Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Year to Come

I bumped noisily down the narrow drive to the camphouse; swinging past a large dog kennel housing the three shorthair pointers who eagerly announced my arrival. The driveway quickly petered out and I found myself very much in the front yard. I circled twice around the sprawling ramshackle building that was my destination trying to decide where to park, turned around a few times, then left my truck on the grass just by the back door.

Inside I found the usual accoutrements of male activity: crumbs, shotgun shells, congealed bean dip, cheap liquor, a few solo cups roundabout; but the inhabitants were nowhere to be found. I noticed no boots or waders on the stoop so I deduced that my late arrival did not long keep my friends from the chase. Later, the distant hollow "boom" of a late afternoon duck shoot in a neighboring swamp confirmed my suspicions.

Unfamiliar with the territory, I made myself comfortable in the game room listening for shots and reading 3-year-old sporting periodicals while I awaited their return.

Shortly after dark I heard voices and laughter proceeding up the drive then the loud clump-clump of booted feet on the wooden stoop as the men returned with their stories.

In came The Wingfields (3 of 4), Josh, Strib Stribling, his children, Bill, a dog named Maggie. Greetings all around. Bottles opening. Soon a pot boils, we talk of the coming days. Warm weather, dogs, hot noses, quail. Man-style spaghetti appears - lots of meat. The Wingfields descend on it like a sweaty chain gang and Joseph (the tallest) makes away with most of the meatsauce. I wonder aloud if years of similar deprivation have made Jared the shorter brother. We laugh. Josh, grinning, steals a plate from a Wingfield brother. The bread is ready. We crowd around the table, too short for 7 pairs of knobby knees, and our first meal together begins.

Bedtime finds us piled into a small bunk room stacked high with guns and gear. I walk in last to find Joseph, Josh, and Jared choosing bunks and discussing duck strategy; not at all unusual bunkroom talk except that Jared is standing idly in the center of the small room, loudly expounding wood duck theory, naked as a jaybird. No one seems to notice. Underwear, it seems, make him feel distinctly claustrophobic. Claustrophobic is no way to go through life, we agree on that, and he nonchalantly jiggles his way into his sleeping bag.

I mention that I tend to snore a bit. No one listens. Midway through the night I awaken to peals of uprorious laughter and Josh peeks over the edge of my top bunk to announce "Man, you sound like somebody is strangling a bear in your nasal cavity." I respond, but he can't hear me through the toilet paper stuffed in his ears.

The coming days bring bonfires and food, ducks and waders and shotgun shells. New rifles shoot well, rains come and go, we forget that there is no cell phone service. Late in the evening the coyotes howl their hunting song away back in the swamp, the fire burns low, and we agree - its a good year already.

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