“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Hi, my name’s Jamie, and I want to tell you about my dad. He’s a funny kind of guy. Sometimes he gets really upset by the littlest things, but when it matters… I mean, when something really big comes up, he seems to know just what to do to make everyone feel better.
I really like that he does things with me that most dads would only do with other boys. A couple of weeks ago he asked my big brother, Jake, if he wanted to go trout fishing with him. I know that Jake hates to disappoint our dad but he really wanted Lisa, our step-mom, to un-dye his hair. Jake colored his hair a while ago and now it looks really weird. He wanted Lisa to help him make it look like it did before he poured all of that really stinky stuff on it. I could tell that Jake didn’t want dad to feel bad, but he really wanted to look kind of normal again… so he said no. Guys are really dumb sometimes.
“Hey, Scout?” My dad said to me. I like it when he calls me that. He wanted to name me Scout after a little girl that he really liked in a movie called; “To Kill A Mockingbird”… he says that her name was Miss Jean Louise Finch, but that her Dad called her Scout. My mom wouldn’t let him name me Scout, so when he calls me Scout, or even Kid, or Squirt, I think it’s kind of neat. “Hey Kid?” He asked. “You wanna go over to the Rush River trout fishing with me?”
He really looked like he wanted me to go. “Sure.” I said. So… we rummaged around for waders and boots and finally just took Lisa’s.
“I can’t believe that you’re wearing Lisa’s waders already!” He said. “It won’t be long and I’ll have to get you some of your own.”
“That’d be great.” I answered, and then thought to myself… “And it’s about time… I’m tired of wearing everybody else’s stuff!”
Dad was really cool. We stopped on the way for snacks at a place called the Red Barn, and when I had to take my pants off because the flares were all scrunched up under my waders and hurting me, he carried them in the back of his vest.
We had a really good time… I caught three brookies and one brown trout! The brookies are my favorite and dad likes them best too. We let them all go… which was ‘ok’ with me… but I do like it when we have trout for dinner.
My dad likes to fish in little trout streams … but what he really loves to do is duck hunt. We never had a boat with a motor, so he’d always go in his old canoe. He’s funny that way… he likes it best when things are old fashioned and hard to do. He says that it makes him appreciate the way things were a long time ago. I know that Lisa worries a lot about him coming home late at night because he’d be out on the big river in the dark … especially when it was really cold, the wind was blowing, and the snow made it hard to see. One night we had a blizzard and it took him almost three hours to get back. Once he made it to town… he stopped at the Brookside Tavern to visit with his friends before coming home. I guess that they were all worried about him too.
Before we got a boat, dad never took us duck hunting on the river. So, I couldn’t believe it when he asked me to go with him last season. Today’s painting is one that he just finished a few weeks ago. It’s an oil painting that he titled, “Evening Refuge”. I picked this painting because… well I guess you’ll just have to read what happened…
Dad met me at school. “Come on, Squirt, we gotta hurry or we’ll run out of daylight.” Dad’s always in a hurry when he goes duck hunting. But I didn’t mind because he was taking me with this time!
Dad’s pretty proud of his new duck boat… even if it isn’t really new, and it’s pretty little, and has an old, slow motor. He spent a lot of time painting it and getting it ready for the season. We keep it down on the river, so all we have to do is haul the decoys and other stuff a few blocks… there sure is a lot of other stuff! It was really hot in all of the clothes that he made me wear, but he said that I’d be happy to have it all on for the trip up river. Dad hardly ever goes up river so this would be fun. “Today,” Dad said, “We’re going scouting.”
It was a perfect fall afternoon; the clouds were high in a really blue sky and the wind was blowing leaves off of the trees and into the river. With all of the hunting stuff there was hardly any room for us in the little boat. Dad stood in the back and I sat between two sacks of decoys. The wind off of the river was cold and it seemed to take forever before we finally reached the marsh. Dad said that the most important thing about scouting was to stay mobile and not get too excited about the first birds that you see. “Since the river is so high,” He said. “We’ll just motor around a bit and see what’s happening. We may not even get any decoys wet.”
We saw some ducks flying over really high up and heard a big bunch of geese coming back from the cornfields in Wisconsin. When he heard the geese, dad got really excited and we stopped scouting and started throwing out decoys in the water!
Even though we were in a hurry to get set up, he was still really particular about how the decoys looked. Especially where he put the canvasback that he’d just carved. As soon as we were finished, he pushed the boat into the weeds under a willow tree, and he told me that whenever he called to the ducks that I was supposed to be still.
The next bunch flew over really high and it sounded like someone tearing a big sheet of drawing paper as they came down to look at us. “Cans!” Dad said, as we curled up and hid behind the grass. Dad called and they swung out in a big circle and almost came back. “Oh… that’s too bad.” He said. “That’d been really fun to show you… maybe next time.”
Then we heard more geese. They came over the bluff really low and didn’t even look at us. We could hear other geese calling to them and the flock landed in the woods behind us. “There must be open water in there somewhere.” Dad said. “I’m going to take a little walk and look… you stay here.”
“Ok.” I said… I don’t know where he thought I was going to go. I was scared enough just being left out there all alone.
He came back in a little bit with a big smile on his face. “There’s a big open lake back in the woods,” He said, “And it’s full of ducks and geese. We’ll hunt here today and watch what goes in there… then at the end of the day, on our way home, we’ll figure out how to get in and be there tomorrow when they come back.”
Just before dark a big bunch of wood ducks flew through the trees all around us and landed where we planned on hunting the next day. On the way home we found a channel into the lake and a second, secret one that came out further down river.
