My duck camp in western Minnesota has been described in many ways. Spartan, primitive and ugly come to mind. But before this past MEA weekend when eight-year old McKenna and her 12-week-old yellow Lab, Dolly, were guests in camp the word cute was seldom a descriptor. The effects of their presence were immediate and beneficial.
The language used around camp, often, um, colorful in the past took on an almost genteel tone. The after-hunt beverages featured no foam. People went to bed early and got up less grumpy. I saw character traits in adult men I didn't know they possessed. It was truly amazing. Sweet youth!
My long-serving Blunder Bus, which used to haul around school kids like McKenna when it was yellow not olive drab, is in its 30th year of duck camp service. It was a source of wide-eyed wonderment. What happened to all the seats? All gone save the two facing one another at the dinner table. How do you sleep with all the mice skittering around? Answer: ignore them. What happens if Dolly has an accident and pees on the bus? Answer: ignore that too.
Even the duck hunting took a turn for the better. We talked a few wood ducks and mallards down out of the fog and mist. The woodies must have been migrants because we seldom see them in the neighborhood of my camp. All welcomed by young and old hunters and by young and old Labradors.
Dolly the pup provided endless entertainment. She shows great promise in her disposition, appearance and the proud, head-up way she carries a woodie in her mouth. Great promise, that is, until she ate the beak off a wood duck McKenna's dad was going to take to a taxidermist. Bad girl!
But the dampness-defeating camp fire, the wonderful elk chili provided by McKenna's mom, the delightful giggling of a little girl, even the high-octave whining of a puppy all helped make the weekend a memorable outdoor experience. I asked McKenna if she would come back and she said, "you bet!"
I may even sweep the cobwebs, dried mud and stale dog chow off Blunder Bus.