southerly breeze, barely enough to swing the decoys. Ought to reset them to
this wind shift but question whether it's worth the trouble. Nothing
3:10 p.m. Blue
jays screaming in the cedar hedge behind the blind, suddenly stilled. Thought
it might be that buck we saw last week, so I sneaked a look, seeing nothing at
first, finally noticing a reddish undertone behind a clump of dead weeds.
Through the binoculars I finally saw that it was a red fox, crouched low, tail
extended, watching something hidden from my sight. Subconsciously imitative, I
froze, too, holding my breath, released only when the fox leaped, a russet blur
almost instantly lost in dead-grass blankness. And then the blue jays were
screaming again, and I saw nothing more. But overhead now, appearing out of
nowhere, two buzzards are hanging in the sky.
3:45 p.m. Wind
back in the north again, piping up fast, decoys dancing. This might get some
ducks moving. One good dart, and I'd be willing to call it a day.
Three ruddies came
in from the river, wave-top skimming, plunked in far out and then swam into the
reeds. All drakes, perky little devils with their up-slanted tails.
A bunch of
baldpates fooling around high over the trees on the far shore, wheeling,
dropping with that old broken-wing flutter, catching themselves, flaring,
soaring, the only ducks that give me the impression of taking to the air for
the sheer joy of flight. All the others fly so purposefully, with such grim
determination. The enormous effort that a duck has to expend to live out the
pattern of his life—what evolutionary process could possibly have impressed the
necessity of a yearly migration over such enormous distances?
4 p.m. Temp. 27�F.
Wind: NW 20-25 mph
around the circle, almost back to where it was at dawn. Seems colder than the
thermometer reads. Chilled through, but I might as well stick it out now. A
flight of redheads just went up the river. Might have been cans, too far away
to be certain.
4:12 p.m. Thought
for a minute or two that this was the payoff. A pair of mallards turned in,
circled the cove twice, set their wings for an instant—and then suddenly
flared, rocketing up as if they had been shot at. Why? If there had been anyone
else in the blind, I would have sworn that he had moved. I know I didn't. But
something spooked them, maybe just recognizing a stool and a blind. Why
shouldn't they? I've always thought we were foolish to build blinds to such a
standardized pattern, always a rectangular box, always the same dry reed
covering. Surely ducks must learn to recognize and avoid that visual image. But
I completely failed to prove my point the year I insisted on cedar-covering
what had always been our best blind only to have it become the worst, so bad
that we gave up using it. Uncle Frank was probably right: "There ain't
nothing makes a man feel dumber than trying to out-think a duck!"
4:50 p.m. All
packed up and ready to leave, the eight shells back in my jacket pocket. Walt
is out picking up the decoys. He came down on the tractor, leaving it behind
the honeysuckle bank until I waved him in at the last sunset minute. When I
told him I had no ducks he looked at the stool and said, "I knowed I
shoulda come down and set it for you. Might as well a done it, too. Darned fool
heifer didn't calve anyway. You didn't get nothing, huh, not even a baldpate?
Well, I figured you couldn't be doing too much. Saw you left your shell box
back in your car. Didn't hear no shooting neither. But I thought you must be
doing something, or you'da quit. You said this morning if they wasn't flying
you wouldn't stick it out, not on no miserable day like this."
I said it hadn't
been too bad a day, not bad at all.