The first thing that hit me was the smell.
Acre after acre of late summer prairie jumped into my nose, as fine a welcome as a grandmother’s hug. Small plantings of prairie just can’t elicit the effect. Think of the difference between a white pine on your corner and being in the north woods of Wisconsin.
As fetching as this prairie was, it was not the main attraction. The mourning doves held that distinction. And we had no time to waste.
For most of my life, I’ve been lucky. That is lucky enough that a dash away from work could get me to the hunting grounds. There is a special feeling of making the great escape to chase after one’s pleasure.
For some that would be a movie or ballgame. For me, it’s afield with rod or rifle. Even as a boy, I felt sorry for those whose job or geography made a weekday hunt impossible. “Just how did the workers at Outdoor Life magazine in New York City do it?”
In the Cedar Valley we are all close enough to a spot of public land that a work/home woods jaunt is possible, at least now and then.
“Our” spot was occupied by three sandhill cranes. The magnificent trio in gray foraged in a mowed section of the field. Hyper wary, they soon took flight, bugling their ancient alarm. Regardless of how the hunt turned out, my afternoon was made.
We settled into a stretch of tall grass paralleling a game-bird friendly sunflower planting. Intended to attract doves, the goldfinches and rabbits enjoyed it as well.
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The scene was almost perfect. My nose was in a happy place. Catbirds, barred owls and an occasional “moo” provided the soundtrack. Across the way, hillside farmsteads were flattered in the fading light. Only my taste buds were left out, forced to rely on an imagination of smoked skewers.
My quarry’s cousin, the passenger pigeon, was prized for the palate. It’s tastiness and flocking behavior proved its downfall for a nation young and hungry for flesh.
The mourning dove, being more idiosyncratic, made unpredictability a key to its survival. Modern scientific management guaranteed its future.
The only casualties from the outing were some mosquitoes. Instead of collecting downed birds, I fetched the empty shot shells from previous hunters.
The doves I saw were always “just” out of range. So be it. Nighthawks began to course overhead in earnest. The illuminated barn now was shadows. The way home was more deliberate than the approach.
May your “dash” be as fulfilling.
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 sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.