Monday, August 24, 2015

Remembering a morning with Mac

This weekend brings the annual M.A.C. ride in Easley - a bicycle ride that was originally meant to as a tribute to my Dad. He immediately refocused the effort to send support and money to those who needed it.  Joshua Adams made an amazing video that included a speech he gave at the last one Dad attended. Give it a listen here, and if you feel inclined, donate here.  Money raised goes to providing shoes to kids. 
I am hearing my dad's voice in a lot of places.  And some of the vignettes that I am hearing are just magical.  This is from one of the visits he made to Louisiana a number of years ago.  One of the most spectacular days I have ever spent.
A beautiful predawn. The stars were bright - living in New Orleans, between the light pollution and the humidity, it is rare to see more than a single star or two in the night sky. But the cold front removed all the humitidity from the air, and we were far enough from any residence to see the glorious spray of stars stretching across the sky.

We got into the boat, and the cool of the night became cold as we started out. I relaxed my jaw to keep from chattering; the breeze cut right through the long-sleeved camo t-shirt and left me chilled. After five minutes in the mud boat, we dropped the first crew off at their pirogue, and then followed the twists and turns of the canal to our own. We swapped from a small boat into a smaller, shifted all the gear over, and started off. The first hints that dawn was on its way peaked over the horizon, and we could see shadowy vegetation on either side of the canal.

Roger turned towards us, and I was surprised to hear him talk in a normal voice - it seemed like talking loud in church, not exactly sacriligeous, but inappropriate.

"It gets a little shallow here, so I have to pole us over the low spot."

Sure enough, he pulled out the long aluminum pole and slicked the bottom of the boat over the plough mud. A few seconds later, the canal opened into a large open area with clumps of grass still obscured in shadow. Roger guided the boat towards the center of the clearing, straight towards the largest of the grass clumps.
Only when we braced for the impact did we see that the clump was split in the middle, and that there was a canal running through the center of the grass hummock.

"Here we are. Watch your step getting into the box. It has a step ladder inside, but you can't see it too well."

We shifted into a beautiful blind, perfectly located in the middle of a 75-m circle of open water. A few grassy hummocks dotted the area, but none were enough to obsure visibility in any direction. The grass grew up just above the level of the three-foot high box, keeping us obscured while we watched for birds to come into the decoys scattered around the blind.

"I sure am glad to see that bug spray". Mac grabbed the can from the shelf bordering the box and liberally dowsed himself with Off.

Slowly, we began to be comfortable in the low light, and as the sun started to rise, we started to see birds getting out for that unfortunate early worm. A glorious orange-pink sunrise greeted us, and....

The first teal we saw flew by as a pair. Mac claims that he was shooting at the lead duck; we fired simultaneously and the rear duck fell. I am not so sure that he is telling me the truth - I have watched him hook a fish so that the little kids can have the thrill of landing them. I suspect him of the same kind of shenanigans here.

Regardless of who was responsible for bagging the first bird of the day, it went down, and floated there in the water. Because it was the most active time of the day for teal, Roger decided to retrieve it later, so as not to scare off the next set of teal from flying in.

We went back to scanning the horizon for birds. "Is that one?"

"Black mallard".

"Oooh. There is a pair!"

"No! Big ducks."

I never did get it right. Good thing he was there; we would have shot up some ducks (and blackbirds and seagulls and...) that were out of season, and then had some 'splainin' to do.

Scan the horizon to the left. Scan right. Scan back left. Splash. Scan right.

And back left again, to see what it was that had made the splash.

Roger was the first to ask. "Did de duck git up?"

Looked again, and saw the ripples from a BIG fish. And no evidence of the downed teal.

"No! De gator got 'im! Ohh, hell no! He not gonna eat my duck."

Roger jumped in the pirogue, turned on the propeller, backed out of the blind, and went after the gator. About five meters away, he cut the motor, stooped, then stood up in the boat.


Shot sprayed across the water, right where the ripples had stopped. A duck floated to the top, Roger started the motor again, went over, retrieved the duck, and calmly came back to the blind.

"I jes laid the shot down next to him to scare him into lettin de duck go. I jes stonned him."

