by David Kok
Most of us have that first venture into water fowling deeply etched in our minds;or perhaps this will be your first time in the autumn darkness waiting for the first light of the day. For myself;it was many years ago with a second hand shotgun purchased at a gun shop a couple miles down the road with money made from pitching hay bales for the summer. You can imagine the anticipation just watching the calendar edge towards opening day and with the reality that chores on the dairy farm had to be completed before the hunt could begin.
Back in the day there were no youth programs; so at sixteen and not withstanding the successful completion of the licensing program ;my father thought perhaps his company would be the prudent choice for that first morning afield. I remember that autumn well; the maples had started to turn in the sugar bush along the bay that cut into our farmland. Since the holiday weekend that officially signaled the end of summer;many of my scouting trips upon the bay revealed the wild rice being visited by ducks and it was rewarding to find a large population upon the water each time I crept along the maple bush. It was not too long before I had succumbed to a very high opinion of myself to successfully find birds on each scouting trip and with this success planned the opening day as a celebration of my talents as a skilled outdoors man .As the late summer days unfolded I soon began to realize that the wild rice would be picked clean long before the first shots of opening day and the undeniable realization that perhaps my earlier confidence was now being held to question.
I remember my Father suggesting a visit to an undistinguished gentlemen who lived on our concession road. He advised me that this man had spent most of his useful years on the river be it fish,fur or feather in passing on a career or profession that would be formally recognized by society. So with my new found insecurities I decided that perhaps it would not be a mistake to drop by before opening day just to make his acquaintance.
I found upon my first visit someone who long ago relieved his soul from the conquest of world. Perhaps a person who had long ago decided what impressed most people was frivolous at best and foolhardy at least. Over the many ensuing tales that followed over the years of life upon the river it became clear he was perhaps something of an antiquity that one might never encounter again. I learned that each autumn doctors,lawyers and other professions sought out his company on the river in the secluded cabin. For those that could not postpone their individual quests;it may have brought some comfort to spend time with someone who had. Each autumn many would seek out his company(myself included) for time at the cabin and on the river. I often looked for the smoke rising from the cabin each morning for it meant a welcome cup of tea and a warm fire within.
Trophies mattered not to this man and for those that sought him out during the fall equinox;it brought an ease to their person to spend time with him. If one found oneself at the bottom of the marsh in the darkness resulting from some tragedy of Greek like proportions and gravity combined ;you earned a place on the wall of the cabin. He often recounted upon picking up a doctor and his friends one particular cold October morning and expressing his regrets that perhaps his skiff was better designed to make two trips than one. Upon allowance of the request to cut the motor’s speed because of the cold water splashing upon his companions in the less than calm waters of the darkness;all found the improper load and the nose of the craft now below the waterline. Two of the guns are still on the bottom of the river on this given day. It was a wise suggestion my father made to visit this man who many had discounted long ago as someone who did not blend with the universe in any tangible way.
So that morning came and together with my Dad, we set out upon the morning to the bay upon our farm. I with certainly an uneasiness and confidence in my mind that made for a nervous trek in the last few moments of the night. The day unfolded as a spectacular sunrise and the ducks swept into the bay just like my new friend had said they would. For he had warned me to stay patient and wait out the birds after the gunning had started on the’ big water ‘as he called it. “They will seek out the bays and cover along the shorelines once it starts out there;five minutes passing and you will not be able to keep shells in the gun.” He was right and each autumn I head to the same bay and in the darkness;I pause and think about my Dad and my friend for both of them like the small gun shop where I purchased my first shotgun are fixtures in time now. Young hearts are waiting today not unlike mine of so many years ago to make the first trip upon the autumn. Let’s not disappoint them.