I am a son of the West. Born on the genesis of the plains, in the shadows of rocky giants, I had the best of both worlds. One of the rituals of experiencing the outdoors in the West involves a pillowcase, a flashlight, a heavy jacket and at least a medium dose of gullibility. Why anyone would believe that a roadrunner-like bird would dash into your pillowcase because it was enticed by the light of a torch is beyond me. (Some versions of the hunt include an equally gullible partner banging on a pot with a wooden spoon).
For the perpetrated, this rite of passage certainly leaves them with trust issues for at least 24 hours, after the realization that the car that dropped them off in the wilderness has fled and probably wont be back for a few hours. For the perpetrators, there are lots of snickers and plenty of material for healthy teasing in years to come. I will admit that I have participated on both ends of this event.
After the fear of death-by-coyote has passed and you’ve stumbled your way back to the road, there isn’t much else to do but walk and listen. You finally realize that you can actually see more when you are brave enough to turn off your flashlight, and if your lucky enough to think about it, you look up and for the first time in your life you can see the milky way as people have been seeing it for millennia.
When your ride finally does come rumbling up the road, blinding you with its headlights, you leave a little bit of youthful naïveté behind with an appreciation for how wide-open the world is and that it is filled with quasi-jerks (like the ones who sent you on the hunt in the first place).
The discovery of that wide-open world is chronicled brilliantly in Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. The book records his deeply intuitive relationship with nature as he travels back and forth between the big city and his property in the woods of Wisconsin. Leopold’s attention to nature’s detail and complex dynamics are so beautifully described in his prose that you can’t help but be transported into his world and to fancifully imagine his vivid descriptions:
The Geese Return
ONE SWALLOW does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.
A cardinal, whistling spring to a thaw but later finding himself mistaken, can retrieve his error by resuming his winter silence. A chipmunk, emerging for a sunbath but finding a blizzard, has only to go back to bed. But a migrating goose, staking two hundred miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat. His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges.
A March morning is only as drab as he who walks in it without a glance skyward, ear cocked for geese. I once knew an educated lady, banded by Phi Beta Kappa, who told me that she had never heard or seen the geese that twice a year proclaim the revolving seasons to her well-insulated roof. Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth? The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers. (19-20)
I often wonder how many of us that live in urban environments miss the call of the geese? How many are content to see the colors of the autumn leaves on the television rather than to see their splendor first hand? I would posit that those of us that consider ourselves urbane notice the rhythm of the year in a different way. The urban way. The planting of gardens, the mowing of the lawns, the raking of the leaves and the shoveling of snow are about as close as we get to nature anymore.
I’m not complaining though. The more refined a person may become, the more fun it is to take them snipe hunting come spring . . .