The blessing was offered and we set upon the pre-hunt lunch of Wal-mart chicken and beans and fixings like there had been no breakfast.
Judging from the heft some fellow dove hunters were carrying, I doubted more than a few had missed a meal in years.
As we over loaded plates, I wondered aloud where everyone remembered where they had been on September 11, 2001.
Twenty years had passed, and in my mind it had been as if that horrible day “that will live in infamy” had been closer to weeks than it had been in years.
One fellow hunter had been in a college class and had gotten a call from a loved one; “We’ve been attacked!” The call seemed to him to be so foreign and strange that it immediately was discounted as unfathomable. Turning on the TV and digesting what he had just seen, he immediately called back and replied, “We’ve been attacked, go fill up your tank with gas.” Some in the room remembered a scarcity of gas for the next few weeks.
Another was called into headquarters to man an Emergency Command Center after being told, “Don’t let anyone stop you from getting here and get here fast.”
One was monitoring a Federal Aviation Administration radio frequency and the FAA was frantically trying to talk to a Piper cub in the near vicinity of a local nuclear plant. Each transmission failed to obtain a response and with each attempt from the FAA controller the call became more and more intense and filled with angst. After what seemed to be hours the pilot of the Piper Cub turned on his radio and landed as ordered. Like so many others that fine September morning twenty years ago, that pilot was just enjoying a fine fall day, oblivious to how the world was changing beneath him.
One of our party of dove hunters recalled being in Southern California on a remote mountain top with a client; when they connected with the home office who told them to turn on their radio. As they sat in their truck overlooking the Pacific, they sensed very little heaviness, it was as if the whole event was almost too foreign for them to comprehend. The heaviness of the moment was driven home when they came off the mountain and descended into the office full of confusion and fear.
One hunter told of his daughter being away at school and calling home to her mother. She asked if she should come home. Mom called dad and dad decided that his daughter was safer at school than she was around a nearby nuclear plant. Dad told her to stay at school. He said it is one of the biggest regrets of his life and his decision haunts him to this day. He stated that twenty years ago, all children needed their family and needed to be with them in this most uncertain time in our lives. He regrets this call to this day, even after twenty years have elapsed.
That little bit of honesty from a fellow hunter plunged all of us into silence and fried chicken. I think we were all looking back twenty years ago, and second guessing calls we made or did not make. I imagine we all at that point of personal reflexion, were thinking twenty years in the past about things that were far more important.
Prior to this profound thought, most of us were thinking about too much to eat and how many doves were waiting to be targeted, or if we could catch a nap before we took to the field.
The dogs pulled us out of the reminiscence of the past twenty years. There were two Labs and a German Wirehair just out of range of table scraps but close enough to smell hot chicken bones. They had become more vocal by the minute. I really don’t think it was the chicken. These dogs had been here before, and they somehow impatiently knew that the faster we ate the faster they could go to work.
As we splashed the sky with lead and watched the dogs retrieve a few birds, I recognized the day. It wasn’t much different a day than that day twenty years ago. The sky was bright, blue and an occasional cloud rolled softly overhead. Twenty years and so much had changed. Twenty years and the sky on September 11 seems the same.
I don’t remember a dove hunt on September 11, 2001, but after twenty years there are a multitude of things that have escaped my memory. I do remember twenty years ago and that momentous day with as much clarity as everyone else seems to.
Twenty years ago is an odd thing to think about when you find yourself on an uncomfortable stool in a field, scanning the bright, clear sky for elusive little twisting grey missiles that defy aeronautical physics.
I think we are all incredibly thankful just to be here twenty years later. Thankful for those that sacrificed so much; that sometimes we may have a tendency to take it all for granted.
Not all hunts bring this kind of reflection. Not all September days bring these kind of memories. This hunt was different. This day was the same even after twenty years.
The dogs and the birds may be the same, but this day is different and will always be different.