With ducks distant dream, dogs, memories will do
I had a dream the other night. There I was, back on the windswept Saskatchewan prairies with good friends Rick, Ben and Don – several years ago. While they floated across the golden grasslands following their hard charging bird dogs, Buster, my field cocker and I sat on the bank of a cattail-choked prairie pothole, waiting for another flock of migrant ducks.
Pintails, gadwalls, mallards and geese. Waterfowl of many stripes were in all directions. Filling the sky by the thousands – bringing tears to my eyes. Or was it the stinging cold wind from the northwest?
I recall thinking out loud, “I pity those who will never witness this glorious spectacle.”
Game was plentiful and we shot ducks in the lowlands and sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge in the uplands. It was the beginning of October, and we and our dogs were full of anticipation and expectations – and had energy to spare. It was the best of times.
My dream turned a page and I was back home on the Buena Vista marsh in southern Portage County – 40 years ago. A year with abundant precipitation, standing water filled every low spot on the landscape.
Migrant waterfowl took advantage and swarmed to a large flooded area enhanced when a beaver dug through a ditch bank. I found myself back with friends Mike and Dale and our bird dogs, shooting ducks in the lowlands and woodcock and grouse in the uplands. It was the best of times.
I woke up wondering if perhaps my dream was merely a manifestation of what I wished could be – back on the prairies of Canada or local grasslands with good friends – siting on a prairie pothole. Saskatchewan, being 1,800 miles away was out of the question.
My dream inspired one last duck hunt this year and with the end of duck hunting only days away, I chose a shorter 30-mile trip to a favorite pothole on the Buena Vista grasslands.
So, on the last day of the southern season, Buster and I sat on the bank of a willow-choked prairie pothole, waiting for another flock of migrant ducks. I had no illusions of killing a duck or two that day – only wishing to have a chance.
After all, the weather has been unusually warm for the beginning of December, and ice was mostly off the ponds and surrounding waste grain cropland bare of snow. Perfect conditions for late migrating ducks and geese.
Perched on my camo folding chair on the edge of the pothole, with Buster at the ready, we scanned the skies for several hours that afternoon – alas, to no avail. We spotted no ducks, we heard no honking geese.
What we observed and were entertained by were several flocks of small songbirds – too swift and distant to correctly identify – searching for bugs crawling on willow branches. They looked for a meal that no longer existed – at least on that day in December. What we heard, aside from distant traffic noise on blacktop, was silence. Peace and quiet for the soul.
And as the sun set and the sky darkened, I realized my dream had not come true. Like the migrant songbirds – had I searched for something that no longer existed?
My dream had not come true. Or had it? Sometimes, just being there on a pothole, alone with my dog, a flock of small songbirds and a head full of memories is enough.