116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The patrol truck powered up the lane in the twilight.
I had just crossed from the natural area to the parking access. The truck’s headlights made it difficult to see much else if I looked ahead, so I kept my eyes down and walked, head to toe in camo and with a shotgun slung on my shoulder.
I expected the truck to “check in” on me, what I didn’t expect was to hear a happy voice shout, “Hey, Mr. Hanson!”
A former student was behind the wheel. What a treat. We caught up and then he needed to be on his way. It was comforting to know I wasn’t alone. It’s so satisfying and meaningful to have positive and earnest interactions with past pupils long after Pomp and Circumstance played.
My turkey season isn’t over as of this writing, but I predict I will be in good company when it is.
Stereotypical turkey hunting means watching the dawn break. My 4:15 a.m. alarm summoned me for my rendezvous with the star of the morning (or gobbler of the morning).
It wasn’t cold per se, but the blustery conditions manifested a wind chill. I didn’t like all that wind, primarily because I predicted I’d have trouble hearing any turkey talk, if any were up to talking anyway in that gale.
I found a tree big enough to sit against and commended my vigil at the line between the woods and the fields.
The calls of turkeys were absent. The nearby geese complained and called incessantly, not exactly the soundtrack I was hoping for.
The walk in, albeit slow, heated me up enough that the first part of the watch was comfortable. But as the minutes turned into hours, the cold finders of the wind kept plucking away my heat until I had involuntarily squeezed myself inward, like an ugly and cold camouflaged turtle.
My scattergun lay beside me, safe and cold, too. I swear I fell asleep for only a moment, but when my eyes broke through the temporary nightmare addled blindness, I was on my side and momentarily disoriented. Thank goodness there were no witnesses.
Recomposed, the wait continued. When my body parts in contact with the ground and the trunk could take no more, I yielded the field back to the fowls of the air.
The geese didn’t skip a beat as I ambled past. The trail had regular turkey droppings and tracks. Their droppings are a curious j-shape. A person could get lost thinking about how that is.
Halfway out I paused for a serenade. The singer was a rose-breasted grosbeak announcing the passing of an empty-handed hunter. I’m sure he performed that act often. His song was worth the walk, he had been saving it since his overwinter in the tropics.
While I listened, I turned from the line of ash trees to the prairie and caught sight of a handsome tawny bird. My binos helped me log my first certain sighting of a fox sparrow, this fellow was on his way to the arctic. Empty-handed no more, these specimens were fine company to count as companions.
On an earlier outing, my urgency to find a spot for my late afternoon effort was tempered by my bum knee. The sun seems to fall faster from the heaves in relation to one’s limited time.
I walked far enough that I didn’t worry about other people, but I wasn’t alone. My first bumblebee of the year seemed to accompany me from the path to my ambush site deeper in the woods. It was an especially big looking specium, like it was still carrying extra weight from the winter. Join the club
Once a tree trunk fitting the specs was secured, I commenced to becoming one with it. Maybe too well, because a squirrel worked from up behind me and got within a couple of feet from my left hand. My side-eye saw him tarry. Was he contemplating a new protuberance on a familiar tree? I didn’t wait for his verdict. I turned my head toward him, that made up his mind in an instance.
When a cryptically colored owl turns its head to focus on a prey, the squirrel that doesn't react will not live to make the mistake twice.
I used a slate and peg call to send lonely hen turkey missives into the woods. Not too much though to seem desperate. I needed to play hard-to-get, because I needed the tom to come to me.
A thunder of wings erupted at my 10 o’clock. About 75 yards away a bearded turkey took to flight. He battered his pinions at tree top height over my position and then beyond. I admired the scene so, that I didn’t move my gun an inch.
The shadows were long enough that it was time to leave. I took a slightly different path out and crossed a large field that was burned in April. There were satisfying crunches of charred grass hillocks under foot as new greenery sprouted.
I reached the gate and passed from one reality to another. In the distance a pair of headlights turned into the land.
I never ran into another person in the field, but I was never alone either. Between the bumblebee and squirrel, a student of days past and cheery songbirds, myself and the majority of turkey hunters would be enjoying “tag soup.” I was in good company.
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.