of the final month of summer.  I was working night shift at the mill, and even in the midst of the smoke, steam, and rumbling of the machinery, I could sense that the air had a different flavor to it.  I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it, other than that the air just felt more comfortable.  After my shift when I arrived home it hit me like a ton of bricks as I walked outside and gave Deacon, my Llewellin, his morning run.  A cold front had swept the heat and humidity away, and the thermometer read 47 degrees.  This is not unheard of in Wisconsin at that time of year, but for this year, that day was the first dip below the upper 50’s since the start of Summer.  Subtle signs of the season began to catch my eye whereas they had gone unnoticed in the days recently passed.  I suddenly picked up on a patch of yellow in the green crown of the big Hickory tree, the patches of bright red in the apples of the orchard, and the browning of the grass in the field beyond the yard.  That night I packed a few essentials and made plans to drive north the next day, it being one of my days off work.

I was off and running by 5:30 the following morning with coffee in hand, a tank full of gas, and the pup in his kennel in the back.  We made the two hour trek north to camp, located deep in the heart of northeast Wisconsin and just spittin’ distance from the U.P.  Deacon wore off his steam locating the local squirrel hideouts while I brought our gear inside.  The faint aroma of the cedar paneling, mixed with years of spilled Hoppe’s No. 9, embraced me and welcomed me back.   Is there anything better than that return to a cabin in the north?  Many people retire and move into their cabins, but I fear the magic would slip away if I saw it every day.  Not being the sentimental type, Deacon was restless as I took my time cleaning up the camp a bit – sweeping out the living room, putting away the food, and readying some water bottles for us to take on our walk.  I didn’t spend too much time in my chores, fearing I’d have a broken window on my hands from Deacon’s antics.  I dug in his bag of gear and found his collar and bell, sending him into hysterics as the silvery jingle greeted his ears.

We hopped in the truck and drove to the back of the forty, parking at the far end of the field.  Normally we would just walk from camp, but being as hot and dry as it was, I didn’t want to overdo it.  I doubted the creek or swamps would hold any standing water.  Our destination was to be the clearcut, two forties away.  This 15 year old cutover is the best bird cover we have in the area, and my goal was to get Deacon into some bird scent before we’d go out for real in just four weeks.  The walk along the main tote road was relatively uneventful to the untrained eye, but you and I know better about walks in the woods.  As we neared the creek I took Deacon to the deepest holes I know of to see if we could find any water, but my suspicions were correct and we found nothing but mud.  A splash from the water bottle and we were on our way.  We neared the corner of the clearcut, and anticipation soared - both mine and the pup‘s.  The cool weather, the colors that were just slightly turning, and Deacon’s tail fanned out in a mock point all added up to the illusion that Autumn had arrived.  We started down the narrow skidding trail that cuts the forty in two.  I wasn’t planning to get off of the trail much, keeping the strain on Deacon to a minimum, as he was already getting warm.  About 150 yards in, I was a bit surprised that we hadn’t flushed a bird.  I stopped at the top of the hill, where the road drops down to the edge of a small marsh, and nearly jumped out of my boots as a bird flushed not 15 feet behind me.  Deacon came running back to me, and I sent him in where the bird had been sitting, wanting to get some of that scent in his nostrils.  He kept wanting to stray back down the hill into some thick balsams, but I called him back to me so he could get a whiff of that bird.  After some coaxing, he finally consented to leave the bottom of the hill and come up.  As he turned to come toward me, a bird rocketed out of those balsams and flew off where the first bird had gone.  I kicked myself for calling him off that bird, the only consolation being that I had gotten that mistake out of the way in the preseason when I had no gun in my hands.  Deacon forgave me, and after sniffing around for a few minutes, we were on our way.

We continued down across the marsh, and hit the main logging road on the back side.  This we followed around to the northwest corner of the cutover, where we would again enter the big woods.  On the way, I stopped often and satisfied my sweet tooth with the last of the season’s raspberries.  Deacon, ever the energetic puppy, prodded me along by nipping at me and placing a few well-timed barks.  I was reluctant to leave those berries, but he finally wore me down.  We made our way through the neighbor’s woods and back onto our property.  As I neared my brother’s deer stand, I saw that his chair had been knocked down and tore up a bit - the work of a bear, no doubt.  We climbed up the rock that holds his stand and fixed things back up to prevent more damage from the local fauna.  Deacon was starting to drag pretty good by this time, so we sat on the rock and took a break.  We surveyed the landscape while both lapping at our water bottles for a few minutes, and then continued the rest of the way out.

