Sandy Griswold. August 9, 1914. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 49(53): 3-S.
In That Little Old Canvas Palace on the Romantic Loup
The longest day has come and gone, the harvest moon is in the nightly skies, the water ways are running arm and sluggish, but there is soon to come a change, when the wheat is threshed, the corn in the shock, ad the early autumn rains have repainted the landscape in the bright green that always precedes the final dun of decay, then comes the halcyon days afield with the kuh-kuh-kuhling chicken, and on the marsh watching for wild fowl, or along lapsing shores for a final cast for bass.
The hunter's idyl. It comes in September, ripens into a gorgeous oriflamme in October, dies away in gray embers with the waning of dreary November, but always welcomed, always longed for.
Ahs me! Many and many is the time I have been there, longing yearningly through the hot, monotonous summer days, and in the waiting, have lived over and over the joys of faded years, deriving, after a fashion, the ravishing happiness of a returned youth, a dream of absolute rejuvenation-days when the molling cares of business and the perplexities of life in its various phases, were lain aside and forgotten.
Back I go, through mental vision, to days on the frozen river in the dawn of blustery March, to others, amidst the gay banners of gall, on the marsh, in the chequered woods, the droning fields, days that can never fade, but linger in cherished remembrance, I hope, until the curtain drops forever and for aye. And it is not because the ducks and geese and the chickens were to be had in those times, and the bass and the pickerel, too, were to be had for lightest effort, but more, a thousand fold more, for their glorious camaraderie, the life-infusing, and life-prolonging tonic they instill in heart and frame and brain.
The early rise in the morning, before even the watchful mallard hen, in the offing down beyond the landing, up at old Three Springs, where the fabled lodge of Charlie Metz beckons from under its poplar shadows, and sounded her admonitory quack; a cold douche under the pump's spout, a hastily swallowed breakfast, then a vigorous tramp across the hay field, in the keen, frosty air, with Bowman along side-those were the hours no friction, no mishaps, nothing but responsiveness and cordiality, that is what has made those days a bright aureole circling a rare period in life.
But as heavenly as has been the hours spent with Frank Bowman up on Charlie's incomparable ranch, of all my hunting days, and they have been many, none have been more pleasant or filled with life, prolonging and beautifying qualities, than those spent with the venerable Jake Snider and Sam Richmond, in their little walled tent up on the romantic Loup. So far as the therapeutic value and the delight of such hunting and fishing outings as the real elements of modern life is concerned, of course, I am a confirmed and inveterate advocate. If this life by the river, where the mallards fly in the morning and the evening, and where the plaintive call of the cuckoo drops the veil of darkness, and the big horned owl wakes the tremors of the night, with such wholesome comradery as old Jake and Sam, does not insure the extreme longevity that most of us crave, it is absolutely certain to enhance the joy of living for whatever term of life each one of us may be allotted. At that, to live happily while we do live, is much more to be desired than to achieve even the centenarian mark. Many men, perhaps most men, do not wish to live into helpless senility. The impressions gathered from the extremely aged are not as a rule cheerful nor alluring. It is not to be supposed that the average valetudinarian is apprehensive that real old age may bring to him any such measure of helplessness as will make him absolutely wretched. If he does, he does not think in the proper way. Most men who are ambitious to live long have not thought of poverty to terrify them; but there are other features of the old man's lot against which the most ample means and most careful forethought cannot make provision. As the span of human life is now measured, he who attains his four score and ten is an exception to the rule and long outlives his fellows. Old age means isolation, and isolation means loneliness. Relatives, friends, associates of the campfire and the duck hunt, have passed on. The relationships which make life worth living have been sundered by the inexorable hand of time.
Much more, the real good thing than striving for the attainment of extreme old age is to live while we live, and get the most of life as we go along, doing the work at hand, meeting the duties of the hour, and not neglecting any injunction to get our share of the joys of the camp on the river's shore with our old Jakes and Sams.
A young Omaha sportsman, who says he enjoyed our tale of other days in last Sunday's World-Herald more than any other story he ever read, asks me to tell him something more of the upland plover, just what manner of bird he is really, and his habits and proper name. "You said," observed my correspondent, "that the upland plover is not a plover at all, but a sandpiper, and then please what is an upland plover and what is a sandpiper?"
In reply we would say that the splendid little meadow rover that we call an upland plover, is really the Bartramian sandpiper, and is erroneously called upland plover, but that detracts nothing from his general loveliness and his adaptability for the top of a three-cornered piece of toast. He is one of the most susceptible birds to the influences of frosty weather of all our high class migratoria, and consequently one of the most punctual in his movements. After the cares of parental duties are over in the north the young birds do not vary from year to year more than two or three days in their departure from the regions of their hatching to the warmer climes to the south, and in this locality they have invariably put in appearance along between July 10 and 13, but were a few days late this summer. It is at this season that the golden rod first begins to toss its yellow plumes to the sultry mid-summer breeze, and like a signal, this oriflamme unfailingly announces the coming of the upland plover. This summer, I must repeat, like the birds, the golden rod has been unwontedly backward, and just now, for the first time, its fluffy spikelets are to be seen pointing skyward all over our broad pasture and prairie land, and every night, too, the tinkling cry of the plover floats down from high in the starry skies like ripples of liquid music.
