Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. October 17, 1920. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 56(3): 15-N.

An Epic of Golden Days at the Old Hunting Lodge

In the Fabled Times the Sportsman Shall Know No More Forever.

Inasmuch as the sportsmen are now on the very midst of their one and only season for the lawful pursuit of game, and as ducking parties are radiating in all directions in search of their favorite shooting, brings back the scenes of the sport of years ago, when Nebraska boasted of the best wild fowl gunning of any state in the union.

Once again we find ourselves, one October evening, cosily ensconced in our cosy blind, in a brush barricaded hole in the sand on a towhead on the sprawling old Platte, or amidst the squaw cane and golden wild rice, well say, upon those rare old waters of Three Springs lake, way out in glorious old Cherry county, on the widely famed Charlie Metz, and where we will, in reality, again be before the savage hordes of winter swoop down from the north.

The red sun has sunk and still we linger. Already we have had a great shoot, as the piles of mallards and widgeon and bluewings and teal round about us most eloquently linger, for we feel there is much to come we would not miss the evening flight from off on the feeding fields beyond the long line of bluffs.

A purple haze, that seems to have absorbed much of the chill in the late autumn air, envelopes the broad marsh and surrounding landscape of hill, prairie and lacustral rushes. The tall, yellowing cane stalks stand straight and silent as if cut from gray stone. Everything is uncannily still, save off in the winding slough a hundred yards or so, where a congregations of mudhens are guttering and wallowing and garrulously chatting in the shallows. Occasionally a fine birdlike twittering is heard seeping into the chill found from somewhere in the reeds, subdued, yet silvery, the good-night chanson of the little brown marsh wren, as if voiced in awe of the coming night.

Only a marsh hawk seems indifferent in the prevailing lethargy which has enthralled all animated nature. There he goes off over the darkening tules, swooping from projecting point to the shadows behind, dipping, sailing, poising and curving with a persistency and industry that cannot but command your respect and attention. He is after his supper-and, wounded duck or unwary marsh rat, it is inevitably his.

We linger patiently and watch.

At last relief comes.

A murmur of delight among the yellow and gently swaying rice stalks, a soft whisper of welcome from an evening breeze, light as a catspaw comes tenderly out of the south. It takes courage at the welcoming and is soon rollicking with much abandon among the brown cattails and dancing like a salad over quiet pools, in one of which gracefully bob our decoys.

Through your chilled veins all nature resumes active life, and you linger with renewed patience and wait.

Phoebus in his radiant chariot has gone down the homestretch through a riot of gilded clouds. The shadows have lengthened into unimaginable monsters out in the haylands behind you and you gaze and thrill and wonder at the mystery of it all.

The moments pass.

A long dotted line, confused, vague and shadowy, creeps up against the rose colored sky in the west, and then one more, and another and another and another.

The ducks are coming in to roost, and your reward is close at hand.

The birds have been off in the broad expanse of cornfield and winter wheat, and in reedy sloughs, muddy backwaters and isolated puddles, ponds and pools, where they have been regaling themselves on the rich provender always at hand there.

If you are upon your feet now and with hand shading your eyes, a sort of an involuntary movement, you watch with feelings that no pen can describe the long lines increasing, widening, carrying on in swift advance, and gradually sliding down toward the broad brown expanse before you, and in a few moments you are a busy and jubilant soul.

It is a wondrous sight, this late evening flight over the magic waters of Three Springs.

As the pall of night thickens, from off over the serrated sandhills, beyond which the land rolls as does the limitless oceans, the birds come in phalanxes, in divisions, in brigades, battalions, regiments, or in darting single or small bullet-like clump-a scene never again to be enjoyed by mortal man. On came the hordes of birds, swifter even than the rapidly stiffening wind, on they came in the afterglow that followed the sinking of the sun. And we lingered and waited and kept busy.

The faintly pink-tinged vault above was blurred and specked with converging masses, and at times, above mingles murmur of many calls, was the sonorous unk-auk-unk of the Canada goose, the cackle of vagrant speckled fronts and clatter of the whites. Round about close into the gloom shrouded shores, teal and bluebills were whizzing and flashing everywhere, and not infrequently came the strident squeak of the jacksnipe and mournful plaint of the belated plover. Yellowlegs, too, with musical tinkle, were mingled in the confusion, while sandhill cranes, and clouds of swans, with long necks outstretched, flew over high up in the darkening heavens.

A wild and wondrous spectacle indeed, and it is with keenest thrills it is now recalled.

Many was the time that our gun-barrels became so heated with constant firing, that we had to dip them in the cooling depths to the safety handle then, and many times, too, we would pause from sheer weariness or mayhap it may have been from stricken conscience.

But the moments passed.

The last faint flush along the rim of the west melted away into the darkness of night, and the far cry of the fast receding geese sounds like the dimmed cry of a pack of hounds on an aerial trail.

And then at last a deep hush fell over all-broad marsh, sentinel hills. Only confused sounds came from the expanse of waters, save occasional and explosion of cackles would signalize the arrival of a tardy flock, and the coyote, in the ghostly gloam of the far away Pleiades, the coyotes broke in with their catchenotory songs while the cold air becomes vibrant with the indistinguishable whisperings of the hardy night watches still clinging indomitably to their haunts of the dead and gone summertime. And thick was the pleasing odors and pungent smells of the dank rushes, reeds and decaying vegetation, and you lingered and waited and peered and listened.

The low ghostly tremolo of a swamp owl, is a new note, and it startles and thrills you, too, and then as you strain your already aching visual organs, you see for a breath of time his vague silhouette as he floats on soundless wings athwart the vestige of lemon light still coloring the western sky, and then it is the melancholy chant of the prairie wolf, telling his love to his frowsy little mate in the shadow of a blowout in the distant hills.

You turn to glance off back of you for the guiding glimmer in the window of the hunting lodge, when a sudden flurry, a spasm of commotion among the flopping flags off to the left, chains you stock still again, and a sharp, shrift, agonized squeak or quack of some ill-fated duck, helpless from wounds or caught unwary, tells you of a tragedy among the little kindreds of the wild, and in your brain you picture the fall of that wing-broken greenwing and the sweeping shadow of the swamp owl athwart your blind.

The moments pass.

The wild fowl rest, and all the little marsh and lake folk, all save the little brown muskrat, whose whimpering call comes in as he breasts the channel in the rushes in his amorous and insatiable quest of adventure.

With back bent beneath your feathery burden, at that, you are on the trail across the broad hay field, bound for home, with it savory warmth, its smoking viands, its gleaming yellow stove, its pipe and stories and song in the sacred old Hunting Lodge, and the evening flight is a dream and then the hay, while the Pleiades shine tenderly on in the sweet lover they symbolize, while the little prairie wolf, in its sheen, chants his on the distant hillside.