Back at the truck, I made a note about the amount of blackberries that were ripe along the edge of the field, vowing not to return home without a pail full of them.  We headed back to camp for a brief respite, but the call of that berry patch had me restless.  Deacon was out like a light, so I left him to nap while I returned to the field with a pail in hand.  By the time the sun began to set, I had my plunder, the truck was again packed, and we were back on the road heading south.  We were weary from the heat of the day, but rejuvenated by the promise of the season to come.  

Copyright 2008

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Buddy Knox

I was asked for a story...so here it goes.

I don't have a birthday story, but we just got back from a week in Mexico (a well earned vacation to Cabo) with another F4 flyer and his lovely wife.   As we drank tequila (100% blue agave) we kept remembering things from 1977 when we were stationed at Kunsan AB, Korea together.

Well, it seems like one evening at the O'Club bar we were having a post-shindig party (we had a formal going away party every month to celebrate those rotating back to the states) and saying goodbye to some great guys.  We were all there...'Dud', 'Tanks', 'Mouse', 'Fast Eddie', and one of the great ones 'Gris'.   Gris was (from my point of view as a young LT) about 100 years old.  He'd flown more hours than I'd been alive.  The crow's feet around his eyes were earned looking for Migs and squinting through the gunsight at a million hard-to-see targets.  He led from the front and shot from the hip.

Entertainment that night was being furnished by the Kunsan Air Base All Boys Acappela Choir and Dirt Bike Racing Team (of which I was a proud member).  We sang, "The Balls of O'Leary", "Mary Anne Burns", "Dear Mom Your Son Is Dead", and the ever-touching love ballad, "Lupe the Whore".   At the risk of sounding un-humble...we were good, if not very musical, and loud.

Suddenly the bell rang (usually denoting a free round of drinks) and someone announced that a flyer of great distinction had determined he was going to bat-hang.   Bat hanging was, and I hope still is, a great tradition in fighter bars.   A brass rail, looking for all the world like a foot rail you'd find at the bottom of the bar, is affixed ABOVE the bar.  The bat hanger is hoisted upside down by his friends and his toes wedged over the bar.  At this point he drinks for free on his friends...as long as he can do it upside down (no straws).  It isn't as easy as it sounds, but with skill and determination a man low on money can do all right if he can shoot enough before his toes give out.

One good hanging lead to another and several thought they'd have a go at that.  It was usually good for a laugh as whiskey ran up their nose and they crashed onto the hardwood floor in a heap.  To the best of my knowledge we never actually lost anybody from the practice (well, for very long anyway).

At this point everyone was pretty well lubricated and feeling pretty chummy.  We were all friends.  Then in walked the rarest of rares...a 'round eye' woman.  It was a civilian secretary from the Headquarters building.  She'd come to Korea in about 1960 and was still there.  She was old...must have been 45 or 50.

Having just come from the more formal part of the party where toasts were made and wine flowed like water she was feeling very little pain.  She paused to watch a young stud try to drink a rum and coke while hanging upside down.  With a gleam in her eye she said, "I'd like to try that."

Ever being the gentlemen, a brace of fighter jocks in their party suits (custom made, sky blue, double knit, skin tight, highly embroidered, bell bottomed flight suits) made ready to hoist her up.

A  hush fell over the crowd.

A space opened up at the bar beneath the bat-hanging bar.

She sashayed up to the bar wearing the female civilian employee equivalent of the party suit.  Hers was a skin tight, double knit, custom made, highly embroidered, sky blue, floor length, split to the hip, evening gown with lots of shiny beads and sparkly things.

Her handbag went on the bar...

Her hands went to the shoulders of the two hoisters...

A firm grip was made upon her womanly hips and...

UP she went, toes over the bar and a drink put in her hand...

As she gamely tried to sip, inverted, her dress began to succumb to gravity.  First the calves were exposed, then the thighs, then...well just let it be said that a hush fell over the crowd and for the first time in memory the O-Club bar was as silent as a tomb.  We watched the hem of the dress slither lower and lower so that her face was covered by that which was just a couple of minutes earlier covering her high heeled shoes.

