Stranger in My Own House
I really should go in to my own house but standing in the starlight with six big Canada Geese strung on a leather strap and a cased shotgun in my other hand makes me hesitate. It is Canadian Thanksgiving which is the second weekend of October, importantly, about the peak migration date for waterfowl here in Central Alberta.
My hesitation comes from not wanting this outdoor day to end, yet, there is nice fire in the fireplace, a crowd of people with drinks standing about and I can hear the music thrumming through the walls. I am not yet part of this Thanksgiving party in my own home. There are still geese winging and crying overhead in the dark and I haven’t fully left the quiet rustling bulrushes from which scanning eyes followed high vees of travelling geese. Nor have I stopped willing for the flocks to falter and cup into my sweep of decoys in this quiet cove.
My ears still burn from the cold wind and the punctuated roar of a shotgun. I just have a little shape-shifting to do before I can walk into the boisterous party scene. Dixie, after a twitching nap on her floorboard cushion, has no such compunction and has dashed to the front door, no doubt with visions of her usual warm spot in front of the fire surrounded by doting visitors and the inevitable turkey handouts that non-dog people slip her.
If left to my devices I would probably go sit down in the rocking chair on the back porch, light a cigar, draw these geese and let the chill seep in until my knees stiffened up a little. I could clean the dog-splattered mud off my shotgun and jot a few notes in my journal, smoke a 30-minute cigar and maybe have a snort of something that would warm me from the inside.
Hell, who am I kidding? I don’t have a rocking chair on my back porch and I don’t smoke. Besides, I am starving and I know there is a seductress awaiting me; she is a smoked turkey spilling with the oyster dressing and giblet gravy I made last night with a side of Naomi’s candied sweet potatoes swarming with butter, brown sugar and chopped pecans. The weather is just cold enough that I can go all French and hang these birds out of raccoon reach for tomorrow’s cleaning then slip in to be served turkey, clink some bourbon-drenched ice and try once again to tell these university people why I go out in cold windy weather like this.
Dinner is clearly over and this crowd called “The usual suspects” often ends up dancing at house parties — to the eye-rolling chagrin but endless fascination of our teenaged daughter. Then the David Byrne starts in on Burning Down the House and I see the lithe form of my wife doing her little hip rolling BaRump-a-Rump pivot. Clearly the party is getting rolling.
There will be well-wishes to make, drinks to mix, dessert to enjoy, and a hell of a lot of dishes to clean. I don’t begrudge any of this and I do enjoy these people. Even though they don’t understand this little side passion I have for waterfowling on fall holidays, they don’t begrudge it and all understand that I will be a late arrival on most weekend nights.
Naomi has long since stopped resisting. Yes, by the end of November she can get a little weary of it but she thankfully forgets from year to year and she is a rare non-hunting spouse that loves wild duck and goose, prefers ground venison to beef and has never complained about toughness. I love that about her. Did I mention she is a wonderful dancer too?
Even Naomi has her limits though and does not want to be the hunter herself. Some things should not be forced. I have seen hunters, both women and men, who were completely comfortable with the ebb and flow of killing game. It fits neatly into their utilitarian fit into the natural world views. Others not so much. They can’t sufficiently reconcile the violence necessary to kill animals and can never completely trust the intentions of the hunter who is channelling that violence. There is room for all in this big world though.
Some jazz musicians say that the space between the notes is as important as the notes themselves. The same can be said for the time between shots in the hunting field. The anticipation, uncertainty and hope of how things will roll out all conspire to elevate the trigger pull to a laser point of convergence. Action. The outcome of the shot rounds out the circle of validation and reward. After a retrieve or at least a reload, it is time to start the cycle of anticipation again and this roller coaster of waterfowler emotions is as satisfying and ultimately, as pleasantly draining as an intricate dance.
How does one convey this deep satisfaction with all its nuance, inconsistency, mixed emotions and appreciation to someone at a festive party of domestic turkey, dance and chit chat? Ahhh . . . it probably doesn’t really matter. Time to get some heat into my bones, food in my stomach and conversation in my ears. Time to come back to civilization.