“The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.” - Bruce Cockburn
“When you walked here, in hot weather, you walked in a kind of Southern rain forest, amidst the creeping vines and poison ivy and the big black-and-yellow spiders, webs dripping silver in air so heavy it seemed to be held up by faith alone.
The hum of insects and trilling of frogs, a million at least, sang out of the dark, and glowing specks of lightning bugs winked on and off. They were flying low that night, just above the high grass; my grandma used to say that meant it was going to rain.” - Rick Bragg
When the temperature gets above 86 degrees and the young corn looks like it needs a decent rain, I have a tendency to think of cold and rainy duck hunts. Most December hunts seem to always start about a week or so before Christmas when the birds still remain scarce. But, memorable hunts seem to be a salve of sorts when confronted with the dry, hot weather we’re struggling with now.
Some expeditions are doomed from the start. The maiden voyage of the Titanic, the Hindenburg, Beck Weather’s ill fated attempt on Everest. Monica’s attempt to be First Girlfriend and Hillary’s ascendency to the throne are just a few excellent doomed examples.
Last December, I got swept up in one of these doomed expeditions. I was supposed to meet a ‘good huntin’ buddy’ at his trailer. We were going to drive his four wheel drive truck through some long and deeply rutted farm roads to his secret spot for a muddy morning of duck hunting.
As I pulled into his drive through a cold rain, I quickly noticed that his old F-150 was listing smartly to the port side and that one slick tire was flat as stale beer. This was the first subtle sign that the morning was doomed.
This meant we either walk more than a mile to our secret swamp since my old truck didn’t have the necessary clearance. Or, we would be forced to go to ‘Plan B.’
I knew that my buddy had been recently legally declared single. He hadn’t had a ‘Plan B’ since his x-wife sucked any kind of planning out of his brain following the not too distant divorce proceedings.
In retrospect, I should have turned around and returned to bed. I noticed that no lights were evident in the trailer. Upon banging on the door thirty or forty times; I realized that he hadn’t locked the door. I let myself in and turned on some lights. I could hear him snoring as his big dumb lab greeted me with a series of loud barks and deep throaty growls.
My friend stumbled out of the bedroom fumbling with his handgun, spilling 44 cartridges all down the hall.
“Who’s there?” He mumbled, trying to charge his best home defense weapon.
“You gonna’ shoot or ask stupid questions?” I shouted as he tried to focus on picking up enough ammo to make a load.
“Did you forget to set your clock again?”
His badly swollen, red eyes slammed shut with every light I turned on.
“Time to fix your flat if you are going after swamp ducks this morning.”
A rapid survey of the situation indicated that my friend had just barely survived one of his many ‘Christmas’ parties. We were looking at another series of delays before we got to fixing the flat. Never being one to miss a wet duck shoot, he laboriously bore to the task of finding boots, shotgun and rain gear while I started coffee.
Later, much later, we surveyed the flat tire. And, I inquired about ‘Plan B.’ He admitted ‘Plan B’ was to take my truck until it got stuck. Carry a light load, and hoof it into the swamp.
Once again, I should have paid attention to the hair standing at attention on the back of my neck. We loaded my truck and sped through the early darkness of pre-dawn. We were badly behind schedule.
The windows of my truck are permanently broken in the ‘full up’ position. This little mechanical problem is pretty much easily tolerated in December. There’s plenty of time to address window failures before the heat waves of May.
Nothing can ruin the atmosphere of a small truck cab more than a guy that is recently divorced, who has been drinking Schlitz all night and eating pink pickled eggs.This sort of thing happens routinely at some party in a local night-spot/honkey-tonk where people with no ‘Plan B’ tend to celebrate Christmas.
I can only imagine what a party in one of these joints must have been like. My friend’s dog was begging us to roll down the windows. The dumb dog was sitting between us. And, for a minute I thought the lab was going to gag and start puking all over the dash and into the hole on the floorboard by the passenger seat.
My buddy was wondering out loud why I didn’t trade my old truck for one that was fully functional. His dog was now foaming at the mouth. That’s about the time I noticed that we were being hastily followed by a set of loud and fast moving blue lights.
