Van took a bite
and pronounced the meat matchless. I took a bite and instantly agreed—out loud.
Never, I thought while getting down the remainder with all possible speed, had
I found a more perfect match in flavor for the rich, full effluvium of a mud
flat at low tide. But after a good deal of Burgundy, followed by several Scotch
nightcaps, I concluded that my own taste buds, rusted from the uses of the
city, had played me false. Brant was really very good.
Next morning, to
my enormous relief, Van did not wake me until nearly 8. All other waterfowling
expeditions I had been on commenced at something like quarter to 5 in
horizontally moving sleet. I have never been a morning person or a sleet person
but, driven by the old Beach Haven compulsions, I had always launched myself
out of bed first thing to help make coffee and load the boats. That reflex,
however, amounted to nothing more than conspicuous good camperism, and I had
secretly yearned to be back in the sack. Thus 7:45 on a bright, windless 50�
September morning was pure bliss.
time," Van said. "Brant feed on the turn of the tide, and we've over an
I took it all,
had an extra mug of coffee and climbed into the already loaded boat. The guide
dropped us off at a pit blind a yard or two from the edge of a marsh island,
moored the launch at the dock of another menhaden plant half a mile away and
sculled a sneak box behind a neighboring clump of island. Then we settled down
By noon my bottom
was very numb. During the long interim, Van talked in a kind of deep, resonant
voice that ranged over a great reservoir of anecdotal material. Thank heaven
for that, for at 3:30 p.m. the birds had still not come. My legs had gone
entirely to sleep. The tide was getting ready to turn again, and I had a vague
feeling that another small portion of my secret life was being eroded. Then the
said Van, and nudged me, turning his head only the slightest fraction to the
east. There, out toward Beach Haven, a low, broken line of what looked like
smoke from a marsh fire was sweeping and undulating across the water. I started
to get up for a better look, but Van's hand held me down. We waited very still
while the birds flew along, about 70 of them, alternately balling up and then
lengthening out in wavering lines. As we sat, heads and shoulders bent forward
so as to present no silhouette, the sharp smell of Hoppe's No. 9 Solvent rose
strongly from the guns in our laps. Suddenly the birds wheeled and came
straight to the water before our blind.
Brant come easily
to the decoys.
began to bob and swim slowly among our decoys. "All right," Van
whispered. I was transfixed.
He poked me and
said, just as softly, "Go ahead."
I was still in a
trance, one foot in the Beach Haven hallway and less than half of me in the
Tuckerton marsh on this real September. "For heaven's sake, get up and
shoot," said Heilner, aloud. Several birds hitched their wings, but
remained in the classic attitude of sitting ducks, which it is considered very
poor form to shoot. I jumped up and, according to custom, the brant should then
have taken flight. However, these brant did not, and in sheer confusion I shot
two birds that may well have had flight on their minds but could not charitably
have been described as in the air.