It’s been almost exactly a year since my last outdoor column appeared in Cadillac News.
I didn’t want to write anymore. I was tired of all the routine: the word searches, the time on the computer, the frequent searches of “The Associated Press Stylebook” to make sure he was doing things correctly.
More than that, though, I felt an obligation to my dog. He is a silly bird catcher and sometimes I had a hard time getting him to spend enough time in the woods. Also, I never shoot as many birds as I think I should. Bloodhounds like to track, herders like to herd, and jumpers love to pull and retrieve.
It was in the recovery department that my dog was failing. He wasn’t shooting enough birds for her to get them back.
Well, I was failing him in the cleanliness department as well.
Michigan hunters had some really bad years for grouse, and I had done a lousy job of getting Lily on the ground where the birds were.
Well, last year was going to be different, by God. I was going to clear my calendar: no writing, no squirrel hunting, no fishing in the fall to talk. My focus was going to be on the birds. It would give my dog the forest time he deserved.
How did my plan work?
Not exactly as expected.
I have to admit this: Michigan was at or near its cyclical grouse peak. I found some birds, although not as many as some hunters. I know that for a fact. On Sundays before church, a friend would show me pictures of all the birds that one of his sons and his son’s friends had photographed. He had only dropped a handful and killed none.
Well, I consoled myself, the beginning of the season is always difficult. The days are still hot, so the dogs can’t take much. The leaves are thick. And my friend’s son and his companions were comparatively children who hunted hard and long with outstanding pointing dogs. And I knew things would get better for me. If a hunter has difficulty finding grouse, he always has to wait for the woodcock to migrate. Woodcock may be Michigan’s unsung heroes.
Wild pheasants are few and far between, grouse can be hard to find and impossible to hit, but the woodcock is reliable.
If a hunter can’t find local birds, the flights arrive at just the right time every year. He had that ace up his sleeve.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic came back with a bang. I don’t remember which variant it was, but the hospitals were filling up. People were dying. And the disease, mild cases of it, fortunately, knocked on the door of close relatives.
I spent much of the season caring for healthy family members while the sick were holed up elsewhere.
Woodcock flights came and went while I was stuck at home.
“Malt does more than Milton can / To justify God’s ways to man,” wrote the Victorian poet AE Housman.
I didn’t get so cynical. However, I regretted my fate. Car trouble had kept me out of the woods a lot the year before and COVID-19 did last year.
I knew I should count my blessings. My family was spared the worst ravages of the disease. Others I met were not so lucky. Still, I felt sorry for myself. I felt worse for my dog.
Like me, Lily is not getting any younger. I don’t know how many bird seasons he has left. And I owe him for all the years of faithful service.
She also knows when she is on the bench. She can say more with a sad look and a floppy tail than most people with all her vocabulary. She knew that she wanted to hunt birds more than I did.
After the COVID lockdowns, I went into the woods with Lily as often as I could. We had a marginal season. I have some birds, but not many. None of us were ready for the end of the season.
After the season closed, I still wasn’t looking for anything to do. However, my wife works for an organization that has a meal delivery program. The organization needed drivers.
“You know,” I told my wife, “I might be willing to deliver meals until trout season and golf courses open.”
My wife mentioned my comment to the person who runs the meal program. Just like that, the guy who swore he’d never have paid employment again got a part-time job. And no one applied for his position.
The golf courses opened, the trout season opened, and he continued to work.
My boss, a wonderful person, has been great in giving me all the time off that I have asked for.
I took a few days off to fish during Hendrickson’s hatch. However, I did work during turkey season and during the brimstone hatch and hexes. But I think my boss knew that when bird season came, he would be in the woods. And the time has come to start preparing for bird season. Autumn is coming soon. I just delivered my notice.
I guess I’m a veteran now. And also Dave Foley, the guy who has shared space with me on this publication’s outdoor page for years.
He told me that he would like to reduce his workload. However, she doesn’t want to hang up her spurs completely.
When a writer finds a publisher who is willing to publish the writer’s work, it’s a tough job to quit.
And as long as readers are interested in reading about outdoor topics and there aren’t any youngsters out there who are willing to throw words on a piece of paper to see if they stick, guys like Foley and I are going to have a hard time giving up. The responsability.
Foley suggested that he and I could alternate weeks.
That would give us both time to fool around outside, and also keep this paper stocked with homegrown outdoor copies.
Today it is rare to find a newspaper willing to pay for such a copy.
Readers who appreciate the ramblings of local writers should appreciate the financial commitment this newspaper entails.
So that’s the plan for now. Foley and I will alternate appearances here. And once again I will be able to tell the Internal Revenue Service that the cost of my shotgun shells is a business expense.
I hope to go through enough shells this fall to keep my dog happy and the IRS in doubt. My tax preparer can take things from there.