Sunday, August 19, 2007
Looking northeast from the dike rim at Heron's Foot, December 2006
"Spitz-spop, Christopher. Rise and shine." My father's familiar refrain. He opens the bedroom door and flicks on the light.
I groan and stagger from my bed to the middle of the room, where my clothes are laid out on the floor like a fallen scarecrow. Sleeves spread out to the side, an undershirt is placed on a thermal top that rests, in turn, on two sweaters and a camouflage button down. Likewise, a pair of tightie-whities rests atop long johns and a pair of camouflage pants. A pair of folded athletic socks is stacked on two heavy, woolen pair.
Absent-minded, I dress.
In the bathroom, I fight through the two undergarment layers before I can relieve myself, reminding myself that, next time, I should remember to visit the toilet before I dress. I wash my hands, splash some water on my face and decide not to brush my teeth.
Downstairs, my father is almost ready, his oatmeal and peeled banana half eaten. I pour milk on a bowl of cereal and eat quickly. Nothing is said. Outside it is still black.
On the dining room table are two shotguns, two boxes of shells (one .20 gauge and one .12), two pairs of wool gloves and two camouflage, wool face masks. My father is already in his boots when I finish my cereal. He is by the backdoor, double-checking the canvas decoy bag and his necklace of duck calls.
"Yes," I reply.
I carry the guns, gloves, shells and face masks to him, then slip on my own boots.
Once outside, my eyes adjust. It isn't black, not really. The moon's blueish glare reveals more than you might expect. My father and I walk in silence down the long clamshell drive, then cross quiet Seaside Road. We move through an opening in the roadside hedge that you'd overlook were it not for a solitary holly planted among the cedar and pine. A stout wooden footbridge spans a deep ditch inside. Another twenty steps and we crest the dike, moving east along the rim.
The decoys shift and bounce in their bag and the duck calls jostle on my father's chest. I can hear his breathing; his footsteps fall heavier than mine. I resent him for this.
At the dike's northeast corner we descend the left bank into the upper marsh, where a cedar tree island ekes out a life drinking brackish water. Around this island the cordgrass lays down in gentle waves. I want to stop, to remain for the morning in this spot, to shed these layers and lay like the cordgrass, to be part of the marsh, part of something not me, something greater. This is what I wanted at ten years of age.
Instead, I followed my father to the duck blind, where he put out the decoys and we awaited the morning flight. Now, almost twenty years later, I lay alongside the island most every time I visit Heron's Foot. It is a good place to lie.
Photo credit: Hungry Hyaena, 2006