While I agree the most boring sentence in the English language begins with the five words, "When I was a kid," I nonetheless was thinking back the other day to just that time. I had awoken early to a coolness that suggested fall wasn't far off. Frost was even possible up north, the woman on the radio said. Pulling on a light jacket, I walked to the barn, hearing there the soft nickering of Isaiah the gelding. This would be a good day.
The dogs needed walking, too, and after I had turned out the horse, I loosed them from their kennel. Their leaving suggested a jail break, and I recalled a friend of mine now gone, Roger Reopelle, who once was clipped from behind by one of his Labradors, laying him up in a cast for months. It was about then that old Roger bought a new electric training collar.
My dad was a duck hunter, and when I was a kid he always had his decoys painted and organized by the first of August. This was before anyone could imagine ordering hunting equipment or anything else "online." Some of the decoys were Canada geese, others snows. But mostly they were mallards, silhouettes handmade of plywood. In October and especially November, when the season's fat drakes spiraled out of Manitoba and Saskatchewan into the harvested cornfields north of our town, Dad's cutting, sanding and painting of the fake birds really paid off.
We lived in Rugby, N.D., at the time, our last residence in that state before we moved to Michigan. I was too young to hunt, but not too young to go along. We had a big Lab named Boze, who rode in the trunk of Dad's car, and before the season began, after supper, we'd follow a gravel road out of town and into the country, where we'd open the trunk and let Boze run in road ditches as we drove alongside. Sloughs pockmarked the landscape, and when Boze got hot, he splashed into one and then another, alarming blue-winged teal and gadwalls, also red-winged black birds.
People are bound to one another more by the start of school than any other autumn experience. But if you grow up hunting, or pick it up later in life, you're keen to the fall months more indelibly still, wearing them like tattoos. And not just September, October and November, but the months leading up to them. Cool weather is first to trigger the memory floodgate, and past mornings in duck blinds, evenings in bow stands and suppers in deer shacks are replayed, rewound and replayed again.
So it was the other morning as I followed the dogs across the pasture. The grass was wet and a slight fog hung low. Isaiah grazed in the distance. The sun wasn't yet fully up. But when it was, I thought I'd throw a saddle over his back and ride on out of here. Also I thought I should nock an arrow or two and see if I could still find the target. Anticipation of autumn defines the season as much as autumn itself, and you can't prepare too much.
As you read this, and throughout this weekend and next, kindred spirits to these thoughts will gather at Game Fair in Anoka as they have now for 31 years. Strangers to the show might say it's a hunting show or a dog show or a shooting show or an archery show. It is these. But more to the point it's a place where those whose infatuation with autumn is validated among equals. It cools the jets also if you buy a few things, maybe a gun or some new decoys. Either way, you leave the place wanting to wake up early the next morning and get on with it. That and you realize anew that your dog really is your best friend, and perhaps could even be president.
I looked long and hard at my saddle the other morning, and as I reached for it, I recalled Dad on a similar cool morning reaching for his old Remington.
Duck season had opened, and Boze was fidgeting on the doorstep. Daybreak was a long way off, and in the dark we loaded the decoys into the trunk, then Boze, then Dad's gun and everything else we needed.
I was just a kid but I figured this was the most important day ever. I still do.
Dennis Anderson email@example.com