Dispatches from a pheasant hunt

Sam Cook of the Duluth News Tribune, who has a way of putting his couch-anchored readers out in the woods, asks in his column today, “Do you want to know how the hunting has been this fall?”

Then he tells us his takeaways from a life afield in Minnesota:

** A black Lab chugging back to the floating duck blind with a Canada goose in his jaws. All we see is goose and a bit of the dog’s back. His head is completely hidden by a goose wing flopped over his face and still he comes, his unseen feet churning through the weeds and water, back to the boat. How does he even know where to go?

** A grouse hunter picks up a bird he has just shot from where it lies on a tapestry of burnished popple leaves. He turns the bird slowly in his hand, feels its warmth, its soft feathers. With his double-barrel shotgun cracked open, he holds the bird in both hands and fans its rusty tail feathers. The arc of feathers, the black accent band near the end of each feather, the subtlety of pigmentation throughout — how is this not art on some level?

** Sitting in a duck blind before shooting hours, Orion and all of his fellow constellations looking down upon us. Three hunters, full of anticipation. The decoys are placed. We wait. And listen. Here now, from behind, a squadron of diving ducks. The air rushes over their wings and the sound — every duck hunter will tell you this — is the not-so-distant passing of an F-16. It raises the hackles on your neck. It grabs something deep in your chest. The first time you hear it, you do not understand. Could that have been the primary wing feathers of waterfowl ripping through the atmosphere? Yes. And it never gets old.

** A milkweed pod exploding in cottony white puffs, dolloped with October dew, is backlit by a sunrise, every one of its chocolate-colored seeds hoping to ride the wind that day and descend on soft soil.