116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The ground was littered with pieces of hickory nut husks, parts of acorns and black walnut shells devoid of their savory treatures.
This outing already was a win, and I hadn't been in the woods 15 minutes.
I picked through the debris. It wasn’t as glamorous as Hemingway or Roosevelt thumbing through the spor of Cape buffalo or leopards. But my bushy-tailed quarry was neither going to stomp me to soup nor perforate me with fangs. And besides, how could I be home by 4 p.m. if I went all the way to Africa?
Nosirebob: squirrels and the local woods aligned with my ambitions and pocketbook.
When I left home I questioned my prospects: was it too warm and sunny for an early afternoon effort? That question was partially settled the moment I stepped into the woods. The hot sun and warm wind gave way to a cool and calm forest experience.
I padded a path from others. An old beer can and fresh deer droppings showed this was a path for all. For now I was hunting for hardwood trees. Those trees might lead me to a crop of nuts which might help me ambush my target.
I learned long ago not to bother walking through the woods and looking for squirrels at the same time. If I did that I would not see any squirrels anyway and I’d also miss the nuts on the ground which would tell me where to park myself to lie in wait.
The first sit I made was inspired as much by the perfect old log to rest against as it was for the walnuts. I waited with listening as my primary sense. I knew I would hear squirrels before I’d see them.
The wind made music with the tree top branches and leaves. Blue jays added autumnal melodies. But the staccato scratch of squirrels circling and scurrying among the trees was missing. The prominent sounds were the couple of times vehicles with deficient mufflers drove the nearby road.
“An o-fence [sic] to the ears!” to quote a line from the movie Matewan.
The spot was a lovely place for a nap. I imagined that’s how Van Winkle got in trouble. Old Rip didn’t come home with anything for the pot, so I roused myself so as not to suffer the same fate. My seat pad and I took a walk further south.
A short walk later I came to a place where rays of light found the forest floor. I saw lots of hickory nut husks in the spotlight. It was a sign, this was the place.
The tree I settled against wasn’t as comfy as the earlier log. No matter, the anticipation of success numbed my backside to momentary discomfort.
My second listening session was brief. I heard claws scrambling on bark. Two squirrels made a scene of chase around a trunk too distant for the 16 gauge shotgun. I made a bold move and took a new position to cut the distance. My choice was validated in short order.
The 16 spoke, I shucked in a fresh round but no second shot was needed. I retrieved the empty blue hull of the shotshell and took a whiff; I love that smell.
I waited for minutes in hopes the fallen squirrel’s partner would make an appearance to no avail. Then I rose and retrieved my first serving from the season.
There was a special silence to the wood, though it was probably the ringing in my ears more than the absence of natural sounds. I stood, it was a satisfying calm yet too soon to call it a day.
I turned, just to take in the special spot when I spied a squirrel above me on a nearby branch. It was laid out long on the limb and stock still.
A second squirrel went in the game pouch and a second spent hull went into my pocket.
As luck would have it some of the fallen hickory nuts on the ground were still intact in their husks. I picked up what I could and added them to my treasures. A special woman introduced me to hickory nut cookies years ago and I can hardly pass by the opportunity to snatch everyone I find.
I wandered the woods. My pockets mumbled with nuts, the spent shells clinked now and then.
My follow-your-heart course took me to a seep on a hillside, this was a discovery for me, and a fine cap to a dandy day.
At the parking area the sun and wind returned. I’ll be back to the woods soon enough — I don’t yet have enough nuts for a full batch of cookies.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion, teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and is past president of the Linn County Conservation Board