North Dakota Living

Farm, Family, Pheasants: The Fifth Season

In my family, the year is broken up into not four seasons, but five: Winter (also known as basketball season), planting season, summer break (pretty much the month of July), harvest, and hunting season. Each year pretty much follows this pattern. If you want to get married in this family, you can choose July, or risk having someone joke that they can’t make it because of harvest, a basketball tournament, or deer hunting. (I had the audacity to get married during deer hunting season, and some of my relatives really didn’t understand.)

Well, anyway, harvest wrapped up over a month ago, and we are officially in the throes of hunting season. I do love pheasant hunting! I love the crisp fall air; I love hiking around outside; I love camouflage and the smell of gunpowder and the crunch of dried grass underfoot. I love the way the last bit of color is stubbornly clinging on before winter rolls around:

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I love those cozy fall nights when everyone piles into the house for dinner, and the sun has gone down, and we cook and eat and laugh together and everyone’s hair is matted to their heads from wearing hunting hats all day.

I love pheasant nuggets, too (I will share a little more about those with you later).

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Just a few minutes ago, the last visiting family members drove away from our annual family pheasant hunting weekend to their other cities and their other lives. This year was a success, like always. Everyone except my oldest brother and his family made it out to the farm, and other than missing them in our big group, it was great: The other little ones had a lot of fun running around outside; we realized our little black lab mix, Scout, just might turn out to be a bird dog after all; and the freezers are now stocked with pheasant to use for some tasty meals over the winter months.

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Tonight I was reflecting on all the memories of countless pheasant hunts I have been on over the years. Several years ago, I quit carrying my little Mossberg shotgun and started carrying my Canon instead, and that suits me just fine. I still get the experience, the exercise, and the fresh air, but none of the guilt because let’s face it, I’m a little too tender (or weenie, however you interpret it) to actually feel good about shooting things myself. Anyway, today during one of our last hunts, I tagged along with my camera as usual. This time, though, I took a few minutes to just listen and observe what was happening around me. We were spread out around an abandoned farm yard close to our own farm. The sky was spread with thin gray clouds, and it was just cool enough to chill the tip of my nose. The air in the farmyard was still — there was no wind and little nearby traffic — but punctuated occasionally by flapping wings or squawks of fleeing pheasants, shouts of “Rooster!” or “Hen!” or “Abby, come! Scout, come!” and sporadic gunshots. A flash of blaze orange through the trees now and then, one of the black dogs bounding through the undergrowth, and pheasants fleeing out of the shelterbelts gave the normally quiet yard an electric feel. I was in the center of it all, just taking it in. I loved it. It reminded me of all those pheasant hunts before, from the time I was a little girl until now: each one with a slightly different group of people and each one in a slightly different time or place.

These same observations inspired a poem that I wrote years ago. I had just left a pheasant hunting weekend like this one and was headed back to college, and the words flooded in. I composed the whole thing in about 20 minutes. It just happens sometimes. Some things in my life just make the words pour out.

Maybe it will bring back memories for some of you, too:

A Gunpowder Morning

This morn to remember dawns cold in November
Far to the east are the lightening skies
And six drowsy hunters arise from their slumbers
To rub all the sleep from their eyes
And give birds unaware a surprise!

Up to the north noble pheasants come forth
Among quiet cattails, feeding their fill
Bold in their splendor, about to surrender
To knowledge that breaking the still
Will be hunters bound fiercely to kill!

The pheasants are snacking and white frost is cracking
Beauty runs deep on this day in the fall
The trees form a cage over green-scented sage
This natural haven is small –
But this day is dearer to all.

For off the horizon the sun’s further rising
Has painted the eastern sky soft glowing red
But then there’s a sound, an approaching dust cloud
And one rooster raises his head
He’s filled with a dull sinking dread!

The truck climbs the hill and moves closer still
Then slams to the stop at the edge of the brush
The men pile out; there’s a point and a shout –
Where moments before it was hush
Now there’s maddening rush!

The pheasants are fleeing; one’s flying, not seeing
His fatal mistake on this mad morning run
A shot, then one louder; the smell of gunpowder –
This pheasant is only but one:
Another fall hunt has begun!

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