"Don't want half."
"You'll be hungry later."
"Take them." Pop pushed the plate away with his knife blade. "Now eat them up. Go on." He watched with pleasure as Sean, clenching the tines of his fork between his big teeth, drowned everything in warmed maple syrup.
Pop, with his pipe lit, asked the waitress to fill his thermos with sugared coffee for the day ahead. On the way out we found the foyer crammed with hunters, and in the parking lot more of them were adjusting their caps and talking to their dogs beneath the lights. "Smell that sage," I said to Sean. "It's the strongest smell you've got out here. It's everywhere."
"Some sage will live for a 150 years," Pop reflected. "Same sage Chief Joseph smelled, you're smelling now."
"Smells good," Sean said. "Let's get out into it."
I drove out on Dodson Road. To the left, desert; to the right, irrigated wheat fields; all still under a heaven of cold stars. Canoes were putting in where the road crossed the irrigation wasteway. The side lots were filled with hunters and their campers, vans, trailers, pickup trucks. A few hunters had already set off into the desert holding flashlights at their sides, the beams of light wavering on the ground as they walked. The autumn wheat had been cut, but the stubble stood high enough for birds to lie in; they would run in front of you in fields like this, refusing to put up unless they were forced to.
"A lot of grain out there," Pop noted. "Sunny weather's been good, to these wheat men." We passed a lone teal set down on a gutter pond. "They've got about an hour and a half left to do that," Sean said, swiveling to watch as we drove by.
We pulled off the road at a gate and began to parcel out the decoys. Pop couldn't seem to get his load set just right. Sean held the light for him while he made it up slowly, a burlap sack and two pack straps of manila cord, the same rigging he had employed for more than 50 hunting seasons. We picked up our weapons. I dragged low the top strand of barbed wire beside the gate, and the three of us stepped over the range fence and onto the sage desert, then followed the twin ruts of an old cattle road.
"Trail gets worse every year," Pop said. "No cattle in it anymore."