The birds would return later in the morning.
Or so we hoped.
“So beautiful,’’ Galina said.
And it was.
We picked an island surrounded mostly by ice, with a patch of open water just offshore. The swans had resettled not far away and were again resting. But the geese would feed in nearby picked cornfields for at least a couple of hours.
Galina arranged briquettes in the grill, put a match to them, and we settled in, with coffee brewing. The temperature wasn’t yet above zero, and our breath appeared as vapor as we spoke.
Wendell and I perched ourselves on buckets and watched Galina pour platter-size arrangements of doughy pancake mix into a frying pan, this while still more swans departed the backwaters and flew over us.
Some of the birds were so low we could almost touch them. As theater, it was Broadway and London’s West End all in one.
Earlier this year, Winchester brought to market shotgun shells using special wads Wendell invented. Fitted in target loads, the highly visible wads fly with shot pellets as they leave the muzzle, allowing shooters to see whether they are correctly leading clay pigeons or other targets.
“If they miss, they finally know why,’’ Wendell said. “The wad tells them whether their aim is behind, in front, or right on.’’
Friday morning, we would be shooting only at single geese, or maybe pairs, or at the most, small handfuls. Wendell is a big believer in not lighting up goose roosts with Alamo-like volleys, and I agree. The goal should be to sneak a bird here, sneak one there, and not frighten the flock into the next county. Or state.
It was near midmorning when a single honker came over and Wendell rose to tickle the trigger of his vintage 12 gauge, somersaulting the big bird in a long arch toward the frozen river, and in the process producing a tricky retrieve, falling as the goose did in an area notorious for weak ice over deep water.
“That’s why we brought the canoe,’’ Wendell said.
Another goose soon came within range against the late morning’s bright blue sky, and it also was brought to hand, giving us two Christmas birds, a fair enough dividend for our efforts.
Now midday was quickly nigh and we loaded the canoe for the trip back across the ice.
Awaiting us on shore was still another thrill: Wendell’s 1978 Volare station wagon, its odometer rolling over 432,000 miles.
“The tranny’s the weak link in these babies; I’ve got a couple extra at home,’’ Wendell said as we loaded our gear and squeezed into the front seat, shoulder-to-shoulder, still wearing our waders.
Driving away, we bottomed the old Plymouth’s springs a time or two, while behind us, in the backwaters, ice still formed, crowding out, little by little, the geese and swans that winter will soon push farther south.