Saturday, December 24, 2011

Half Moon Creek

Looking out my dining room window you can almost miss the half-mile stretch of creek that runs through my neighbors’ fields. A line through grass at the bottom of the broad valley, it’s usually more void than body. Forced out of its meander long ago, the creek cuts deeply into the alluvial soils that bound it. Leeches have made their home in its warm, muddy stretches.

Even with all of its ailments and insignificance, there’s not a member of this blog who wouldn’t see this little creek's potential. I covet it, although I could never afford to buy the farm through which it courses. Looking upon it I imagine a healthy riparian system with pothole ponds, trees, brush, flowers and wildlife. Like much of the land around my house it is a blank canvas.

Occasionally, the creek provides hints of what it would offer when healed.

I left work around 2:00 yesterday, heading home to watch the kids while Kelly shopped for their Christmas presents. It has been a gloomy week at work, federal budget cuts finally coming to roost upon our lab, and I had hoped at some point for a cathartic grouse hunt over Lilly. Now I had my beloved kids to factor in. Grousing seemed out.

We’ve had a lot of rain this year. More than 60 inches in an area that normally gets around 40. Recent rains had flooded wetlands along the drive home. By the time I rounded the last bend I had hatched a plan for waterfowl, unlikely as it seemed.

I stopped off at Bobby’s, my other neighbor, with the offer to swap my kids for a hunt with him. He has three daughters who bracket my kids’ ages, so the proposition wasn’t as unreasonable as it might sound. Bobby had seen ducks along the creek earlier in the week, and was nearly swayed by the offer. But, he had work to do making his participation out of the question. I couldn’t muster the chutzpa to ask if I could just drop off my kids without some form of reciprocation.

I’ll take them with me I decided.

So it was that we three marched with Lilly across my little farm, past my equipment shed, and down the lane to Half Moon Creek. I let Lilly run much of the way, stretching out her long legs after a day cooped up in the house. She ranged widely. Before I knew it she had reached the creek by the bridge and was making for the water. I called her back. Here! Here! Here! She returned reluctantly. So much for a sneak.

Even so, I was committed to the plan to stalk the remaining length of the creek. Kids trailing by a few yards. Dog on heel. Occasionally poking over the bank to search its contents.

Nearing the creek we cut off the laneway, bypassing the stretch that Lilly had travelled. I was surprised by the noise of stiff feathers launching birds from near the bridge. Two mallards rose, not 30 yards from my position and only 10 yards from the spot Lilly had momentarily visited.

I wheeled, noting the kids – great kids – were exactly where I had told them to be, several yards behind me.

I picked the green head and shot.

The bird flinched, but kept flying. Off, down the valley with its mate. Lilly trailing at full speed.

Wait. While the hen headed skyward the drake remained only 10 yards above the flood plane.

Dog and bird covered 300 yards in seconds.

Then the bird wheeled down to the creek. Lilly hot behind.

We waited. After a minute I told the kids to wait in the open at the bridge so that Lilly would see them and return to them with duck if she found it. I headed down the other bank to help dog locate bird.

50 yards downstream I saw Lilly racing back to the kids. No bird.

Here! Here! Here! She snapped to me. Launched herself, 10 feet across the creek. Bank to bank. A spectacle of athleticism.

We hunted the final yards downstream. Another bridge crossed the creek. Lilly ran across it and under it. I could see her stop momentarily, scooping the bird up. I didn’t even need to call her. She came. Fleet, fluid motion. Bird in maw.

The drake was very much alive when she dropped it off. A crisp retrieve.

We returned to the kids, waiting for us at the bridge where I had left them. Cheers went up when I hoisted the bird. Mallard! Mallard! Then excited prattle about Christmas duck and Christmas presents and Christmas music and duck feathers on our Christmas tree.

We walked the long lane home. Half Moon Creek babbling behind us. Nearly bank full.


KGT (aka Cagey) said...

Whew! Awesome Christmas story. I can just hear the Mallard, Mallard chants. Nice work Pete, and LILLY!!!

Merry Christmas to the Warrior's Mark clan.

Anonymous said...

So nice - an epic kid hunt! Good going, Pete.
- PW