I was supposed to go fishing this morning.
Instead, I got up early, made myself a cup of coffee, and a piece of toast topped with ripe red tomatoes out of the garden, and stepped quietly out onto my screened porch. It sets well up off the ground and faces the west, surrounded by trees and it is a wonderful shaded place to be any time of the day.
There are two young fox squirrels out there beneath the oaks early every morning, and about six or seven young grey squirrels. All kinds of birds, everywhere. I could write a book based on observations and revelations from those mornings and evenings on my porch.
I think back to when my Grandpa Dablemont and I would sit on his screened porch, in rocking chairs he had made himself, looking down on Brushy Creek. He was getting old, and he sometimes would rather sit there and think about fishing than actually go out and do it. I am afraid I am getting that way, and it worries me. But shucks, the rivers I love to float are so low, and some so polluted, that it isn’t the way it once was.
As you grow older, it hurts to see things become so much different than they use to be. The porch allows you to see things the way they use to be. I take great comfort in that, knowing God still makes things work right and there really is such a thing as normal when men aren’t involved to screw it all up.
For instance, the rain-crows, which I hear early in the morning, sound just like they did from Grandpa’s porch. They eat the same, hide the same, mate the same, and nest the same. But these I have are a bunch of liars. The old guys in the pool hall said when you heard a rain-crow (yellow-billed cuckoo) it meant that it was about to rain. My rain-crows call every morning and it doesn’t rain hardly ever.
This morning there were two rabbits in my back “lawn,” if you want to call this unmowed assemblance of grass, flowers, and herbs a lawn. One was chasing the other. Therefore you know which one is a male and which one is a female!
In the winter, these squirrels chase each other all through these branches around me, the male always chasing, the female fleeing. This fall, the bucks will be chasing the does. It has never changed here in the woods, and it never will.
I also know that the female rabbit will stop running. The squirrels will too, and so will the doe deer. Knowing that, I wonder why they run in the first place. Maybe it is a form of natural selection, insuring that the fastest strongest males, the ones filled with the most testosterone, become the fathers. Manhood at its strongest and best! I approve of that, and it might have escaped me if I had gone fishing this morning. So there’s a good reason to sit on the porch some, and think. You can accumulate wisdom.
I observed my little 8-year-old grandson Alex at a friend’s home a week or so ago, being chased by two little girls his age, much to his delight. He said, “Grandpa, these girls are driving me crazy,” with a big smile on his face. I wanted to tell him that it had been my experience that if you quit running and tried to get caught, they would leave you alone! Alex just turned eight, and he told me he could tell his voice was getting deeper! I had to laugh. It appeared to me he was getting a little slower afoot too.
That comes with getting older. By the time he is 18 he won’t be able to outrun any really good-looking girls.
Wild birds do things completely opposite. The males are beautifully colored, and they don’t chase the ladies at all. They go into a display of some sort, like the wild gobblers for instance. The female is so taken with their colors and the strutting and romantic music of coos and gobbles and whistling, that they select their mate and submit to him. I think that is a better way to do things. It is still going on, with the birds. If you were out in the woods often, as I am, you would notice wild gobblers are still strutting, and will mate into July.
Amazingly all birds have a little bit of romance in them. Doves will bring off continuing clutches of two eggs at a time, from February through the summer, sometimes raising as many as 10 young birds by the time we start shooting them in September.
The mating urge gets lots of bucks shot in the fall, and lots of gobblers shot in the spring. Winter squirrel hunters often succeed when some squirrel is chasing another one through the branches throwing caution to the wind. And Grandpa often told me how he would take his .22 rifle and call up quail in the summer, back when we actually had a bunch of them, and shoot their heads off. June and July was a great time to have a good quail dinner.
I thought about that when I was sitting on the porch the other evening watching the sun set in the northwest, creating a blazing spectacle across the sky. I heard a bobwhite down in my neighbors field 300 yards away. I started whistling at him and in little time, answering me as he came, he moved into my woods, and then came flying directly at me, alighting on the porch roof above my head.
The sun set about 8:36 that evening, marking the longest day of the summer. By that time he had flown down right beneath me and was running in little circles on the ground, squealing the way a rooster quail does when he wants to attract a mate and put on his little show. I suspect his hen, or hens, are nesting somewhere, or brooding chicks. If that little bobwhite had been around 75 years ago, Grandpa would have eaten him for supper.
I can’t bring it upon myself to eat anything I watch from my porch. The most tempting thing would be the young turkeys eating my black raspberries at the edge of my “lawn.” Or maybe the hundreds of doves that will gather in November and December around my pond where I have the corn feeder, or the occasional teal, wood ducks or mallards which also like the pond. I couldn’t shoot the biggest buck in the world if he was in my back yard.
Grandpa would have. When he was young, he was hungrier than I have ever been. And there weren’t any turkeys or deer in the 1940s and 50s. But Grandpa could eat all the fish he wanted. Lordy, the river was full of fish back then, and bullfrogs.
There were times that I wondered why he was sitting on that porch instead of trotlining for catfish with me, or going after a sack-full of bullfrogs. I think now I understand. But I know I have to take Alex fishing, because I have so much to teach him.
Watching him run from those little girls made me realize he has a great deal to learn! Some of that will come natural! But paddling a boat, and setting trotlines and calling hoot owls — those are things he’ll have to be taught.
I was supposed to go fishing this morning.
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