As I slowed down and pulled off of the empty road, I cursed our luck. This expedition was doomed from the start.
“DO NOT say a @##$% word! Let me handle this. Do you hear me?” The dog whined, drool covered the dash, and my badly hung over buddy seemed to shake his head in agreement.
As the county Mountie dismounted, I could tell from the bright flashing lights that she was a very fine figure of a crime fighter. She filled out a uniform better than any law enforcement official I had ever encountered. I was feeling more doomed by the minute.
I prayed she wouldn’t be too repelled when she caught a whiff of the atmosphere of the small truck.
I tried desperately to open the door and step out. Unfortunately, the door jammed and she was on us before I could air out the stale cab. When I finally got the door working, the black dog exploded by her, gasping for air like some drowning victim.
The officer recoiled in terror at the sight of the big dog’s foaming mouth. She had her trusty 40 caliber ready in a flash. I heard the unmistakeable loud sound a handgun safety makes when it’s being placed in the off position. I secretly wished that the officer might put the huge, gasping cur out of his misery. She would maybe then, feel some remorse about killing our dog and allow us out of our seemingly indiscreet ’70-in a-45’ infraction.
This was a very tense moment. I closely studied her form and reaction as her nose twitched when she inevitably inhaled the unmistakeable odor of rotten pink eggs and Schlitz.
We were simply cooked!
My buddy sat motionless and I strained to read the big blonde Officer’s name tag on her very snug uniform. My thinking was that an application of a minimal amount of people skills wouldn’t hurt and could possibly be of some benefit at this point. She might just show some mercy, or sympathy, on two duck hunters sandwiched between a sick dog.
But what a uniform it was! That name tag dangled way out there. Her badge on the other pocket dangled way out there too! This was one uniform filled out beyond imagination. In all of my years of chance interface with local law enforcement, I had never witnessed what I was witnessing now.
I silently prayed that my recently divorced buddy didn’t see this blonde in this particular uniform. We were in deep enough trouble as it was.
She ordered me back into the truck, after she realized that the big black dog wasn’t attempting to kill her. I noticed that the gun in her right hand was still firmly locked in her grip. The dog was howling uncontrollably, as he hosed down the Deputy’s tires.
I fumbled through three layers of camouflage clothing trying to find my paperwork and that’s when my buddy suddenly decided he needed to turn on his newly found, bar trolling, charm;
“You shore got some purty lips Deputy!”
My heart sunk as we were loudly commanded to step out of the truck and place our hands on the hood and spread our legs.
As we loaded the unwilling dog, I neatly folded my new and overly expensive piece of paper. I emphatically explained to my buddy; “That not only was, without any single doubt, the dumbest line I have ever heard for picking up a woman with a gun in her hand. But, you may be the dumbest person I have ever been duck hunting with!”
I went to extensive lengths to ensure that my buddy understood that he was on the hook for this ticket. He assured me that he was good for it sometime after he got his tax returns mailed back to him. I knew that I would never see that money.
Doom filled my mind once again.
He was the designated wader that morning. When we finally got to the secret swamp he declared that he was too unstable to set the decoys and he feared he might accidentally drown. He went on to explain that the sudden turn of events of the morning had been just a bit too traumatic. And, he had suddenly developed a bad case of the ‘swim head’. I couldn’t help it, I calmly told him; “The ‘swim head’ is good thing, because it’s for sure your fat @#$ won’t drown.”
As I put on his waders, I silently thought to myself that accidental death by drowning might actually improve the morning. When I eased into the swamp I noticed almost immediately that both boots leaked like a grandma’s colander.
We were doomed.
Then he announced that he had forgotten his shotgun shells and he needed a loan. “Of course he’d pay me back.” He said.
The ducks mildly cooperated. His dog ate only one small wood duck and it rained the whole time. At 11:00 we loaded the wet dog and my feet thawed as we drove slowly home to patch the flat so my buddy could go to his next Christmas party.
We were doomed from the start.
Funny how 86 degree weather makes you remember things from December.
WOMR NOTE: One generous reader commented that their mule was named Ider. Send comments to whiteoakmtnranger@gmail,com