I drove down a gravel road, crossed a small bridge separating two lakes, turned onto a path that crossed a shallow ditch, and followed a pair of tire tracks in the prairie grass that disappeared over the top of a slight ridge. When the nose of my pickup reached the crest, I could see a little compound made up of pickups, campers, one tent, and an ancient, decrepit Greyhound bus. A homemade picnic table sat uphill from a big campfire. I parked my pickup and walked past an overturned boat that had been turned into an impromptu butcher shop. Two guys with bloody hands and big smiles greeted me through a swirl of duck feathers in the air. About a dozen guys milled around the clearing, dressed in camouflage and mud. They ranged in age from about twelve to…considerably older.
I greeted some folks and ended up standing next to the fire with a beer in my hand. There was a grate about four feet square over a bed of coals, with a half dozen covered tin foil pans parked on the cooler edges. Over the glowing coals was an ancient frying pan, two feet in diameter, full of nicely charred peppers. They soon ended up in one of the foil pans and were replaced by pieces of cut up duck that had been given some sort of mysterious rub and then cooked in what appeared to be a splash of cognac. I may not have gotten the recipe exactly right, but the taste was delicious.
The camp was close to the water, which could be seen through a thin screen of trees. I glanced to my left and watched rippling water framed by rustling golden leaves as a cool breeze pushed the sun towards the horizon.
I could tell it was going to be a cold night, but if you’re the sort of person who goes duck hunting for a hobby, a tinge of frost on the cattails isn’t anything to worry about. I stepped a little closer to the fire, although it wasn’t so much the chill as my desire to get nearer to the food. Out of an excess of politeness, the cook gave me the first plate. Peppers, potatoes, medium rare wild duck and French bread hit my plate and disappeared into my mouth in short order.
I have some friends who disapprove of hunting as a matter of principle, and others who see wearing rubber clothes and standing in the mud before daylight as a ridiculous endeavor to call a sport. I can respect those opinions, but the other night, surrounded by autumn and friendship, I said aloud something I’ve said before.
“Right now,” I said, “there’s a guy in Manhattan drinking a Martini in a dark bar. He might be wearing a tuxedo and he’s thinking life is pretty good.”
The head chef, across the fire from me, squinting through the smoke and waving a bent spatula with a three-foot handle, finished my thought for me.
“And he has no idea what he’s missing.”
Life is good.
Copyright 2011 Brent Olson