When you feel the entire world is right and wonderful
I know why someone would call the night sky a velvet curtain.Standing thigh deep in the inky dark waters of a Mississippi River back channel, I stretched my arms toward the heavens and felt the stars crushing down on me. You could reach out and almost touch them.I was down South visiting friends, friends who are also my duck-hunting buddies. It’s an annual trip. For two days the morning hunt in flooded rice fields had been slow, so it was decided that an upriver hunt was in order. We’d spent the late afternoon hunting on a no-man’s land island that was either in Louisiana or Mississippi. It hardly mattered.Thinking back on that evening, I cannot decide which word best describes the experience – ethereal or ephemeral. The moment lasted but a very short while and it was mystical, even spiritual.I’m not sure why. I was seized by the moment, I guess, but across my lips came a prayer. “Thank you for this day, thank you for this moment, thank you for my life,” I said out loud to a Lord who has always been a good listener.I closed my eyes and tasted the air, listened to the night sounds. Above me I heard the beat of wings.
Opening my eyes I saw the birds silhouetted against a darkening sky. A trio. Probably mallards.The river current was silent. Through the stand of willows behind me, I could hear my hunting partners. And in the further distance, I could hear the chug-chug-chug of a river tug pushing barges upstream in the main channel.I looked into the sky and saw the velvet curtain part, and the light of the stars poured down.A smile came with the memory of a line penned by an Irish poet named George Russell: “Our hearts were drunk by a beauty our eyes could never see.”Only this time, but for a moment, the velvet curtain had parted and my eyes could see.In what was fast becoming starlight the remaining decoys bobbed in the water and I waded toward them. Above me another small flock whistled past, the air slicing through beating wings.The hunt had been memorable. Even after the sun went down and the shooting had stopped, none of us wanted to leave. We sat on the sand and talked until we could see the twinkling stars of Orion’s belt.
That’s how I found myself standing in that channel bathed in starlight and feeling like the entire world was right and wonderful.I slid the pirogue across the channel toward the decoys.Taking them one at a time, I methodically wrapped the cord around the keel and squeezed the lead weight around the neck to hold it in place. The last decoy was the closest to the wide sand bar that separated the back channel from the main river. Kneeling on the sand it still felt warm even as the air cooled.The day had been bright and sunny – hardly ideal duck hunting weather.We chose to hunt along the river because the warm weather chases the ducks out of the flooded rice and soybean fields. When that happens there’s still ducks in the back channels of the big river. There weren’t many but there were enough.I shot a gadwall, then a pair of mallards. Missed a pair of wood ducks, though my partners doubled on them, and as twilight approached I shot my first drake pintail. I was happy.
We’d put our boat in nearly five miles downriver and dragged the pirogue behind the boat on the trip upstream. The ride was wild and bumpy. An adventure unto itself.Now, hours later, we readied for the downstream trip. Despite the starlit sky and a waiting dinner there was no hurry. We stayed close to the shore and cruised along not much faster than the current. With the guns cased and the hunting over, we sipped Scotch whisky, toasting the ducks, the river, the night and each other.When people ask me why I hunt, a day on the water like this one is what comes to mind and it makes that a much easier question to answer.In a few weeks I’ll make my annual pilgrimage south to duck hunt. It’s simply another chance to create memories that last a lifetime. Publisher Jim Morgan writes a Tuesday column.He can be reached at(970) 668-3998 ext. 240 or email@example.com.
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