Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A true story from a Harrisonburg listener that involves a man with white beard . . .

Martha note: This is a story that Lorie Merrow, who's married to WMRA General Manager Tom DuVal, was given at an AAUW meeting last weekend. Tom gave it to me, I contacted the story-teller and asked if it would be alright to use it as today's blog post.
Permission came with the picture shown below, although the story-teller did wish to remain anonymous. Hope you read and find life as mysteriously festive as I did when you finish.

Although he has been gone nearly twenty-five years – as he might say, “to the great Duck Blind in the sky” – my memories of the conversation I had with my father about the origin of the combination sleigh/decoy box, displayed each Christmas season on the front porch of our home, is as clear today as it was some four decades ago …

As great migrating flocks of ducks and geese left their summer home in the wetlands of northern Saskatchewan each fall, winging their way across the plains of the Dakotas and then the sandhills of western Nebraska, they would eventually pause in eastern Colorado. As regularly as a metronome, season after season and year after year, they came to visit – usually only a brief pause – before continuing their long journey south to their wintering grounds.

And each fall a similar migration, of sorts, took place involving my father. As the hunting season was about to open, he would load his rig with enough groceries and hard liquor to last both himself and his lifelong hunting partner for several months at their 100-year old, somewhat dilapidated, but dearly loved, old homestead cabin they’d converted into their hunting camp. Once the rig was loaded, my father’s “migration” began. As the ducks moved north-to-south as winter approached, my dad drove west-to-east as the ducks approached – to intersect their path at a huge reservoir just a stone’s throw from the Kansas border, surrounded by hundreds of square miles of cornfields – the perfect “rest stop” on a long journey.

The late December snowstorm was far worse than anyone predicted. Thankfully the wind wasn’t blowing, but the half-dollar sized snowflakes fell heavily and visibility was reduced to a hundred feet or less. My father and his hunting partner, together with two friends, had ended another successful season and were standing bunched together beside two vehicles they had just finished loading with all of their hunting dogs, decoys and other equipment. It was time to close-out the season, take down the duck blind, and close up their hunting camp. This storm signaled it was time. After all, Christmas was next week.

The four men were tired. They had lugged all their gear from the location of their duck blind, nearly a half-mile away, through dense cattails and heavy snow to reach their vehicles. Somewhat out of breath, they quietly leaned against the side of one vehicle and took in the scenery – granted, there wasn’t much to see, but the snowflakes seemed to be falling perfectly vertically. The lack of wind, the heavy snowfall, and the difficulty in seeing much more than a hundred feet in any direction, made them feel as though they were enclosed inside one of those glass domes you vigorously shook as a child, with plastic scenery and tiny plastic snowflakes. No one spoke.

They all saw him at the same time. An elderly man, white hair and beard, emerged from the falling snow traveling toward them along the same pathway they’d just taken. He was pulling along a child’s sled with a hinged wooden box fixed to its top. They were so stunned by his sudden appearance, seemingly out of nowhere, they said nothing. He walked up to my father, handed him the lanyard connected to the sleigh and said: “It’s my last hunt. I would like you to have these.” And quietly walked away. Moments later, he had disappeared into the thickly falling snowflakes and was gone.

Inside the box were seven hand-carved, old-school wooden decoys. No one knew who he was. No one had ever seen him before. Although they searched in the direction he’d just gone to thank him, they found no tracks and – even stranger – they found no signs of another vehicle and the nearest farmhouse was miles away.

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