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    Day’s End

    The Divine Torture

    On one finger of the lake I was walking uphill from the edge, and from the bottom edge my new hunting apprentice, a “kid” younger than my starting-to-gray offspring, let out a “Damn!”

    “What’s the matter?” I called.

    “Oh, I stepped in a hole and filled a boot with ice water.”

    “That comes with the territory.”

    My friend was new to this part of the country, and to grouse, and needed a tutorial.

    A bit farther on I motioned toward a certain spruce where one of my old dogs had pointed his first grouse and then the cattails we were about to walk through from which he had retrieved it.

    “Uh, I’ve all ready got one wet foot. Can’t we walk around this thing?”

    “It’s a long way, and I’ve never found a bird out there.”

    Well, on the edge of that finger of marsh, just where the cattails gave way to hazel brush, he lost solid ground, found a thigh-deep mud seep and pitched into a face plant. I stifled my laugh as I apologized for not warning him of that thing. I also explained that it’s a spring in a soft bottom and sort of quicksand made out of mud.

    Jim Rataczak, “Fresh Snow – Ruffed Grouse,” oil on linen on board oil, www.jimrataczak.com
    Jim Rataczak, “Fresh Snow – Ruffed Grouse,” oil on linen on board oil, www.jimrataczak.com

     “I can show you several more around here, if you want.”

    “Uh, no thanks.”

    By the time he extracted himself from the wallow, he had two boots full of water and muck, as well as sleeves smeared past the elbows, a splotched chin, slimed glasses and a mired gun. I did help him get out while chuckling at his mess. When he finally got back onto solid ground and stood up, mud and water oozed like toothpaste from his boot tops.

    “You need tennis shoes,” I said.

    “Tennis shoes?”

    “Yeah. They slip right out of that stuff and don’t collect any of it. Been there, done that. In this very seep, in fact.”

    As I spoke, he cleaned his specs and wiped off his gun as best he could with the big rag I carry in my game pouch. Fortunately, his barrels were clear.

    By the time we got back to the car, we both had rebaptized our socks a couple of times, and our boots made slurpy sucking sounds at every step.

    “Tennis shoes?” he asked again.

     “Oh, when I was about your age, I noticed that my boots all had a big hole in the top where my foot went in. And while dissecting the problem, I thought back to when I was a kid: My friends and I all lived in what we called tennyrunners. Plain old high-top canvas tennis shoes. We waded creeks for frogs, jumped into the river chasing turtles. The water gushed out the vent holes as we ran off to climb the cliffs and trees, and we never worried about wet or stinky feet.

    “So I went right out and bought myself a genuine pair of black Converse All Stars, complete with ankle patch. After that, pursuing these birds, I just plowed ahead across the alder bogs, through the sloughs and even out to some islands that never got hunted. Those goofy shoes made hunting a lot more fun and free and found me more grouse, too. I had to wear good wool socks, though. That way when the water got all squirted out, they were dry enough to keep my feet reasonably comfortable. Even after the early snows.”

     “You’re not wearing them now.”

    “Yeah, I got old, and my feet started getting cold. That was the beginning of old age decrepitude.”

    “Considering the thick wet messes you’ve led me through today, I’d say you’re not done yet.”

    “Thanks.”

    “And you did get me a shot at a bird. So I guess your message is, ‘Just go find the grouse, embrace the wet feet, and say to hell with easy walking.’”

    “Yup, and that’s the divine torture that this bird begets.”

    Wolfe Publishing Group