Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. November 6, 1910. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 46(6): 2-S.

An Idyl of October Amid Gray Sandhills

A Quiet Story of a Quiet Hunt With Comrades of the Sort.

Nebraska Scenes in the Fields When the Ducks Lure the Hunter Into Action.

  • I dream again the splendor of the sky,
  • As night descends down the western way,
  • The distant hills and ruffed lake near by,
  • Whispers the close of a sweet day.
  • The many voiced night her solace brings,
  • Camped 'neath the stars upon the lakelet's rim,
  • The night hawk's cry and whistle of her wings
  • The ground owl's hoot from out the prairie rim.
  • The whir of cloud-blown nomads on the wing,
  • The mallard's pointed phalanx, or, on high,
  • The blue crane 'mong the stars, or echoing
  • Of clamorous wild geese stooping from the sky.
  • Aye, I do dream of pleasures once my own,
  • The comrades of my hear, the spellbound days,
  • That flowered in beauty like the rose full blown,
  • Then left me to again dream on life's mystic ways.

One of the most enjoyable ducking expeditions that has fallen to my lot in many years was that during the mid-days of October with Conrad Young and Arthur Keeline. We were at Frank Lee's ranch near Alkali Lake in Cherry county, forty miles northeast of Seneca. Although it was a trifle early for the autumnal issue of big ducks from the north, we found many mallards and green wing teal reveling on the feeding grounds in the vicinity.

With exception of one single boisterous and chilly day we had grand fall weather during the whole trip, and to assert that we fully appreciated it would be superfluous. The sun, from morning till night, was like molten gold, the wind like wine, and the good things we said and ate and drank within our cosy canvas palace on the shores of Lee's lake would make a big volume of mighty interesting reading. Alfred Lawrence was our chef and his meals were always the same-bully! in the language of the strenuous Teddy.

We were outfitted at Seneca under the supervision of that pair of incomparable sportsmen, Tom McCawley and Sime Elwood, and any detail they forgot would not be worth mentioning. Tom's colossal new store, the gem of the sandhills, and Sime's thousand head of sheep, down on the Dismal, made it impossible for them to be with us, an incalculable disappointment, but as genial old Tom repeatedly said, "wait till spring!"

But despite the missing camaraderie we had a glorious time shooting in the cool of the morning and evening, and basking and dallying like luxuriant tropical lizards through the sweet short days. It was the same with my comrades, Con and Arthur, as it was with me, a matchless autumnal outing, with just enough shooting to supply the table.

Like Thor, whose pictures of the outdoors were the delight of the days of my youth, so were these scenes and happenings in the sandhills to all of us. We were all alike-had loved nature since old enough to know what nature was, and there was no scene, however commonplace or dreary, to ordinary eyes, but what we found beauty in it, and a theme for delightful comment. It was all the same to us, hills or plain, sky, lake, stream or wood, we worshiped them.

An evening on Alkali.

The purple haze that seemed to absorb the last chilly rays of the fast sinking sun enveloped the lake and its lacustral borders, as well as the lonely sentinel hills beyond. The cattails stood straight and silent in the gray light. Everything was still and full of thought, save off in front of our hay-filled hole, a few mallards were wallowing in the shallows. An occasional twitter would seep through the umber air, subdued and silvery, and the little brown-backed, ashen bellied swamp sparrow, would flit in and out among the silent tules, within reach, sometimes, of the muzzles of our guns.

Only a single marsh hawk seemed indifferent in the prevailing lethargy which enthralled all animated nature. The solitary bird was in his element, and swooped from point to point, dipping, rising and poising on immobile pinions for seconds at a time, then sailing away, low down over the gold pointed rushes as noiseless as a gossamer, on the qui vive for his supper, wounded duck or unwary muskrat.

Ah! What a relief from the oppressive stillness. A murmur of soft delight among the yellow rice stalks, a whisper of welcome to the light breeze of dusk, comes up from the south, now frolicking among the bursted cattails, now dancing over the checkered waters where our decoys indolently rocked. All nature seemed to waken and new life leaped through our veins. Phoebus, in his gilded chariot, was beating down the homestretch through a gateway of rosy clouds. The shadows lengthened behind us, until our own, like fabulous genil, ran far back toward the gleaming sandhills.

Long dotted lines crept out against the coppery sky in the west. It was the mallards coming into roost-the great hordes that had been out all through the sunny day in the adjacent marshes and distant prairie ponds and were now coming in to Alkali for a night's tossing on the rippling waters, and for a change of diet, from roots and grasses to mollusks and aquatic insects.

The long lines come widening out and sliding down. Out of the flaming horizon they rose in bunches, hanging a moment against the rubescent clouds, then bearing down upon us.

Over the bluffs on the south, where the land rolls into the vast expanse of the measureless prairie, they come, no longer singly or in pairs, but in long lines, or packed masses, and swifter than the now stiffened breeze itself, myriads came riding down the last beams of the sunken sun. The heavens above were specked with converging strings and straggling masses. Yes, we shot some. Not many. Just enough for the estimable Mrs. Lee and her little family, and for our own board within our canvas palace. That's all.