Who were we to argue? He had just shown us what happens to anything that crosses him - I wasn't about to contradict him by saying that the spray silhouetted the damn gator... all the way around him.

Five minutes later a nose emerged vertically from the spot where the gator had been "scared" by the layin down of shot next to him. "Ahhh, I jes give 'im a concoshon."

The birds were flying too fast at this point for us to do much beyond scan the horizon and wait for a flock, pair or single to fly over into our area. They did come in several times, with Roger calling them in beautifully. And he pointed out all kinds of birds: black and white ibex, black mallards, pintails, blackbirds, pelicans. It was a birdwatcher's dream.

And through it all, the concoshed gator stuck his nose up out of the water. One time while retrieving a couple of downed birds, Roger went over and pushed at him with a pole. He swam down for a second, and then went back to his original position with the nose stuck vertically out of the water.

Nose out of joint, is all. I guess that is what happens when you have a "concoshon".

Birds kept flying in, but after 7 they started getting scarcer. Roger called a large flock of about twenty birds over, and watched as Mac's gun jammed and I shot twice into the middle of the flock without hitting anything. Mac unjammed the gun finally, but his shot was too hurried, and he missed, as well.

"Somebody didn't pick out a bird," was all he said.

He was right. I started out with one bird, and got distracted by a better bird, and the third one flared, presenting me with a perfect target. I shot somewhere in the midst of those three, leaving them all free to fly away.

Mac's gun jammed a couple more times that day, before he realized that he was trying to shoot a shell that was too long for the gun. He had picked up 3-1/2" shells; his gun would chamber a 3-1/4" shell. Because my gun was not a semi auto, I missed no birds because of the shells - all my birds were missed because I am a lousy shot, and 14 years out of practice.

We spotted another pair, and froze to wait on them to arrive. Roger said "Wood duck. Because they are small, they are often mistaken for teal. But they are out of season." So we watched, as the wood ducks circled and came in to land among the decoys. At the last second, they realized that the plastic ducks were not real, and decided to fly just a bit further, taking them directly over the blind. I could have taken them both down with one swing of a golf club. And when they saw us humans occupying a grassy spot where we hadn't been before, they both just exploded upwards in a flash of wings and puckered sphincters.

An absolutely amazing day.

After a mere three hours, the birds had stopped flying, and we had one shy of the limit for the three of us. We headed back to the lodge, where we swapped stories about how badly each of us had shot. But everyone was in great spirits, and we drank bad coffee and ate cookies and looked around the luxurious surroundings (the camp had been built and paid for by the people of Louisiana to benefit an ex-Governor's friends, and mercy, was it posh...) . And, satisfied with the day, we headed back to New Orleans.

On the way, we stopped at the Best Stop outside of Lafayette. For those of you who don't know about the Best Stop, it is the best place to buy boudin in the area (and, since it this is the only place in the world that sells boudin....). And for those of you who don't know what boudin is...

well, I feel sorry for you.

Boudin is cajun sausage, prepared with pork liver, lots of spice and just the right amount of rice. The rice was traditionally used as a filler to make the meat last longer. But the result is a culinary delight that is the meaty equivalent of crack cocaine.

And there is only one proper place to eat boudin. On the tailgate of the truck in the parking lot of the place where you bought it.

Dad and I bought two beers and sat down on the tailgate and ate our hot smoked boudin, tossing the leftover casings onto the ground behind the truck.

Confound them for making it a household expression, but the guys at Old Milwaukee got it right. It just doesn't get any better than this.

We went back inside to get some travel boudin, and I started up a conversation with an old cajun in line. "What are ya getting?" I asked.

"Boudin! But the other sausage is good too. And the stuffed porkchop, and... well, everyting's good."

We started talking, and he said that he had been in New Orleans the night before, and the boudin was help for the hangover he had gotten as a result. We talked politics (what did you put that moron back in office for?) and just cut the fat while we were waiting.

We got what we needed, and were loading up the truck, and the cajun walked by on his way to his car. "Now, you know what a cajun seven-course dinner is, right?"

"Tell me"

He held up a brown bag. "A six pack and a pound of boudin."

That is my idea of a seven-course meal, too.
And maybe, also my idea of heaven.

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