Fall And My Pheasant-Hunting Days Are Fading Fast

As bright, colorful leaves drop to the ground in visible, audible rain out the window, and fall creeps toward winter, I’m thinking about transitions.

Seated at my desk in the southwest-parlor study, I’m peering through gray morning air toward Colrain Road, which, some 714 feet west, becomes Brook Road leading to eastern Shelburne and Colrain. In stagecoach and tavern days, and even after the railroad came through, it was known as the Post Road to Bennington.

I hear water from the roof dribbling through the downspout outside to my left, and the occasional purr and splashes of passing vehicles. Finally, the Japanese maples are shedding their leaves, depositing a scarlet carpet underneath. Though the annual shedding seems a little late this year, I don’t record such annual events, and can’t say for sure. It just seems late to me.

The brilliant carpet enveloping the tree base looks like a reflection when leaves of an identical bright hue are still clinging to the two tall, ornamental trees above. Soon I will mulch them into the lawn with the mower, once again going right down to the wire for the scheduled winter swap-over from mower deck to snowblower.

My last yardwork of fall is always chopping up those red Japanese maple leaves and blowing the tiny, pink burning-bush leaves out of sight as winter insulation under the overhanging branches. Over time, those leaves, too, decompose into fertilizer, a natural process.

Once that final fall chore’s behind me, I’m pretty much buttoned down for winter, awaiting snow and ice and its quaking fall off slate roofs that shakes my home’s skeleton to a tremble after big storms. My cats used to get sketchy whenever the sun came out and the roof began to drip. At the first hint of dropping snow, beginning with small chunks, they’d disappear under a bed or closet shelf to ride out the thunderous, vibrating roar of falling, window-rattling snow. Me? Well, that familiar sound signals that it’s time to throw on a light jacket and remove the thin, 40-foot-long snow pile blocking the vehicles parked in the carriage-shed garage.

The last leaves that must be cleaned up annually are those dropped from my northern neighbor’s Norwegian maple in the backyard. Another neighbor and friend who grew up here remembers when it was planted in the 1950s. The town was giving them away and the people then living there planted a pair between my house and theirs. One was dying and had to be removed many years ago during my residence here, and the lonely survivor appears to be not long for this world.

I suppose it’s inevitable. Norwegian maples don’t belong here. They’re from another continent. No wonder they seem confused, dropping their leaves so long after our native marsh maples, early harbingers of fall, and the bright-orange sugar maples that light the landscape during the peak a month later.

As a working man, Thanksgiving was a day I looked forward to annually. With the upland-bird-hunting season near the end and my flush-and-retrieve springer spaniels in optimal form, Turkey Day represented the start of a monthlong vacation. I used to take the time off in one long chunk to hunt deer, relax, and putter around at home.

The break provided much-needed relief from daily deadline pressure and the stress of running a sports department. Toward the end, the daily stress was compounded by shrinking circulation and ad revenues, poor management decisions, and my own irreconcilable differences with the people calling the shots.

“When the folks sitting at Adam’s Donuts and Brad’s Place know about than the local newspaper about Lunt Silversmith’s demise,” I used to say to anyone who’d listen, “you have a fatal public-perception problem.”

Well, let’s just say the brass didn’t welcome such statements, even went so far as to deem them “nasty” when shared in email or during meetings. OK. Fair enough. I guess nothing cuts deeper than the truth, and there was no denying that the paper was hemorrhaging readers at an alarming rate, with no end in sight.

But let’s not go there. I just couldn’t resist a brief digression.

Anyway, I stopped deer hunting long before retiring in June 2018. The end came after my older son’s death 11 years ago and, honestly, I can’t say I miss it. Yes, I love waking with the forest and blending into the habitat. But, likewise, I love and respect deer, and enjoy observing them in my travels, be it along the road or bumping into them on walks through wild lands. So graceful and alert. So beautiful to observe. If hungry, I could still kill and process one for the freezer. But I’ve cut way back on the amount of meat I eat, and I still do get a taste of venison here and there and from friends. That’s enough for a man whose wife won’t touch wild meat, is almost nauseated by the smell of it cooking in bacon fat in an iron skillet.

