I wanted to make this last post on my birthday…on Groundhog’s Day (Check Patrick’s Site for reasons why this is a good day for endings and beginnings) but I guess there’s something about wrapping up that makes me hesitate. I hate it when good things end, even good things thatÂ had heartbreaking moments. (Jolie?) It isn’t goodbye– don’t get me wrong, it’s actually rebirth. I had my lastÂ twoÂ hunts in the desert this year at the end of the season and it’s time to say goodbye “Operation Desert Dove.”
One of my reasons for moving to Sac was to be closer to waterfowl. I wish we weren’t in the a ridiculous drought, but I managed to move myself into the driest place in the west. Check out the map.Â Those of you shooting on big water did fine. Those of use waiting for ducks to disperse into the smaller waters were screwed. I chased the same two flocks of resident mallards all season. And then I made a trip down south for work over the week and a couple hunting excersions on the weekend.
It felt like coming home and yet, I felt like a guest wandering through strange hallways in the dark. To explore my old haunts at the end of the season and be surprised by new crops in old fallow fields, dry reservoirs in favorite places was disconcerting and made me a little sad. Were it still home, I would have known every acre by heart at the end of January. The strangest thing was not to know what ducks were down so I would know where to look. The boys at the gun club were shooting spoonies, unapologetic about a strange year. They thought the normal duck migration has mostly missed them, mostly flown over and continued to Mexico. The dogs need to work and spoonies were what they had. I didn’t see spoonbills anywhere they should be, though. Everything looked wrong everywhere in California. Even at home.
So when I found a raft of ringnecks at the Musashi’s pond, it felt like a gift.
The gift grew even larger when Stan pulled up beside my truck. I was happy to see him again, a witness to a good morning. “Where have you been?” He said in the clipped sedate tone he has that drives me nuts. It makes me crazy because generally speaking I’m tight lipped. Stan’s flat expression and brevity makes me yammer on like I’ve got a couple of shots of tequila down my gullet. I don’t know what he’s thinking so I just keep talking and filling the silence. I will never go up against that man in a game of poker. So in the amount of time that it took to put on a transmitter and take off Anakin’s equipment I had told Stan the story of my year since the last season, pratically day by day inÂ an auctioneers breathlessnessÂ and had gotten permission to put Booth in the pond to flush.
Stan stood back and watched from a distance when the falcon got in the air. I thought he was flying off as I watched him. We’ve flown big water some this season and I think it has reminded him to make big outruns. As he flew off into the distance in a familar, but tight place, I could only think that he was leaving. But when he came back, he was at 800 feet or so and I sighed in relief.
I slipped Booth under the fence and watched him do what he had been dying to do all year. He flanked the pond, dove in, and pushed the water-clinging ducks off the water, barking out his progress all the way. The flock of ringbills left the pond in clean motion. The falcon clocked a hen, pitched up and grabbed a drake. Stan stood as still and silent as the Santa Rosas, but missed nothing. He pointed to where my falcon had landed and then to where I could let my dog crawl back under the fence.
We watched the falcon eat, talking about water and how farming would manage in the new economy. Stan was surprisingly positive. I stared off at the Salton Sea, trying to decide if it has shrunk a little or a lot. I examined the Musashi’s crop and Stan suggested I bring some artichokes home with me. (They were delicious)
I was almost sad, lifting the peregrine onto my glove.
I wanted the hunt to last long enough to make up for the season, but I realized it wasn’t a make-up hunt, it was goodbye. IÂ instructed Booth to take the duck back to the truck, to which he gleefully complied. I haven’t been able to convince him to carry anything I’ve thawed from the freezer, but my dog knew this duck was his accomplishment as did the peregrine. Neither of them were sad in the least and so I took my cue from them and smiled at Stan.
This was a visit, not a homecoming. Tempe and Sister were waiting in the truck and my workÂ for Ducks Unlimited required a few more meetings nearby and many things on my desk up North. Life was about the delta now, about helping to make sure that every season doesn’t exclude my gorgeous canvasback, that there’s money to figure out why the scaup are dwindling. Life took another turn, a surprise one, but a wonderful twist indeed.
Long ago in a galaxy far away, a melancholy girl bought an irracible falcon who was destined to take her on rollercoaster ride of a thousand adventures. Six years later in the company of the most incredible group of friends and co-conspirators gathered along the way, the journey begins again, in the delta.
Goodbye Operation Desert Dove — the doves eluded us, but the journey was magic. Hello Operation Delta Duck, where this year the ducks eluded us, but we’ll be back. And I hope you’ll come along with us. I get to help fund the most amazing projects at Ducks Unlimited and have so much to learn about my new landscape. I hope you’ll be reading and watching.
Please accept my humble invitation to join me on my next grand aventure.Â Â
Sneak previewÂ (it’ll redirect when it’s live)