Dad picked me up at school again the next day and we were on our way. We were running as fast as we could past the boat landing, just above town, as a truck was backed down the ramp. “Oh, oh, Squirt… this doesn’t look good.” My dad said. “Someone might beat us to our spot.
“No way!” I said. “We’re almost there…”
It was true. We could see the marsh and our secret channel just a mile up river when we heard the other boat’s motor for the first time. Our little boat seemed to go slower and slower the closer we got. The other guy appeared from around the bend behind us, and dad grudgingly pulled over to let him pass.
The other hunter grinned as he passed… and then zoomed right past the secret entrance to our hidden spot! Dad smiled and stopped to light his pipe. I love the smell of his pipe!
We putted our little boat up the narrow channel and as we came around the last bend… saw the other guy throwing out his decoys in our spot! He had come in from the larger channel that was up river. It was a much longer run, but he’d had the bigger and faster boat.
Dad knocked the tobacco out of his pipe, slipped it into his coat, and spit into the river as he said, “Well… there are plenty of other places to hunt… we’ll set up in the flooded timber and make lots of waves.
We threw out only half of the decoys and one of them had a line tied to it that dad handed to me. “This is called a ‘jerk cord.'” He said, as I gave it a tug and made the decoy bounce and splash.
“Cool! When should I do it?”
“Anytime you want… and whenever you want. I’ll be standing right over here, next to a tree, shuffling my feet to make more waves.”
“Can I try calling too?”
“Naw… maybe next time.”
That was all right with me. Our decoys splashed and danced into the evening, and once we heard wings over us in the trees, but we never saw a duck. Dad said that the other guy must have been a really bad aim because he shot a couple of boxes of shells and didn’t get his limit.
The weather turned really cold over the next couple of days and ice started to cover the ponds around town. I knew that we’d be going out on the marsh again when dad called to say good night. “Hey Scout, don’t make any plans for after school tomorrow… I’ve got something to show you.”
“Have you heard the swans at night?” He asked the next day, as we loaded up the boat. “When the swans come through, they bring a lot of mallards with them. Most of the lakes are already starting to freeze, so they’ll be looking for open water… and I know just where to go.”
We went down stream into a marsh called Rice Lake and wound our way around in the channels until dad decided it was the best place. “We won’t need many decoys.” He said.
“Do I get to use the ‘jerk rope’?”
“Not today, Scout… but I’ve got something else for you.” He said reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a duck call with a big black rubber thing on it. “All you have to do is wiggle it like this.” He said, shaking it back and forth. “And we’ll have a perfect feeding chuckle.”
“I can only use one call at a time, so you wiggling this when I give you the nod, ll’ll really help.”
We set the decoys out in a little channel and hid the boat. Then we made a nest in some really thick grass and sat down on some buckets. Nothing happened for a really long time. “Do you think we’ll get to shoot a duck today?” I asked.
“I sure hope so, Kid…did you hear that?”
“What?” It sounded like a dog barking, but it was coming from the sky.
“Watch this.” He said cupping his hands to his mouth. “Barrroop… barrroop.” He barked backed.
A single swan flew over the marsh so high up that all we could see was the white flashing of its wings. “Can we shoot swans?” I asked.
“Barrroop… barrroop.” It called.
“No, but they’re fun to call… Barrroop… barrroop.” My dad barked back. The swan locked it’s wings and glided out of sight, calling back and forth with my dad, the whole way, until we finally lost sight and sound of it. “That’s funny,” Dad said. “A single swan would be looking for company… I can’t believe it didn’t turn.”
We were watching an empty sky almost half an hour later when out of nowhere, just behind us came a, “Barrroop… barrroop!” And, then the swan flew right over our heads.
It circled over our part of the marsh calling and looking for another swan while my dad talked to it. Swans are really big! It’s big black feet seemed as large as pie pans when it came over us and finally landed just a few yards away. “Barrrarroop?” It asked, twisting its neck back and forth, trying to find us.
“Shhhh…” My dad whispered. “Barrraroop.” He sort of softly squeaked.
“Barrrarroop.” It answered swimming toward us.
My dad and the swan talked back and forth for a long time before it swam away and seemed to take a nap. Things were pretty quiet after that. I think that my dad knew what I was thinking because in a little while he whispered, “Don’t worry, the ducks will come… and plenty of geese with them… just be patient.”
It was starting to get late when a duck flew over and dad called to it. “A hen mallard.” He said under his breath. “Use your call, Scout!”
I wiggled my call while dad blew into his. The hen turned and came back, circling and calling. It circled and circled and finally landed somewhere else. “We’re never going to get a duck!” I said too loud.
“Barrroop, barrroop, barrroop!” The swan said, running scared across the water and taking flight
“SHHHH!” My dad whispered.
“Quaaaack.” The hen called.
“She’s up again. Give her your call.”
The hen circled and circled… and circled some more before it finally locked up its wings in a glide right for us. “Get ready.” Dad whispered, as he crouched down even lower and then sprang up.
“WHUMP!” The duck landed on its back, right next to me.
“Nice calling, Kid!” He said.
“Look up in the sky, Scout.” He said, checking his watch.
“Where? … I don’t see anything.”
“Way up. They’re just tiny specks.”
The tiny specks in the darkening sky soon became ducks… dozens here… a hundred there. The sky was full of them. They were everywhere. It was like being in a beehive! “Here…” He said, handing me his old call. “Give it a try.”
I stood in the marsh and blew and blew on that duck call. I blew it as hard as I could while ducks circled and landed all around us. Even more were spiraling down from the sky when the geese came…
I was calling to the geese while dad smoked his pipe and poled the boat around picking up decoys in the dark. Next time I hope he lets me call before shooting time is over!