Editor’s note: John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.
By John Hanson, community contributor
The flock of mallards flew low and slow and straight at me.
They seemed unfazed that I was standing. In such a heroic pose, I could have emptied my scattergun to great success like the fowling legends of yesteryear: Nash Buckingham, Ted Williams and the President of the ODHA, Inc.
Instead I admired them as they passed silently and went about my business of retrieving decoys. The morning hunt was over, for this was the early Blue Wing Teal season and all other waterfowl were off limits.
Some jokester colleague of mine seeded a pupil to ask about my favorite bird — there went the carefully planned start of my history lesson on the industrialization of agriculture during the Gilded Age. My weakness is well known. Soon the whole class was in on it.
I managed to wrangle toward U.S. history by noting Iowan Jay “Ding” Darling did more for birds than just about anyone. Ding invented the duck stamp to raise protected moneys that could only be spent on bird habitat and research.
A hand shot up. “Do you hunt ducks?” I answered yes. The teen’s jaw slackened, he was bewildered. He fumbled with a follow up question: “If you’re so into birds how can you kill them?”
A fair question that deserved a fair answer before we returned to the late 19th century.
I appreciated the contradiction, I replied, because I accepted the messiness of people. Walt Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Those words are my go-to when attempting to explain peculiar behavior.
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For me, hunting was an additional experience with ducks, something of greater intimacy than only gazing through binoculars. Critically, duck hunting always has nourished my soul and occasionally my body. Duck hunting connects me to great men in my life now gone, friends and all the stories and art that surround the pursuit.
I finished my soliloquy that hunting helped me to transcend, and then had to leave it at that: a partial answer and a partial mystery.
Your pass to a National Wildlife Refuge or permission to hunt ducks is the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. The funds are legally protected from the sticky fingers of Congress. Every stamp purchased is affirmative monetary support of our wildlife.
Another Iowan famous for conservation, Aldo Leopold, wrote he loved trees but he was in love with pines. I love birds but I’m in love with ducks, so I bought two stamps as a token of my affection. Maybe you could find a reason to buy one, too.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.