Heronk! Part Thirteen

h5. Chapter Twenty One

That wind that started early this morning switched around to the northwest and it has reached gale force. There are white caps on the river and I swear the sand on the bottom shifts when it really gets to blowing. The boys really should pack up. The ducks aren’t gonna fly in this much wind and they���re done goose huntin��� for the day.

They did get two more geese after Joe’s little prank. A pair came in about five minutes after Lars “missed” and he got both of them. Lars is still acting steamed but I know he’s just putting on.

Those two boys have more fun than should be allowed.

And, are they ever a couple of story tellers, I could still hear them talking before this wind got to howling……….

���Lars, have I ever told you about my Grandad Ted?��� Joe asked, and didn���t wait for a reply. ���He was born in Ogalalla in the early 1900���s, about twenty miles from where we���re hunting.���

���Uh, Joe,��� Lars said, ���I know where Ogalalla is, I live there, remember? But, no, you never did tell me about him. And we got some time on our hands, so, fire at will.���

���Well, he started hunting for two reasons.��� Joe went on. ���He loved the outdoors and those were tough times. Ducks kept them in meat most winters. They hunted up on the North Platte, where Lake McConaughy is today. It wasn���t there in those days.���

���It wasn���t?��� Lars interupted. ���Why, I thought it was always there. Been there as long as I can remember.���

���Right! Lars��� Joe laughed. ���It���s just that your memory isn���t as long as your age, or anything else you���ve got.

���Anyway, he and his partner had live decoys in those days. They had four hen mallards that they kept in a wire cage by the blind. They would set their dekes and then tether three of the hens out in the spread. They used them for ���call ducks���. They had them trained to beg for corn, and he said they quacked like mad every time a handfull of corn was thrown to ���em.

���And if that wasn���t enough, when they would see a flock of ducks, they would release the fourth hen and she would fly out and get the flock���s attention, and then head back to the sandbar for her reward. She���d come straight in and be on the ground by the time the flock came in. They never did shoot her, but he said they came a little close a couple of times.

���He told me that on a good day they could easily shoot fifty mallards. It really bothered him, looking back on it. But, at the time it seemed like there was a never ending supply and they never wasted anything. They canned most of them and gave many of them away to other families. But he told me he still regretted shooting that many ducks.

���Last summer we were going through some old family stuff, and Mom found a couple of pictures of Grampa and his partner that are just wonderful. One of the pictures is of them sitting on the running boards of an old Model T that has ducks draped all over it. On the back was written “October 30, 1932 75 ducks.”

���The other photo really gave me a chuckle. It showed one of their blinds and part of their decoy spread. You know how so many hunters are starting to use silhouettes? And they think it’s a whole new deal. Well, Ted and his partner had several dozen mallard silhouettes out in the river on the edge of a sandbar. Man, did they look good”

���It���s just a shame that our Grandads couldn���t have gotten together.��� Lars said. ���They both were waterfowl hunting at about the same time, just at opposite ends of the state.���

���I didn���t know your Grandad waterfowled.��� Joe said. ���You���ve never talked much about him.���

���I don���t know a lot about him.��� Lars continued, ���He died before I got to know him, but Dad told me some of the stories about his hunting. He was one dedicated waterfowler from what Dad says.

���Seems one day he was hunting down by Grand Island, on the Platte. Down there it���s just one river. No North and South Platte like we have out here.���

���Uh, Lars,��� Joe interrupted. ���I do teach geography, you know.���

���Yeah, well, I wasn���t sure.��� He grinned, and continued, ���Anyway, seems Grampa was hunting on ice that year. The river had frozen up tight and he had broken open a hole for his dekes. The ducks and geese were really flying that day and he had shot a bunch of ducks when of flock of big geese came in. I guess it was kind of a rarity in those days to get into the geese. He dropped one and it fell way out in the middle of the frozen channel. He was going out to get it, hit a spring hole and went up to his waist, right over his hip boots.

���He got the goose, got back to the blind and fired up the stove and decided the only way he would dry off was to strip down and hang his clothes over the stove.

���I guess the plan was working pretty good when he heard another flock of geese coming. He stood up and looked out and the geese were almost into his decoys, so he just automatically grabbed his shotgun, jumped up, and started shooting. The story goes that about then he realized that he was buck naked, and he got so tickled at himself that it took him ten minutes to stop laughing so he could retrieve his geese.���

���Oh my God,��� Joe laughed. ���I wonder if he put his hippies on to go retrieve those birds, or if he took the time to put his clothes back on.���

���We���ll never know.��� Lars was laughing even harder than Joe. ���Probably best to just use our imaginations on that one.���

This waterfowl tradition sure is woven deep into their family genes. It’s passed down from way back and judging by the folks I’ve hunted with, it will keep on being passed down. It hope so, I sure do enjoy it.

