Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. December 15, 1918. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 54(11): 18-N. Forest Field and Stream. Typographic errors corrected.

[Perfect Days at the Historic Shack on the Wonderful Old Platte]

After several weeks of doubt in which we could hardly differentiate one of the seasons from another, on account of the variableness of the weather, we are at last convinced that winter is here. And yet at that, only one week ago, together with Ernie Holmes, Mart Slattery and Scott E. Smith, we spent a couple of perfect days out at the latter's historic shack on a cosy little towhead in the middle of the always sprawling and always wonderful old Platte, with the winter mallards and straggling Canadas. In weather as blithe and jocund as September we had of course one of those rare times that are always vouchsafed at this legendary old ducker's rendezvous on the island by its peerless proprietor, Mr. Smith. While we had to be content with watching the passing of the few geese which still lingered along the bewillowed old rivulet, we did bag a satisfactory number of mallards, five drakes and three hens, as grand birds as ever winged their way into Scott's incomparable bunch of live decoys. Fortunately we are among those who have long ceased to measure our joys by the dimensions of the kill we make. The evening hours about the glowing stove, after the day in the blind, and a dinner such as only a Mart Slattery can get up, the early rise in the morning and the big wade up to the shooting box, in the sparkling, frosty air; genial comradeship, no friction, no mishap, a treasurable number of chances, and then back to the shack and the shack, all contribute to the happiness of the real sportsman.

It has often been said, but bears repetition many times over, that it is not all shooting to shoot. Week by week, and year by year, through the period of a quarter of a century, the truth of this has been revealed anew in these columns, wherein it is the aim to make record of nature's studies. the experiences of the wanderings afield and astream, the observation, the suggestion, wit and wisdom of the sportsman's family. Nothing serves better to bring out the lights and shades, the chiaro obscuro, that man loves best, than just such pictures as we feebly attempt to portray. What a work-a-day life this would be, indeed, if nobody took these trips and there was no one to tell of them.

But this is not intended for a recountal of our brief stay at the Smith shack, but a statement intended to verify the fact that winter is at last here. There is no mistaking this. The chickens have bunched and gone into the pockets of the protecting hills, and the wild fowl have up and gone, and all game is safe from the hunter until autumn once again unfurls her gay banners in September delightful winds.

Yes, it is winter. The lakes, where the bass splashed in the summer are or recently were, smoothly blanketed in white, and the whole outdoors sleeps that in a few months it may greet us anew, fresh and charming as a blooming young maiden. The shotgun withholds its leaden pellets and lies quietly in its leather case. The big reel that sung the death song of an old hapless bronze-backed denizen last June is a prisoner in the old green box. Shotgun and bass rod - there never grow old. If one could only live a thousand years to use them. They are the real cure for business and politics and the work-a-day world, the one refuge from the places where "discord reigns eternal babble."

Amid the half-formed plans for next season, my mind all too often turns to the seasons that have been.

As, crackling in the woodsy stillness, on the gurgling Platte, the camp-fire in the night time after the day's hunt is over, casts it searching red light far out over the rolling stream, and up against the forest's wall, as the immortal Parkman once said of just such a bivouac up in the Canadian wilderness: "Wild forms stood forth against the outer gloom - the strong, the weak, the old, the young, all the leafy hosts of the wilderness, moss-bearded, ancients tottering to their death, saplings slender and smooth, trunks hideous with wens and goiters and strange deformity, the oak, the giant in rusty mail and Atlantean column of the pine, bearing on high its murmuring world of verdure; the birch ghastly and wan, a specter in the darkness; and aloft the knotted boughs, uncouth, distorted shapes, struggling amid dim clouds of foliage."

Aye! it was just the same in our old ducking camp upon the Loup and the Platte with my companions of many trips. Our camp fire drew the same fantastic pictures, and after all the stories had been told, and pipes out, we would sit silent and listen to the "whoo, whoo-whoo ah-ooah!" of the great horned owl, and the concatenated squeal of his little brown cousin, through the willows, as the fire sunk, as did the olden voyagers in the olden unknown wilderness.

As the fire sunk! How those words bring up the whole scene of those ducking camps in the woods. Not burned low, but eaten down into the mossy earth below the level of the original bog. Who can appreciate it as it ought to be appreciated, except one who has spent his days and nights in a camp on the Platte or on the Loup?

And when old Jake or Scott or Sam of Bill, would rise and stretch, like a big grizzly after a doze, and throw onto the glowing heap a fresh log or two, how the sparks would stream upward, and float away among the clinging dead leaves and leaden boughs, like fireflies over a June meadow, and with the renewal of flickering shadow's roundabout, the nocturnal sounds would steal in through the skeleton trunks, over the river and the gray dunes, faintly, mysteriously, but ever tender and pleasing to the hunters - the whispering rustle in the drifted leaves as a rabbit scurried from out the fire's lustre, the rubbing of a broken bough against the parent truck, the stirring of the grizzled old mink among the flotsam along the river, the flop of a pike, the cautious footfall of some skulking coyote, and from the far-off expanse over the cottonwooded battlements, the aeolian harp of the fall winds, while athwart the low willows, the new light gleamed on the midnight river.

The witchery of the camp fire in the woods at night. Surely all sportsmen realize the tremendous sweep it takes with one's fancy. It is like a lightning flash across the midnight sky, in whose fleeting brilliance the woods eternal, primeval ever mystic, is revealed to one's vision, who in the long leisure of the daytime, had become familiar with details that were stripped of their charm.

And my comrades. They were a part and parcel of the camp fire and the woods and the waters. Honor to their names, who, with potentiality of transcendant power, a power that few possess, that illumines a minute familiarity with all of God's wild open, and with all God's wild things. We are always thankful that we are privileged to gaze with them upon the majestic - a mighty word to use in connection with things regarded as commonplace - scenes of river and barren wind-blow, of bird and beast, of giant cottonwood and blade of grass, in the primeval wilds, out upon the Platte. Oh, Platte, to thy yellow-hung shores and rushing waters, they bordering uplands, they gently, bounteous wildness - the thee fondest memory will turn, while the repose of the snow drift is upon thee, and the shotgun in its leathern case, hangs upon the bedroom wall.

Brave is the bright roll of the chivalry of the woods and waters, and no less brave is he who, with the pencil of light, has attempted to portray your matchless beauties and place them in a gallery of imperishable renown. As for the tales that have been told of you, and the songs sung, the pyramids are young and nineveh a growth of yesterday. The wandering sage of Odyssey would have been but a skeltering dead leaf, in the sere November amidst the magnificent sweep of the storm, the beautiful, the mirthful and the melancholy of your sweet, yet sad, enthralling all outdoors, as we enjoyed it in the old days along the sprawling and noisy Platte in the fall days of the long ago.