He comes here to our broad hay and newly plowed fields, from his breeding grounds just a few miles-say a hundred or so-to the north, at a time in the year when all his congeners, save the almost ever-present turtle dove, are reveling in the more salubrious climes of the farther north, and used furnish a sport that few lovers of the hammerless would care to deny themselves. And now that the sweet signal has been sounded in the nocturnal skies, how grand it would be to drag forth the picturesque habiliments of the field and start on one of those ardent forays out upon the big pasture, nay and plowed fields, which stretch away in oceanic undulations for countless miles, in every direction, throughout the confines of this most glorious state of ours, as we were wont to do. But not this year. The new federal law only gives us an open season after the birds are gone, and hence our upland plover shooting days here in Nebraska are at an end, at least until this egregious mistake can be corrected.
The arrival of the little mottled beauty use to always be the signal for a renewal of activity among the gunners. From the dawning of July they were on the lookout. They knew his punctuality of character, and that he would be here almost certainly on time, and regularly in the evening the strained hearing was turned heavenward for that plaintive sound that apprises them that the plover were moving and that it was time to go afield. And when the old sportsman did catch its first note what a thrill it sends through his lagging soul, for as I asserted before, there is nothing so sweet to the hunter's ears as the whistle of the upland plover in the dark hours of mid-July and early August.
The plover's call is a melting, trickling lilt of melody, a subtle music difficult to imitate, but always of sufficient force to halt a sportsman when he hears it for the first time falling through the air. And then, when he crawls through the barb wire fence and plants his hobnailed foot on the short grass of the wide pasture he is the gladdest man on earth.
"Tur-wheetle! tur-wheetle! tur-wheetle!" Those are the dulcet notes, as nearly as I can reproduce them orthographically, that vibrate the dancing air when the flight is on, from the first tinge of pearl in the east till the flood of carmine in the western skies deep into the thickening veil of night.
The upland plover are strictly nocturnal in their migrating habits, and do all their traveling and exercising after the riant but blistering Pheous has immersed himself behind the western horizon, and but seldom sound their sweet carillon save when upon the wing. They will, however, on the approach of danger, emit a single, sharp, warning cry and ply their light, slender, greenish legs with remarkable velocity as they run through the straggling rag weeds and seared sunflowers, and away. When wing-broken and running from the ruthless gunner, they are apt to betray their whereabouts at every fresh start by whistling once or twice, and at such times there is a touch-melancholy in the bird's note.
When I first came to Nebraska upland plover were so plentiful all over the big grazing lands of the state and so easily approached and shot down that there was but little incentive to hunt them. But there have been many sad changes in game life during the past decade, and while the uplands are never more encountered in such numbers as they were in the early days, they are by no means scarce. They are much wilder and more wary, however, and if the shooting was lawful, it would require the refinement of skill on the part of the sportsman, unless he hunts in a wagon or on horseback, to get within only long range shot of them. This, however, but enhances the keen enjoyment of their pursuit. In the days of their plentifulness they were but indifferently noted for their table qualifications, but now, like the terrapin of the east, when they are not to be had for the asking they are much sought after by our epicures and high-livers.
I remember in my old reportorial days in Washington, D.C., years and years ago, when a dollar greenback would but a carload of terrapin, but today, in any of the gay capital's swell cafes, a single plate would cost fix or six times the sum. A dozen years ago upland plover would not bring 50 cents a dozen in Omaha markets, but now, if they could be purchased at all, they would readily bring from $4 to $5.
Many, many rare days have I enjoyed out here with this beautiful little courser of the skies, and my last shoot on the 18th of last July, was not the least of them all, aye, an oasis in the monotony of the waning days of a sportsman on the down grade.
Of all the notes of our many game birds none affects me so joyously as that of this delicious little sandpiper. Not in the startled quack of the mallard, the autumn call of Bob White, the strident "skeape" of the jacksnipe, or even the resounding auh unk! of the wild goose, is there such magic, such resistless power, as in the tinkling triplet of the upland plover. It is marvelous how a sound so light can be so far-reaching or a tone so ineffably sweet traverse the air for such an incredible distance and at the same time lose none of its mystic charm. I honestly believe that the rippling alarum of this queer little habitant of our big hay fields, as he leaves the close-cropped verdure and bounds into space, can be heard on a favorable day, for a stretch of a mile or more.
All surroundings lose their entrancement for me when I first detect that tiny film of gray trailing over the midsummer sky and catch those pearls of sound that only one little speckled throat can drop.
But so it is with most sportsmen. Next to the quail and the little russet-colored jack, the upland plover in the days when he was lawful game, came first in their affections, and in fact, during his open season he ranked way above any other feathered game.