Sandy Griswold. October 14, 1906. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 42(2): E-7.
In the Blind at Eventide Waiting for the Flight.
A Graphic Picture of Wild Fowl Shooting in the Marshes of the Sandhills.
When the first shades of night begin to fall over the marsh in the autumn time is when the duck hunter becomes mode alert than at any other hour of the day. While the flight in the pearl of of breaking day is always an interesting one, it compares but faintly with that at eventide. Where you see one bird in the morning you seem to see thousands in the evening. The reason for this is that at dawn the birds are leaving their roosts and hurrying away to distant sequestered sloughs and feeding grounds. In the gray of the evening they are returning. In the morning you get a glimpse of a bunch of birds and they are gone. In the evening, as they circle and recircle, in quest of a suitable place to spend the night, you see the same birds many times repeated. In the morning it requires but a shot or two to send every bird on the waters over which you are watching scurrying away for the day. In the evening a constant fusillade offers no check to the incoming hordes.
But let's you and me watch them tonight. here we are on Gentry's marsh, and here is the same blind which Tom McCauley and I shot out of last spring. here, get in here, and curl up on this pile of dried tules. We are sure to have some grand shooting, before darkness arrives. On such perfect October days as these there is bound to be a great flight just before roosting time.
An hour passes.
A purple haze that seems to absorb the last fervent rays of the autumnal sun envelopes the marsh and surrounding landscape of prairie and sandhill. The tall, faded grass blades stand straight and silent, in the still air, as if stripped from gray stone. Everything has grown ominously silent, save off in the slough a little ways down shore, where a flock of mudhens once in a while create an interruption by their wallowing in the shallows. And now and then an occasional twittering is heard, subdued and slivery, as if the little brown marsh wren who voiced it was in awe of some impending calamity.
We wait and watch and listen. Only the bar-tailed hawk is indifferent to the prevailing lethargy that enthralls all animated nature. He is in his element and industriously swoops from point to point; dipping, posing, rising and sailing away over rice, reed and tule as quiet as a thistle down. There he goes over that knoll, and see, he has started a number of chickens from the tall grass beyond.
Time begins to hang heavily and the overwhelming silence is irksome and disagreeable. But suddenly relief arrives. A murmur of delight is heard among the yellowing rice stalks, a sort of a welcoming whisper to the evening breeze, which comes rippling across the marsh from the southwest. Now it is rollicking among the cattails, scattering their cottony filaments in a hundred directions, now dancing over the quiet pool where bob our decoys.
All nature seems to waken again and quickened currents leap through our sluggish veins. This is a charming climacteric, Phoebus, in his gilded chariot, inters the homestretch through a gateway of fiery clouds. Lower and lower he dips. Sunset in the sandhills-on Gentry's marsh.
The shadows lengthen behind you, until your own, as you rise and with shaded eyes peer off into the flaming west, runs far back, like some altitudinous creature of another age, almost to the foothills on the plain.
Another hour passes.
Long dotted lines are creeping out of the umber earth's rim against the sky in the west. The ducks have started. They will soon be pouring in to roost.
The whole of the day they have spent in the distant sloughs and ponds among the hills, and in the cornfields, where the pounding Tom and Ray gave them in the morning, drove then and the encroaching shadows have just induced them to start back.
The long lines come widening out and sliding down, and out of the horizon they rise in great clouds hanging for a moment against the rosy background, then bear down upon us.
Over the bluffs, on the south, where the land rolls in one vast expanse of billowy brown and gray, they come, and aye, from the purpled east, the west, and the north, as well, in fact, from every direction in which the eye may turn-no longer singly or in pairs, but in myriads, and swifter than the now stiffened wind itself. Thousands come riding in on the last beams of the sunken sun. The dome above is bedecked with converging streams, or straggling masses, and from these falls a soft medley of sounds-now the auh-unk of the Canadian goose, now the cackle of a white of speckled front. Ducks are whizzing and darting everywhere. Solitary jack snipe are pitching in tortuous flight, big as blue-bills in the ambient light, and the "skeape," so dear to every sportsman's ear, breaks upon the hearing at every whipstitch. Yellowlegs drift by with tender tinkle, while sandhill cranes, with long necks outstretched, flap solemnly athwart the confused vision.
A grand and thrilling and wondrous sight, indeed, the evening flight at Gentry's in the sandhills.
Our gun barrels have been heated, time and again, with rapid firing, and at last we reach the law's barrier, and lay down our guns, and look and wait.
Another hour passes.
The last faint flush of sunset has melted into dusk.
The bezeep! bezeep! bezeep! of the bullbat, whirling and gyrating overhead in erratic flight, falls with strange distinctness amidst the dying discordance of the settling wild fowl. Soon it is lost in the distance and the hush of early night falls like a weight upon marsh, plain and hill.
Next the lugubrious whine and clownish yelping of the coyote announces that new life is about to usurp the scene and a new activity to replace that which has subsided. Soon the darkness is a quiver with small, mysterious voices. From the damp coverts on every hand come curious sounds, quirks, squeaks and trills from the last of the rhymthmic croon of lagging crickets, while the sensuous earthy odor, pungent of crushed flags and rice and tules, steals into your nostrils and thickens about you.
The low ghastly chuckle of a swamp owl, queer, speckled little nocturnal buffoon, startles you, and like a flash his silhouette is descried as he darts against the dim lemon of the low west, on noiseless wing, and vanishes in the thicker gloom. Again the skulking coyote chants his love song on the distant hillside, and then silence reigns, until, suddenly, a commotion among the low flags off in the marsh attract you, and the sharp shrill cries of agony is issuing from throat of teal of butterball, tells you that a tragedy of the marsh has been enacted, and for which you were responsible. Then you recall the sight of the sweeping owl, and again see that wing tipped teal you drew too far behind on, slanting down into the reeds at the very point whence these cries came.
Another hour passes.
The marshfolk rest-all but the muskrat, amorous fellow, and his peculiar whimpering lullaby comes in from across the open channel, and then floats away on down with the barely pulsating current of the slough.
And then, by the light of the autumn stars, groaning beneath the fruits of the evening flight, we slosh to the shore, and on out upon the prairie, and then away for the swinkling light in the window of the ranch houses.