Someone in a dastardly moment of self indulgence chose that moment to unseat the ladies panties in a knee-ward direction about 18 inches.  We don't know who it was.  It was nobody and everybody.  One man had done that which was on the minds of a hundred.  Eureka.

The civilian, with great composure announced to the silent room.  "Excuse me...but I feel a draft.  I do believe my panties have been pulled down."

At that time Col Gris, leaned closer and inspected the situation thoroughly.  "No my dear," he said with great authority.  "It appears to me that they have, technically, been pulled UP!"  And he gently re-seated the silken underpants with a gentle motion and a fatherly pat on the fanny.

Saner heads prevailed and with as much dignity as the moment deserved she was un-hoisted (the drink having been drunk upside down) and the hem of the gown slithered downwards to the floor where it did the most good.

THIS is the kind of thing of which legends are made.

Me as a LT in Korea, 1977

buddy-2lt-korea_small.jpg

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Guest

Feeling the Effects of Time.

I've heard, that you can somewhat feel the effects of time on your time spent here on earth, but you really can't "feel" time itself.    

But, after last Friday I'm not so sure about that.

   I've often laid awake at night wondering where time goes when it's all said and done.  It's surely not stored in the gray matter of my being to be summon to recognition again without difficulty.  Because, I know beyond a doubt that that is truly not the case on my part.  And although, I've read that the human mind is only used to about one tenth of its capacities capabilities and we could surely store much more information than we do inside the boundaries of its walls, for whatever reason...we don't.

   Why?  I have know idea...maybe, if I were capable of generating some sort of useful process with which that other ninety percent of my brain were able to tell you I would. But, unfortunately...I can't.

    So, anyway...when I felt time last Friday all of my sleepless nights, pondering these thoughts of time, were answered in the blink of an eye.

    I had stopped over at my mom and dad's place to have a cup of coffee Friday afternoon.  Also, along for the ride was my grandson, Monroe.  We were watching him for the weekend and I thought they'd probably like to see their great great grandson as a surprise.  I was off work Friday, since I had a dentist appointment and decided to pick up Monroe for the weekend afterwards (which, my daughter was all for...thankfully).

    Well, we're at my parents place and enjoying our visit, watching little one year old Monroe walk ever so clumsily across the living-room floor.  Wanting to reach out and catch him at ever stumble or bobble he makes.  But somehow, and remarkably, he always seemed to maintain his footing and get where he was going safely.

    It wasn't long and my mom gets up and heads into the kitchen to "whip up some grub for lunch" as she so graciously puts it.  Typical great grandmother stuff, always thinking people need to be fed if they stop by.  After a few moments, I hear her ask dad for the highchair to be brought up out of the basement.  Another typical thing about great grandmothers, or grandmothers for that matter, they always have a highchair on hand no matter how many years it's been since they had a baby around the house of their own.  But, before dad can move I'm up and heading down-stair to retrieve the chair.    

    So, as I head to the basement mom is calling out the logistics of where I will find it as I down the stairs.  Our homestead was an old four square farm house, it was as big as farm houses get, in our parts, three stories with a full basement.  As my feet hit the last step of the stairs, I hear her say the words, "look in the old oil tank room"...and I immediately slowed my pace.  For that was the room that not one of us kids would ever set foot in as a child.  It was in the most deepest, darkest, folds of the basement and where no light ever penetrated its confines.  Even being close to now fifty, I felt my feet liken to the spot they were at and slow to a pace of time saving speed, calling out again to make sure of the coordinates one more time.  But, unfortunately, I heard right the first time.

    As I turn the corner around dad's old work bench I reached for the oil tank rooms door.  But, it was gone.  I didn't realize but they had torn down that wall last summer while removing the old oil tanks for extra room, natural gas had been run by the house a few years back and they had converted to that, and put in lights back there.  I let my hand stoke the new light switch into action and at the same moment felt all of my childhood fears subside with its bringing of newborn light.  As the fluorescent light flickered to existence though, a slanted form caught my eye just inside the wall of the now fully exposed room.  I almost couldn't believe my eyes.  But there, not but a few inches from my hand were two items I'd searched for, for countless hours as a boy.  Them leaning there, tucked away between two wall studs, as if frozen in time, were my old fishing poles.  Both Zepco 202's, mounted on blue and white Eagle Claw fiberglass rods, the finest fishing equipment of it's day, for a young man just breaking into his double digits, that is.

