By Chris Midgette
Like most of us who are avid waterfowlers, I was raised on bird hunting by my dad. Now, it remains to be seen if this was his way of torturing me, giving me this passion (some may say addiction) for waking up at an ungodly time of day, driving all morning, setting up decoys in the worst weather imaginable (of course the best weather for ducks), just for the chance to see a duck in the sky. As if every Friday night was Christmas Eve, when I laid my head to sleep, I had dreams of flock after flock of mallards cupped up to the sweet sound of my calling, which most likely sounds more like a seven-year-old blowing a kazoo. We all read in magazines or the sporting classics about those perfect days. Of how at first light, you could see clouds of ducks getting up before the sun and hear the wind on their wings overhead. You can just barely make out the outline of the birds when they come above the horizon. How with just a slight call the birds cyclone right into the spread, and you hear the splash before you can really see them. How, once it was time, the hunters took their shots carefully and precisely. The bird dogs did an excellent job of making sure every bird that fell perfectly in the “X” was delivered to the hunter’s hand. This is not one of those stories.
I will never forget the first day my dad and I decided to take his brand new boat out. Luck seems to run in the family, and dad had won a boat, motor, and trailer earlier that year. Naturally, being the ever-prepared hunters that we are, we never ran the motor and let it sit all spring and summer long. Somehow it started up just fine that morning. We put out Dad’s old cork L.L. Bean decoys, the ONLY decoys a proper fowler would use, sat back, and waited for the endless flights of ducks. It was one of those beautiful sunrises that all the fancy artists draw to elicit memories on the marsh. Dad, our Boykin Spaniel, Rebel, and I were ready for the morning flight. I will spare you the details, but needless to say, we must have been set up in a bird desert. We didn’t see even so much as a blackbird that morning. Again, being true fowlers, we could not leave until at least 11:00, with the hope of that mid-morning flight. Now that I’m a bit older, I often wonder if Dad just wanted to get out of the house for a bit, hence the waiting till 11:00. When it became time to pick up our spread, lo and behold, our motor would not start. No matter what we tried, it would not start. We decided that the best course of action would be to walk the boat up the shoreline back to the boat ramp.
Our plan was for me to lead and pull the boat while dad would push from the stern. After about a quarter to half a mile (in ten years, it will be a 2-mile walk), I noticed the boat was gaining weight and getting harder and harder to pull through the knee-deep pluff mud. Anyone who knows me or my dad knows that my father is known for one life skill; his unequivocal skill at napping anywhere. I’m sweating to death in my neoprene waders. I’ve taken off every possible layer of clothing that I can and was almost going to start pulling the boat in my skivvies only to look back, and what do I see? It looks like we just went mudding through the local tractor pull. Two lines stretch out behind the boat about 200 feet, and they lead right on up to dad’s legs. I stop walking and look, there’s a faint rumble in the air, and I’m trying to identify the sound…surely it can’t be, he’s snoring! Dad has decided now would be the perfect opportunity to rest his weary legs and has half of his body on the transom while dragging his legs in the mud! Needless to say, my mom would’ve smacked me or taken the wooden spoon to me if she’d heard some of the creative combinations of expletives I used in that moment.
After rousing out of his deep slumber, Dad decided he would graciously contribute to the cause. Either because he was resting up from his siesta or because he was getting back at me for waking him up, he decided he was going to push the boat as if he’s Sisyphus and the boat is his boulder. He began pushing with all his energy and might, pushing too fast for me to keep up and forcing me back into the creek where it was too deep for me to reach. I told Dad to stop pushing so I could get back on land, to which he gave me the great sage advice of “just hang on and kick your feet.” Luckily, and no thanks to Dad since he was too busy laughing (hunched over the transom again, I might add), I was able to kick the bow back to shore. We finally made it back to the boat ramp at about 1 pm, one of us thoroughly soaked and sweaty and trying to stay angry, while the other’s chuckles could be heard the next town over. Eventually, we had a good laugh, and all was fun and games until we called Mom about 1:30 to tell her we were on the way home. As soon as the line was picked up on the other end, an ear-piercing noise came from the phone, and Dad could not get a word in edgewise. After Dad was finally able to say, “You’re breaking up, I’m losing you, honey,” he hung up the phone and shrugged his shoulder, laughing at me and saying, “forgot we were supposed to be home by noon.”