Article Contributed by Field Staff Writer G. Ford.
Duck hunting is as close as I come to gambling. I descend to the lowest place on the landscape, alone, in pitch black pre-dawn, surrounded by water and silent trees. I paddle myself down ancient, watery paths not knowing what I will find or see. The experience and adventure is the payoff. In that way, there is no gamble at all.
At this hour of morning, the only color in the sky is a rose glow gathering in the East. Gray light surrounds me and fills my eyes. Bare branches of blackgums, cottonwoods, and river birches are splayed against the great expanse above me. I count the second handâ€™s ticks to legal shooting time. I am subjected to the limits of Father Time while trying to master Mother Natureâ€™s bounty. The clock finally hits 6:53. Itâ€™s time. Wood Ducks strafe down through tree tops and bank hard, burning off speed to land. My shotgun report rips through the still air in the early morning, shattering the silence. At the first crack of light, my 12-gauge shakes the swampâ€™s air.
The resounding blast expands out of reach farther than I can know. This eruption of gunfire seems to have nowhere to escape out of this flooded landscape. The conflagration of ricocheted thunder races to the horizon, errantly evaporating through seams in the timber. Becoming a low roar, the sound eventually disseminates out of sight.
Understanding the reverberationâ€™s reach is likely not possible, because it expands in unknown dimensions beyond me; seeping into the secret crevices of the seldom-explored bottomlands. Thinking of its reach draws me to calculate the breadth of the swamp landscape I am in. The finite nature of my vantage point for this hunt is referenced to me audibly. I realize the brevity and impermanence of the space I occupy.
I understand where I exist in space by how far I can see. The results of my morningâ€™s expedition are from this single location, on this single beaver dam, on this single creek. The ducks that fly overhead are the ones I will tell stories about from this morning. An echo that carries to the horizon, or seemingly beyond, makes me feel eternally-small in this creation space. I take refuge here. All I want to do is chase after it all. But, there is likely no hope of exerted energies that could bring me close to seeing or understanding all that inhabits this swampland. I feel humbled as I comprehend how pin-point I am in the tapestry of this bottomland arena. It makes me thirst to explore and discover more of this landscape, while hopefully, finding more of myself in the process.