    Well, this is where the word time came to take new meaning to me.  Because, no longer was it just here and gone...now it stood just inches from my hand and as I place my hand upon that first rod and reel, that hadn't been touched by me in over forty years, time came back to me from wherever it is stored in such great force that I almost felt weak in the knees.  As soon as my hand was against the cork lined handle I was immediately standing knee deep in the Pine river again, wading along it's banks casting for small mouth bass and it's occasional pike.  Bruce and David Leach were there too, just as they'd always been, when we were trying to see who could catch the biggest fish of the summer.  Becky, the neighbor girl, was even there, standing on the bank throwing stones in the river to drive the fish away to safety.  I think she had a crush on me, cause she was always around, but I didn't care, back then, and just wanted to fish.  Now, when I see her from time to time, I think differently and maybe should have given her a bit more attention.

    There were no seasons back then for us, it was just the summer, a season between grades on school is all and we fished the river from dawn til dusk.  Plus, it beat the heck out of weeding the garden or mowing grass...or worse yet, cleaning horse stalls.  I guess, we figured if mom couldn't find us, that solved half the battle of being able to goof off all summer long.  That plan worked pretty well...until the fishing poles disappeared one day.  I can remember spending the better part of many summer days searching for those fishing poles.  Without any success...well, until last Friday that is.

So, last Friday two life long questions were answered for me...where the two fishing poles of my youth had disappeared too and where the time of my youth goes when it is all said and done...

For now I know without a doubt that time is forever stored inside the cork of a Eagle Claw rod and the spinning handle of a Zepco 202 reel...and it's there to be felt at any given time.

 Brian.

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Wisconsin

A Hoot Owl called out three times

Big boys do cry.........

A hoot owl called out three times behind the house last Friday night – perhaps announcing to the river valley that my beloved bird dog and best pal had passed away.

  The phone rang earlier that day at my in-law’s house after a morning of cutting firewood.  I left lunch abruptly and speechless, weak in the knees and choking back tears - Dakota was dead.  

  I’ve buried many dogs along the creek over the past thirty years, but this one hit me like a bolt of lightning.  I was not ready for his untimely death and still am not sure what happened.  No warnings of any kind, no indications of trouble brewing – heck, except for the fact that he was pushing eleven years old and was a few pounds overweight, Dakota was the picture of health.  Hadn’t he put his paws on my chest as I sat by my desk that very morning?  And ate some food and drank some water?  Apparently his heart just stopped beating and he died peacefully in his sleep.

 With a heart of gold and fire in his eyes, Dakota was more than just a bird dog.  He was my friend and constant companion for more than a decade.  Early in his career, he earned a blue ribbon and trophy at a wild bird field trial.  We traveled a half dozen times to the western prairies of the Dakotas and eastern Montana, where he learned to savor the aroma of pheasant, sharptail grouse and Hungarian partridge.  But it was ruffed grouse and woodcock from his home state that he longed for year in and year out.

  Rocky, Dakota’s brother and best buddy for the past eight years, now sits by my side – then puts his paws on my chest as I sit by the desk – like his brother before him did a thousand times.  He looks deep into my eyes and seems to ask, “Why?”  I find myself at a loss for words and tears once again run down my cheeks.

   Dakota’s picture hangs on the office wall while his death hangs heavy on my heart.  Eventually, the hurt will subside as fond recollections of his life take over.  Having occupied a special position in my soul, the emptiness will fill slowly with his lasting memories.

  Twenty years ago, I heard a hoot owl call out three times behind the house on a frigid Thanksgiving Day.  Dakota’s great-great-grandfather Buck had passed away peacefully in his sleep that afternoon as I sat perched in a deer stand. They are now both buried down by the creek.  No. 2 son picked out a special spot near the weeping willow tree along side the pond for Dakota and covered the grave with select boulders from a rock fence near the house.  With a bench under the tree, one day soon I will sit for a spell and say goodbye.  

  After all, as the saying goes, time heals all wounds.

Ken

Note - My avatar is a picture of Dakota on N. Dakota pheasant hunt.  In his memory, and as long as I remain a member of UJ, I will never change my avatar.

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walt lister

Bronco Shod with Wings

Sing me a home beyond the stars, and if the song be fair,

I'll dwell awhile with melody--as long as mortal dare.