Well, guess what? Now, I’m phasing out bird-hunting, my last outdoor game – one I genuinely loved for the robust exercise, the wing-shot challenge and dog work, and clung to longer than baseball and softball, fishing and turkey hunting, and golf. I clung to the activity with a white-knuckle grip for as long as my deteriorating legs cooperated, which frankly is no longer.

Oh well. I’ve been through transitions before. I stopped golfing in my teens, when I was forced to set my priorities. Baseball was No. 1 in the warmer months, then trout-fishing and, later, turkey-hunting. I could live just fine, thank you, without country clubs and well-dressed warriors in a gentleman’s game. Golfers were good boys who followed dress codes and golf etiquette. Not for me. Give me an early-morning or rainy-day trout stream any day of the week. That was an easy decision.

Adult softball was a different story. Honestly, when playing baseball into my mid- to late 20s, I never anticipated playing in men’s softball leagues. It was a game for fat old men still trying to prove they were “ballplayers” even though they never could hit the fastball, forget the 12-to-6 curve. I tried to continue after blowing out my left knee in 1976, but by the time I got married in 1979, my baseball days were behind me. My wheels were gone and I was done playing physically compromised, unable to go into the power alleys to make the play or take the extra base.

When my grandfather died soon after my wedding, I bought his South Deerfield home, and that of his father and mine, where I grew up as a boy. Back in town as a married man, my youth-baseball buddies approached me about joining their men’s-softball teams. Reluctantly, I took the bait, figured I’d give it a shot, and ultimately settled on the modified-pitch game in which I lingered through age 41. By that time, I was a pudgy catcher/designated hitter limping around the bases with a knee brace.

Hey! Whatever it takes, I thought, catching my last chance to stay in the game. It was fun. I got to analyze the hitters and give targets that I reasoned they’d have trouble hitting squarely. I loved working with the pitchers, hitting in key situations, the dugout and bench camaraderie that had been part of me since boyhood. I hung on far too long and, frankly, thought I’d miss it when I quit. Well, I was wrong. Dead wrong. I soon discovered there were other activities to keep me busy and fully engaged. Baseball’s for young men. I was not young. Time to move on.

Which brings us to my current situation. In my second year without my own gundog, I’m in the process of phasing out pheasant hunting, even though I have a world-class springer available when needed. I hunted that dog as a pup last fall while his owner was making a living as a painter. A near flawless flush-and-retrieve gundog of royal pedigree, he’s fun to watch, and the exercise is great. But now my 20-year, 78-year-old hunting companion has lost sight in his left eye and is reluctant to brave the dense tangles for fear of injuring his good eye. Can you blame him? I understand completely. One tumble in the swamp or stray, snapping twig could blind the man.

So, what should I do? Try to find another trusty, new hunting buddy at 68? No. I think not. It’s time to move on.

My knees are shot from athletic injuries, surgeries, and years of wear and tear. Plus, I ruptured my Achilles tendon last year hunting a dense, thorny swamp for young men, and, hampered by an unsteady base, I don’t shoot like I used to. So why humble myself like I did on the softball diamond? I have other activities that stimulate my energies – things like reading, researching local history and prehistory, tugging at exciting new threads connected to my own genealogy and place to see what unravels, and, of course, writing about it.

On Veterans Day, my trusted old hunting buddy with the bad eye joined me for our first hunt of the season. A packed parking place at our favorite covert forced us to an adjacent field t’other side of the stream, along the northern periphery. We know it well, it has been part of our routine for more than 20 years, and mine for more than twice as long.

Less than two hours later, after three flushes, one wild shot and no hits, we were traveling our familiar route home immersed in conversation. I interjected that, after all our years and good times together, I was losing my interest in hunting like I had previously lost interest in baseball and softball and fishing and turkey-hunting.

He seemed perplexed.

“For Christ sakes, why?” he responded, “You’re only 68 and still have many good years ahead of you.”

He must’ve misunderstood me. I didn’t tell him I was terminal, ready to curl up and die; just that I was turning the page to a new chapter. Maybe my last. Maybe not.

Once stubborn to a fault, I’ve learned how to transition with age. Those thorny tangles I once enthusiastically attacked and conquered are now punishing me, and gentle cover is not my cup of tea.

Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Mad Meg theme designed by BrokenCrust for WordPress © | Top