A Wee Too Early

In my very early 20s, I worked at a private duck club on Grand Island, a short ferry ride across a channel in the Illinois River, from Bath, population 400. Two duck seasons each, mid-October to early December. To be a member of this private club, one was required to have a net worth of no less than one million dollars, and to be male. One week during each season, the wives were included, and most never came, just the hunters and their expensive 12-gauge shotguns, and their dogs—Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, English Springer Spaniels, or Labradors.

A few weeks ago, I did a blog regarding old journals and diaries, tossing most. Some of the following notes I found in a red spiral notebook and transferred to my laptop. The two seasons were an enlightening experience (and many of the ‘whys’ will not be listed…yet). These short entries were delightful to revisit, silly tidbits, mice in the pantry, raccoons hammering around underneath the lodge, the fact being all the buildings were built on stilts due to flooding season. In the early morning rounds I would straighten up rooms with expensive luggage, hunting jackets, boots, watches, mismatched socks, and reading an opened note or two from a wife with a gripe.

Each morning our tasks started before sunup. The two managers and three staff did not have days off because rarely was a hunter, or two, not on the grounds during the two and half month season. I hated getting up in the dark, fumbling around to find shoes, and warm clothing, running a comb through long tangled hair, and the water heater pipes not working fast enough to allow warm water to flow from the downstairs to the upstairs bathroom when I splashed my face and brushed my teeth. Cripes! Once I got downstairs and entered the kitchen to warm lights, frying bacon, and hot biscuits, I began to wake up. Mary was in her early 70s hired as the cook for the hunters and staff that first year. She always had a hot cup of tea ready for me. I adored her. Allow me to share a few of these notes.

Field notes from my journal: A very large wall-to-wall bay window faced east in the main gathering room of the clubhouse. I loved the smell of cigars, embers from the large rock fireplace, and the chill that clung to the fabrics and leather. At times on my early morning rounds, as the sun was barely breaking the horizon, I stood at this large window. No ripples, no wind. A stillness so quiet you could hear it. Some of the trees were bare from the approaching winter settling in while others held the dried leaves of autumn to their wet branches. Other mornings, the water would be rough with white caps across the wider side of the river to the shoreline. The wind caught and pulled the leaves off the trees and tossed them into the water to be washed away around the broad curve flowing south.

The hunters and their rowdy dogs would be fed from the kitchen and loaded up into their small skiffs with their ‘pushers’, motoring across the still river to thicker portions of dense brush. Sometimes I could catch the black silhouettes of these anxious figures along the distant bank.

The daily hunt consisted of taking two hunters in a skiff to the slough, using the “kicker” (outboard motor) until the water became too shallow, then ‘pushing’ the boat with a pole or paddle to the blind, where they would set the hunters up with boxes for seats, spread out the decoys over the water, leaving an open area for ducks to land.

As the sun rose, the ducks began to move and paddle leisurely about and bob up and down in the water. Others flew over to circle in for a landing or keep going on to another feed area. It made me feel at peace with myself as I watched from the big window out onto the misty water. Ducks called in the distance, geese honked, and then a ‘boom-boom crack-crack’ split the silence instantly. Mallards, American Widgeon, and Northern Pintail, to name a few, fluttered over and off one another as the dogs hit the water.

The morning I looked out the window toward the far shore for the last time that season, nature gave me a goodbye. The entire eastern bank as far south, or north as I could see, was fiery red, and the reflections glowed in the motionless water to paint an exact double vision. A still-life, to remind me of the language of sight.

Enjoy reflections in your writing!