A fine beginning
It is somewhat foolish to select one ‘favorite’ time of year – or even a season – but Autumn always brings special pleasures. After a too-hot Summer that I found difficult to enjoy – the return of cool nights and dry air in late-August brought a re-birth: I could once again work all day – much of it in preparation for the gunning season. Our September was sublime this year and October brought the chilly mornings I relish. The sights and sounds and smells enhanced the progress on my every project.
Our farmers commenced this year’s harvest with one last cutting of hay.
We were inspired to “harvest” the crop of leaves on our lawns. The Sugar Maples dropped their leaves early – but the Red and Silver Maples are still hanging on to their finery – or I suppose their finery is hanging onto them….
The Black Walnut on our side yard did very well for itself this year. This shows “as they fell” – and the squirrels will never harvest them all.
Almost 4 inches of rain mid-week left all three ponds brim-full….
…and provided perfect weather for some cooking in preparation for our Duck Season opener on Saturday morning.
Another harvest arrived with Craig Kessler – two fat bundles of Salt Hay from Long Island to clothe my gunning vessels.
After a fine dinner, good conversation and a sound night’s sleep, our crew foregathered in a chilly dawn.
The five of us were spread over all three ponds. Craig and I protected the Hemlock Swamp from intruding Wood Ducks.
Craig manned the mid-pond blind whilst I provided backup about 30 yards further in, toward the flooded Hemlocks and Red Maples.
Long before we opened up, we watched small bunches of Mallards glide into Cap’n Nemo’s spot to our east – and listened to prodigious reports from his vintage side-by-side.
Craig dropped his first Woodie before I dropped mine.
I always try to make certain that my first shot of the year produces. My trusted Winchester Model 12 brought down this fine Drake when I pulled its trigger for the first time in my 54th duck season.
The birds visited us sporadically over the next couple of hours. No “big ducks” (Mallards) showed themselves within range – but plenty of Woodies surprised us from every point of the compass.
Craig was out of the blind – having retrieved his second bird – when he dropped his third in the fallow field just south of the Swamp.
Although he had a good mark on a bird that had fallen precipitously – our combined efforts were fruitless. We were thwarted by the morning light bouncing off the brilliant Foxtail Grass – just like searching for a Black Duck ‘neath the Salt Hay in full sunshine. Anything below the surface is in deep shadow.
While exploring our options, about a dozen more Woodies tumbled into the rig. This Drake gave me a nice crossing shot at about 30 yards. As I had foolishly worn my camera around my neck into the treacherous footing of the Swamp, I decided to take this not-yet-touched photo of my final (second) bird.
After about twenty minutes of combing the field, we decided to execute Plan B – the “B” standing for a certain retriever by the name of Boo – just a pond away. We savored the beauty of the Foxtail as we meandered our way east.
The Hay Road snakes through the woods….
…and gives us a glimpse of the brook that connects the Hemlock Swamp to the Hickory Swamp.
The Hickory Swamp had seen plenty of Woodies and Mallards this morning.
Of course, we “caught up” and swapped a few tales .
Then, Cap’n Nemo and Boo were pressed into service.
Whilst others trudged, I took in the morning splendor…
– including even last night’s moon.
Craig and I hummed The Volga Boatmen – but did not bend our backs to the chore.
Back on scene, Boo and her Master went immediately to work.
Success came quickly – right where we had searched earlier.
Craig’s prize showed all the signs of a “dead-in-the-air” end. And Boo trotted back to her Master with dignity and aplomb. I think I heard her mutter “No biggie – it’s what I do.”
To sweeten the story, it turns out that this Drake had taken a special route. It was one of 4 Woodies that dropped in while I was walking out and Craig was just south of the Swamp. He followed the bird to his left and dropped it right after it darted between two young Pin Oaks.
We had planted these two “memory trees” earlier this year – to honor both my Dad and my Mom. The Hemlock Swamp had been my Dad’s “spot” for many Columbus Day weekends in his last seasons. “Ted and Haze” (Yes, I actually named each tree) honor their long happy marriage – and will someday drop acorns to be “harvested” by Woodies, Mallards and Black Ducks in future Autumns.
Opening Morning was a success in many ways…
…but was not over yet. Back to the barn (my shop) and then the dining room for a hearty repast.
After listening skeptically to the Tall Tales from the Home Pond Crew, we re-arranged a few boats and found one more bird thanks to Boo’s nose.
Then, Susan came to help with the final harvest – two varieties of sunflowers to be dug up.
Most were dainty enough to be carried on a shovel.
A few were more robust and needed to be man-handled into the waiting car.
Two Very Contented Gunners.
All the best,