Outside my den, I can hear the cold rain splintering like glass against the window on the north side of the house. Occasionally, even though it is late at night, car wheels slosh by on the paved road that extends from Burlington to our humble suburban cape, winding its way south and west to the lake.
A full moon two nights ago ushered in wave after wave of cackling migrators to the swamps now flushed with decaying aquatic vegetation. The lakes depths have begun to turn over, and from the surface, now a thick fragrance of sweet gases are released to drift inland on the northwest winds.
The old wooden boat, a Barnegat style sneak craft, sits on the trailer in the driveway, already hooked up and ready to depart at a moment’s notice.
The weather radio is crackling on top of the old cherry roll top desk and is looping the NOAA forecast for 10-15 knot winds with temperatures dipping into the thirties by noon. We know that this means the possibility that snow may bring in more birds from across the border.
I doze off on the couch under the painting of “Windswept Canvasbacks” by Jim Killen, a prize won at a Ducks Unlimited banquet years ago. It seems like minutes but when I look at the old wooden clock on the wall, it is 3:30am. As I rise from my fitful slumber, pair of headlights sweep across the driveway.
He’s ½ hour early again. My hunting partner, John Lesher, of Burlington is the kind of guy you can trust with your life and is always at least ½ hour early for anything to do with hunting or fishing.
I greet my old friend at the door, rain dripping off the eaves and bouncing off of his signature waxed baseball cap.
“Forecast looks good” he proclaims in his understated manner. “Ayuh” I answer in my best Vermont accent.
“Ya’ ready?” “You bat you!” I reply stealing a line from one of our favorite outdoor writers.
As we roll out of the driveway, I spot the first flicker of white slop as it smacks the windshield of my pickup. We will drive slowly to the access to avoid side-slipping the trailer like I did once many years ago.
We arrive unscathed at the access and within minutes motors are choking to life and the smell of outboard exhaust is blown away in the blustery wind. Navigation lights give off a comforting yellow glow in the stern and the warm green/red on the bow.
We crouch down inside our blinds to escape the breeze and the spray of foamy waves as we cross the bay to our hole in the woods at the confluence of two streams.
Arriving at the blind still in the dark, we are greeted by what seem to be hundreds of roosting birds, which flush up into the murky sky in waves of raucous quacks and squeals. We dismount from our boats and, breaking the silence which now surrounds us, I grin and excitedly speak. “That was quite a show! Look at all the feathers on the water!” “Ayuh” John replies, making me feel kind of silly.
We climb into the blind and get his dog, Remi, onto the dog platform, surrounded by his own little canine blind of cattails. After some french roast coffee with cardamom, pepper and cinnamon, we stand in the darkness listening to the sound of whistling wings all around us. We can hear teal ripping through the spread of decoys and mallards moaning a raspy “Jeeessh” overhead.
To our east, the light begins to painstakingly seep through the heavy steel clouds. “Three minutes to legal” John says. It amazes me how every true waterfowler can tell you the exact time of ½ hour before sunrise on any given day during the season. John is no exception.
The three minutes pass slowly.
“Birds in the decoys” I whisper, as three late migrating teal swing spang in from the south.
“Ready? John asks. “Ayuh” I reply with a grin on my face.
We rise in unison and thus begin another day of revelry in the life of a waterfowler.