Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Drought, Rain, Birds, Story

The choking, wind-whipped dust gusted across the desiccated pasture at ground level. Impeded by nothing, it undulated in long, serpentine tendrils across a landscape devoid of vegetation or any discernable moisture or humidity. The earth had the texture of ancient porcelain, spiderwebbed with a lattice of interlocking cracks so wide and so deep that when the dogs  ran across the shattered clay hardpan they almost had to hop from one piece to the next like some crazy game of hopscotch. 

Last fall there had been a seasonal pond here, a playa, as they’re called on the southern plains, and I had shot ducks over it, watched as my old retriever swam across the same area where now my two setters sent up tiny plumes of talcum-fine silt with every tentative step. In a good year, when the rains came, the edges of the playa grew up in a thick, lush scrum of weedy forbs, and the dogs would slam into quivering, beautiful, motionlessness, the hot scent of quail filling their noses.

But there were no quail here now, nor ducks. Just the moaning of the wind under a white-hot orb of sky that burned from one horizon to the next, withering everything under its relentless, implacable gaze. I called up the dogs and we slowly trudged back to the truck, three tiny, defeated figures crawling across a vast whitewashed canvas shimmering with heat.

Drought had once again come to my part of the world. And once again, as we have always done, those of us locked in its grip could only look to the sky and wonder when - or if - the rains would return.

...From a feature story on drought I penned for the current issue of Living Ready. Please go buy it and tell them you want more from that Chad Love guy. I wrote that intro with the memory of the last two hellish years fresh on my mind. But although the worm hasn't exactly turned, it is wiggling just a little...

Actual rainfall in my part of the world, at a time of the year when we don't usually get much, and none at all the past few years. I'm becoming cautiously, yet slightly increasingly optimistic about quail season this fall. Rain in June and July means cover, bugs, and a respite from the August-September heat that's sure to come. We've had one or two weeks of extreme-ish (100-plus) heat already, but they've been interspersed with rain and cooler temperatures. Eighties in mid-July? I'll take 'em. All in all it hasn't been nearly as brutal a summer this year as it has the past two or three.

We still have the Sauron-like spectre of August ahead of us, and I doubt we'll get lucky and catch another of those weird, blue moonish east-to-west-moving lows that brought this last round of rain and cool, but at least the vegetation and birds aren't baking. And that's good news to me. It makes my hopes for fall seem a little less tenuous and a bit more attainable.

Because at one point, those hopes were looking rather grim. I'll admit, when I stopped writing for F&S, about the only thing I truly mourned was that damn handy "it's for work" excuse for hitting the road to go hunt other states, either on pressers or for stories. Why? Well, besides the obvious reasons (Free gear! Free booze!), it was because the hunting close to home has sucked so badly. I wanted birds for the dogs. There were no birds here. Ergo, if I wanted birds for the dogs I must travel far, far away and expense as much of it as I possibly could, you know, for work...

Those "work" hunts, some good, some bad, allowed me to supplement - if not outright replace - the truly execrable bird hunting in my home state with a modest number of escapist trips elsewhere, trips I wouldn't have had the opportunity to take if not for the cachet of having "Field & Stream writer" before my name.

Now, however, I'm back to being just another mook with a shotgun. Which is cool, truly. The occasional piece of free swag aside,  I much prefer being truly independent in what I write and how I write it rather than having a bunch of career magazine industry dandies who know fuckall about what they're supposed to be experts at telling me how and what to write while prancing around Manhattan whoring for circle-jerk publishing industry awards and play-acting at being total outdoorsmen while being wet-nursed on their own press hunts, by golly.

Of course, that all sounds defiantly well and good and "live free or die" and all, but for three things: One, when done right, some of those press hunts were pretty damn good affairs; two, with those pressers and work trips gone, the vast majority of my bird hunting this fall will, by necessity, be close to home here in Oklahoma and southern Kansas, and three; it does no good to be able to write in some wild, primal, uncaged Voice if the birds are simply not there and all you're going to be writing is multiple variations on "The dogs and I went out. We walked for miles. We saw nothing. I felt pensive and introspective, yet satisfied. We came home. The end."

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure I'll be writing a shitload of "The dogs and I went out. We walked for miles. We saw nothing. I felt pensive and introspective, yet satisfied. We came home. The end." stories. 

But thanks to this rain, maybe, just maybe, I might also be able to write a few "The dogs and I went out. We walked for miles. They went on point. I shot at a bird. I missed. I cursed. I felt angry, yet satisfied. We came home. The end" stories. 

I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but in the meantime, here's my new favorite song...

1 comment:

  1. "The dogs and I went out. We walked for miles. We saw nothing. I felt pensive and introspective, yet satisfied. We came home. The end."

    Sounds an awful lot like most of my hog hunting stories/videos. Except the dogs part. And not always so pensive. But always satisfied.

    I used to dream, oh so hard, about becoming one of those guys with XMagazine outdoors writer before my name. Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield... but the more people I know who've actually done it, the happier I think I am that I took the corporate route for now and chose to write stuff like how to install X software, or perform basic functions with Y-management too. So far, it's paid the bills and covered several great hunting trips. Free stuff? Well, the blog used to provide, but readership ain't what it once was...

    As far as rain... we're loving it down here in west-central TX right now too. Strange patterns, or so say the guys on TV, but I'll take strange over drought with tentative optimism and strained hope.

    Now I'm gonna go listen to the Zep video. Good choice for today...