Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Grousing about #phenology

Have you ever had the experience of bumping into an old friend on the street, one you haven't seen for a couple of decades or more? When we were up on the Gunflint Trail a while ago, that happened to me, only my "friend" was one of my favorite non-human persons, the ruffed grouse. I hadn't realized how much I missed our annual Autumnal rendezvous until, while slowly driving an early-morning mist-shrouded Forest Service road, the Better Half [BH] and I saw several birds spread over a mile or so.

ruffed grouse on USFS road
ruffed grouse on USFS road
Photo by J. Harrington

The first one was pecking at gravel on the driver's side of the road, and even with a quick reverse, the BH couldn't get a good view before the bird wandered into the underbrush. The next one was on the BH's side of the Jeep, and I never even got a glimpse as she saw it flush through the roadside aspens, an encounter much like the ones I used to have when following a bird dog and carrying a shotgun.

Finally, a pair, yes, a pair of grouse, the proverbial potential double for a bird hunter, were spotted far enough ahead that we both got a good look and I managed to grab some pictures. Not quite as satisfying as the literal "bird in the hand," but a vast improvement over the accumulated years when I never saw even one. It wasn't quite enough to let me "return to those thrilling days of yesteryear," but it did do a lot to refresh my memories of them. Good enough.

ruffed grouse headed for the "back country"
ruffed grouse headed for the "back country"
Photo by J. Harrington

Remembering bird hunting reminded me of the great "outdoor" writers I've enjoyed, foremost among them Gene Hill. One of his wonderful quotations fits how I feel about phenology and enjoying the outdoors. I hope you enjoy Hill's writing (and the outdoors) enough to want more and to slow your pace.
"Soak it up, go into it softly and thoughtfully, with love and understanding, for another year must pass before you can come this way again."
If you can, try to lay your hands on a copy of A Gallery of Waterfowl and Upland Birds by David Maass and Gene Hill. Read Hill's The Game of Grouse, especially "The Grouse Hunter's Yearly Calendar," by month, for a different perspective on phenology. His description of the grouse's yearly calendar is more general. To motivate you even more to enjoy Hill's writing, here's one of the few poems (the only one?) I've know him to write.

He’s just my dog – A poem by Gene Hill

He is Just My Dog

He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds;
my other ears that hear above the winds.
He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea.
He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being;
by the way he rests against my leg;
by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile;
by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him
(I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along
to care for me).

When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive.
When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile.
When I am happy, he is joy unbounded.
When I am a fool, he ignores it.
When I succeed, he brags.

Without him, I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful.
He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion.
With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace.
He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant.
His head on my knee can heal my human hurts.
His presence by my side is protection against my fears
of dark and unknown things.

He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever, in case I need him. And I expect I will – as I always have.
He is just my dog.

by Gene Hill

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