(This is part III of a story that begins here.)
While the pheasant dashed between the rows of corn stubble without so much as a pause or backward glance, I pulled the car to the side of the road and waited. The dogs, still running circles in the tangles beside me, apparently had lost him at the road’s edge. And the fact that my vehicle now stood between them and their prey’s low, escaping form had stopped their pursuit in an instant. They ran, tails wagging, back through the fence row in haphazard bounds and were gone.
I rolled off down the road—now beginning to comprehend the great gathering of pickups drawn to a small, unmarked lot, tucked several yards off a quiet, rural road on an otherwise unremarkable Friday morning.
The lot at the lake’s edge was larger and less busy.
Within minutes, I was out on the trail—a wide, mowed, grassy path that ran up the entire south side of the lake, before finally veering off into the woods and joining the marsh beyond. Beside it, thick brush filled a corridor separating the grassy path from the pavement of a well-ridden bike trail.
From within each bush, katydids chirped boldly as I walked past, as they and a number of late-flying dragonflies and damselflies warmed their wings and cruised the unshorn edge. And the air was heavy with the smell of fresh mud, still dark and wet, applied to the large mound of straight, pointed sticks erected by the beaver whose muddy tracks I crossed again and again, as I made my way along the grassy path.
The open water of the lake was broad and blue, rimmed with cattails and fading stems of grass that hid several blinds, strategically situated to look out upon its center, and, in a different season, hide the hunters within. Empty on this day, I tried one on for size. A cozy box of space, its roof was draped with nets and its sides wrapped in layers of mottled, shaded fabric. With random branches fixed to its face and a modest bench, it became a nice place to pass the hours--to see and not be seen. For it would appear that our hunt is much the same —it is just our capture that is different.
Slow, deliberate steps rustled the leaves a few feet off the trail. And sure that its source was smaller than a deer’s browsing, larger than a songbird’s scratching steps, I followed, creeping through the bare branches, hoping to see. Up and over the pavement he scurried, to the thicket and swamp beyond. With ease he left me far behind, snared in the thick, tangled mass.
Where the lakeside trail turned toward the marsh, I stopped. Discordant sounds had begun all around--clearly hounds, whose constant calling grew clear and then faded as pairs turned and tracked their prey. Distant shots rang out. And, the dogs ran on, spreading through the woods like wind on wildfire. Until I sensed a transparency I would not expect to feel in such a wild place. In these woods there was no place to hide.
I met a man in blaze orange, his shotgun ready and hunting knife plainly carried in a sheath at his belt, while his dog sniffed the ground at my feet.
“What’s going on,” I asked, my rather wide-eyed look difficult to conceal.
“Opening day on pheasants,” he replied. “Seen any?”
I hesitated and grinned broadly, in part, exploring the options for my response, and in part, now recognizing the utter uselessness of the can of pepper spray hidden in my pocket.
“You wouldn’t tell me if you did, right?”
“Probably not,” I agreed.
“It’d be a good idea to get some orange on.”
“Yep, I’ll be sure to do that. Thanks.”
And we went our separate ways, hunting--
our separate ways.
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