But sing me to the earth again on wide, descending wings,

That I may not forget the touch of homely human things.

Nor let my heart forget a friend, or turn from daily toil,

Though scant the measured recompense, the mean, the wine, the oil;

Nor scorn the rugged way I came with hunger pressing hard,

Before I knew the narrow gate or feared the breaking-yard.

The ragged coat, the grinning shoe, the glance bereft of pride,

And would I dare, who trod the mire, to thrust their plaint aside?

My dog's affection chides my soul for that I may not be

One half the loyal gentleman his eyes have mirrored me.

The homely things, the human things, the things begat of earth,

And least among them he who scorns the clay that gave him birth:

My horse that nickers in the field and points his slender ears,

Has taught me more of gratitude than all the singing years.

What friend the trees, the soil, the stone, the turning grain, the flower!

House timber, garden, portal-step, bread, fruit, and fragrant hour

When shred, the leaf is touched by fire, draws cool and clear and clean,

And smoky spirals sing the praise of soothing nicotine!

The intimate companionship of saddle, spur, and gun,

The joy of leather, smooth and strong, of silver in the sun,

The grip of trout-rod to the hand, the play of jeweled reel,

The stock that fits the shoulder-curve--the potency of steel.

Forgetting not the rope and hitch, the steaming pack-horse train,

The sliding shale, the ragged pitch, the thunder and the rain,

The smell of coffee in the dawn that gilds the far divide;

Sing me a home beyond the start--but give me trails to ride.

And so my friend, because, my friend, our ways lie far apart,

And I may never grip your hand, yet I may reach your heart:

I'll drop the reins and slip the cinch, untie the saddle-strings,

And carve a picture on the rock--a bronco shod with wings.

by Henry Herbert Knibbs, from Saddle Songs and Other Verse, 1922

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Wisconsin

Let the Hunt Begin!

    I long for September all the year round.  It marks the beginning of a hunter’s new season.  Given the authority, I would declare September 1st New Years Day.

    The hunt begins in less than a week.  Goose and dove hunters will go afield first, followed later in the month by those pursuing bear, grouse, turkey, deer, woodcock and waterfowl.  It is a busy month indeed for those that call outdoors home in the fall.  Add late season musky hunting to the list and spare time on the September calendar for sportsmen disappears.

    Overnight, the transition from summer to fall will take place.  A predicted cold front - with temperatures at night in the 40s and daytime highs in the 50s – will remind us that fall is at our doorsteps.  While it is still a month before the brilliant colors of October surround us, something deep inside hunters and migrant birds is stirring now.  Following gun dogs, or sitting in secluded blinds, hunters will enjoy front row seats in nature’s migratory theater and the transformation of seasons.    

    Last week, while sitting around our fire pit, we witnessed the first wave of nighthawks as they began their gentle movements south.  Travel to South America takes a long time and fueling the voyage involves lots of insects – available in the sky as they pass on through our river valley.  Monarch butterflies have also begun their southward journey - gone by the first frost and by October’s end, basking in Mexican sunshine.  By the tail end of September, blue-winged teal and wood ducks will be packing their bags.  

    Like many of our neighbors, we have tempted local and migrant critters to a food plot.  Strategically located at the end of our prairie field and in range of the kitchen table spotting scope, ours has offered endless hours of entertainment – especially in the fall.   Recently, several turkeys have been stars of the daily show and visit our plot more than once a day.  While there, they make the most of what it has to offer.  The buckwheat, sorghum and clover were planted rather late, yet have responded to ample rainfall and now provide cover and food for a wide variety of wildlife.  In the case of our turkeys, the buckwheat is flowering and attracting insects – a protein laden food source for birds of all stripes.

    Deer are working over the neighbor’s soybean fields and several mature bucks have been seen grazing at dusk.  Their antlers will soon shed their reddish-brown velvet coatings and shine bright as archers wait along their runways between bedding and feeding areas.  

    By mid-month, hunters and their bird dogs will work the uplands for grouse and woodcock and the sound of bells may be heard as they comb alder and popple stands.  The baying of hound dogs will fill the northwoods as the bear hunt will be in full swing.  And by the end of the month, waterfowlers will roam marshes, rivers and lakes for ducks and geese.

    Let the hunt begin.

Ken

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