Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Autumn 2012

Autumn has brought back to us the crisp, cool atmosphere we missed much of last season.  Already the hunting has far surpassed the previous year. Daisy is healthy again, and she has regained all the spryness of her puppyhood, only this time tempered with seven seasons of experience.

In the late afternoon of the pheasant season opener, the faded memories of brotherhood were rekindled into a bright, hot flame by the the day's final and most fantastic flush.

Up to that point it had been a good day. We had taken a few birds and a cottontail in the morning, and collected another bunny and rooster after lunch. As the day grew older, we turned back to swing our tired legs toward home,  and yet, the best part of the story was yet to come, for Daisy chose the upper grape fields on our return journey for one final surprise.

I'll always remember the set up. Spencer and Charley to the right, lower side of the hedgerow, myself trailing the dog and watching the back door, while Dad and Uncle Tom worked the upper, left side. Daisy had begun delivering all the signs of a bird on the sneak. Her tail whipping continuously 9 to 3...3 to 9...9 to 3. Soon she followed up with a yip and a yap. Our pace quickened with her. "Get ready guys...she's close."  Yet, the quarry was wily, and Daisy soon worked into a frenzy. If I could stop time here for moment, I would. The game was about to flush, but we didn't know it yet. Our minds were focused on the shot we may have to take. Adrenaline was firing on all cylinders. It was time for the tension to break.

What I'll remember most of all was the quiet. It was spectacularly silent. Everyone was brimming with anticipation. The bird...for we all knew...it had to be a bird a this point...was damn close...damn close!

Later Uncle Tom would speak of the wonderful fellowship of the day, and I couldn't think of a more accurate way to describe what happened out there. Right in those final moments before an inevitable flush, we were all in it together, united in a common cause...to hunt the magnificent upload bird, to follow the classic hunting dog with absolute certainty that she would lead us to a worthwhile prize.

Zip back 45 years in time. Two teenage brothers amble down the road in rural New Jersey on an October afternoon with a trusty hunting dog at the heal. Cradled in their arms are double barrel shotguns, broken open. A few shells mashed in their pockets.  "Mom wouldn't let us go swimming, ever! She was afraid we'd drown....but she let us carry firearms into the woods!" Uncle Tom said.

Minutes into their hunt, the beagle pipes up. The game is about to break wide open, and the two youngsters widen their stance, shoulder their guns in preparation for the shot.

And suddenly, here we are 45 years later,  in the flowing hills of central Pennsylvania, and the two boys are now remembering what they'd done before across that wide span of time. Back when they were just kids on Newman's Lane.  Back when life was as simple as a trusty shotgun, a few cent-a-piece shells, and a good dog.

Then, the hen flushed...straight out, and then banking left, it was Dad and Uncle Tom who opened into the shooter's stance, shouldered the 12 gauges, and brought the bird crashing down from its flight.  They were boys again, much like they were all those years ago.

The close of a spectacular October Day afield.

Yellowstone 2012

Venturing into the Black Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

The passage of time is a phenomenon within itself. The past year was one marked with many trials and tribulations, and as the year is entering its finale, the tranquility of the outdoors has reminded me of its importance in my life. So many stories to tell about my fourth trip to Yellowstone, where my friends and I camped in grizzly land.  I think we'll always remember the mystical warm evening in Hellroaring Canyon where we swam, caught plentiful cutthroat, and dined along the sandy banks of the Yellowstone River by lantern light.  The following day we backpacked deeper into the backcountry and coined places like "Starvation Gulch" and watched a bald eagle glide down river at first light.  We rediscovered the depths of Tower Creek, the little mountain stream that always seems to surprise us, beckoning us a little further, a little further until we find ourselves in a wilderness of bear sign and moose scat.  Every bend, every pool...ten, twenty trout?  We were lost within the confines of a deliciously sunny western setting, all the while preparing our campfire smorgasbord of wild brook and rainbow char. It was the best of days. Perhaps, the very best angling there ever will be. And, I was at peace.

Joe's Victory Fishing Hole on Upper Tower Creek
A little while later we'd be hustling to beat the darkness back to camp reeking of fish in the middle of griz country...