But, back to reality. In this strong wind my anchor slips a little once in a while. The boys better be watching me. I’ve slid downstream about twenty feet.

Oops! I just slid off that flat water out into the main channel. They had me on a short anchor cord and my anchor is now hanging straight down. And it���s not touching the bottom! Hey you guys! I’m drifting downstream. Hey!

Oh good grief. All their silhouettes just blew over and some of them ended up in the water. They’re so busy picking them up that they haven’t noticed me drifting away.

Please guys! I don’t want to leave here. Please look down this way!”

I know I can’t close my eyes, but I wonder if I can cry? I just went around a bend in the river and I’m out of sight of the blind. I don’t want this to happen but I can’t do a damn thing about it.

Don and Sandy are gonna’ wring Joe’s neck.

h5. Chapter Twenty Two

Here I am on my own again.

Damn! Those guys were the best! That���s another place I���m really going to miss.

I’m stuck out here on the edge of this sandbar and have been for two weeks. The weather has improved but the river is all iced up.

Trust me. Ice up was quite an experience. I stopped drifting when I ran aground on this sandbar. Then the temperature started dropping and it kept dropping. Kind of like a head shot goose from fifty yards up. Straight down! Colder and colder! Then slush started forming in the river, and, my, the noise it made. Just a steady nerve racking “Hiss Shh. Hiss Shh. Hisshhh Hissssshhh! ”

The noise was continuous for about half a day and then………… complete, dead silence!

And the river stopped!

It seemed the cold had strangled the river!

For an hour, there wasn’t a sound. Not even any birds chirping or quacking, or honking. It was as though they were in mourning for the river.

It was as though the river had died!

Finally, a flock of crows came cawing there way overhead and I saw and heard some high flying mallards. That made me feel a whole lot better. I was afraid for a while that the whole world had frozen up tight.

It has stayed bitter cold, until today. I guess most of the ducks and geese moved on south, at least they haven’t been flying the river. Just a small family of geese now and then.

I guess I’m stuck here till the ice melts. Maybe we’ll have a January thaw and I can get moving. Maybe this is as full as the river gets and I’m stuck here permanently. No, that can’t be. I’ve got somewhere to go. I don’t know where, but the wanderlust is shore ’nuff in me.

h5. Chapter Twenty Three

There was a January thaw all right. And another thaw in February.

The temperature started climbing, the ice started busting up into huge chunks and the water started rising. Some of the chunks were as big as that ol��� stupidbaker pickup. I really thought I���d be alright sitting on the ice where I was. But, suddenly, and with a very loud cracking noise, the ice I was sitting on broke off from the rest of the ice and started moving downstream.

I was dead center in an ice floe! A shifting, heaving, mass of white ice that cracked, shuddered, spun and scraped its way out into the main channel.

That floe, or Floey, as I came to call her, bounced off of other chunks of ice, tree roots, old car bodies and bridges. The worst were the bridges. The floe ran into some pilings and I slid across the chunk, right to the edge. My anchor went over the side and I was about to go over when the chunk twisted in the current, banged into another piling, and I scooted back the other way. My anchor didn���t make it.

If I’d have fallen off that chunk of ice around those pilings I shudder to think what would have become of me. It would have been just like a guillotine. Thwack! My poor head would have been separated from my body, just like my anchor was.

But! That didn’t happen.

Thankfully, what did happen was much less dramatic. Three nights after hitting the bridge, the river froze back up. It was so cold that my butt froze to the ice. The chunk of ice had drifted in between a big fallen Cottonwood tree and the bank and lodged there.

The next couple of days the temperature took some wild swings up and down, and one night it started to rain. It poured rain. My butt thawed out and I slid right off that chunk of ice and landed in the Cottonwood tree’s roots. I was stuck back in a corner where I couldn’t get out if I’d wanted to. But that wasn���t all bad, I was ready to stay a while and rest up, believe me.

I had drifted downstream many miles from Joe and Lars blind. I’d crossed over a couple of diversion dams, gone under bridges and barbed wire fences, been frozen clear through, and hadn’t seen anybody. All in all, it was a terrible, terrible experience.

I’ve now been stuck back in these tree roots for a couple of weeks. The weather has stayed warm and the ice is gone. I almost drifted clear of the roots a couple of days ago, but, all I succeeded in doing was turning myself around and now I’m staring into the river bank. Boring!

I’ve heard some very strange sounds the last few days. I know the northern migration has started because I’ve heard lots of geese and ducks, even some snow geese. But this sound was strange. It’s kind of like a combination of Canada geese, snows, specklebellies, and…..no, it’s more like a strangled Blue Heron’s squawk….actually, what it is, is a high pitched trilling noise that I’ve never heard before. And there must be lots of whatever it is that is making that sound. It seems almost continuous.

If I could just turn around, I could see what it is that’s making all the noise. I’m really sick and tired of this mess I’ve gotten into.

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