column By: Tom Carney | October, 21
I’m standing atop a pile of detritus from an aspen cutting in an enormous clearing of similar such piles. Paddy my English setter is on point. Two woodcock flush. One shot . . . pivot. Second shot. Two woodcock down. And I immediately think of John Northrup.
An All-American outfielder at Central Michigan University in 1976, John batted .441, a school record that still stands. About a decade later, during a woodcock hunt in Michigan’s Thumb, he displayed one skill that made him such a solid hitter.
As John stepped toward Paddy on point, one bird flushed. And from a different direction, another. For the first time ever, I observed eye-hand coordination in action: As soon as he took his first shot, his gun smoothly followed his eyes to his next target.
A textbook move. Beautiful. Sublime.
And that’s why, gathering my two woodcock, I thought of John. I hoped so much that I had moved as athletically perfect as he had. Just for once in my life.
Up to that point, the cover we hunted had been inviting but unremarkable, aspen-loaded and unposted. We had driven by so often while traveling the dirt road between our usual covers that we just figured people regularly hunted it. But that one time after we had crossed the river to the west and before we came to the next river to the east, Jerry spoke and changed our bird hunting lives.
“I’ve never seen a vehicle there.”
In a nanosecond, I had pulled to the side of the road and begun flagging down Jim and Norris in the follow vehicle.
We soon learned this covert was massive and roughly trapezoid-shaped with its short base running along the road, its two sides following the rivers and its wide base connecting with those rivers somewhere beyond. But because we had jumped into this spot late in the day, we soon had to turn back, leaving the “beyond” for another time.
And so, after only about 45 minutes of hunting this cover and with several points, flushes, misses and hits, we had returned to within 50 yards of the road, feeling pretty good about our find. Then from a short distance, Jim called with all the enthusiasm he could muster, given his austere Upper Peninsula Finlander heritage.
“Paddy’s on point.”
We other three dashed into the tiny opening and beheld Scene 2:
Paddy, nearly nose-to-beak with a woodcock that was in no hurry to flush. This was in the days before cell phones and pocket cameras, so all we could do was to stand there and speculate. Perhaps the bird was resting between migration flights. Perhaps he just didn’t want to fly. Or perhaps he was just a little chilled from the light snow that had begun to drift through the late afternoon shadows. Big, slow, soft, gentle snowflakes, anointing dog, bird and men.
“This snow adds the final jewel to today,” Norris our camp’s acknowledged shaman decreed, a benediction, some grace before dinner.
Then I remembered. “It’s like the snow falling at the end of McCabe and Mrs. Miller when Warren Beatty gets shot in the back.”
General agreement, and I continued, “A lyrical snow.”
Reaching our vehicles, we were too enchanted to let the moment end with an immediate return to camp. So, we headed to the nearest tiny town. It might have had a gas station. It did have a bar and a laundromat/bait shop. We settled in at the bar to luxuriate in our communal afterglow.
As Englebert Humperdinck crooned “Please Release Me” from the jukebox, one of us declared, “We’ve got to go back to that place tomorrow.” General agreement.
“We’ve got to give that cover a name.” More general agreement, followed by several false starts.
And then Jim surprised us with some enchantment of his own.
“How about ‘The Place Between Two Rivers’?”
Perhaps he was channeling Hemingway who famously said while there is no Big Two-Hearted River in Michigan, he entitled his short story that because it sounded more poetic.
At any rate, we found that to be a fine and proper name. The next day, other camp members joined us on a reconnaissance mission to “beyond,” and henceforth, The Place Between Two Rivers reigned supreme in camp legend and lore.
After about five more annual pilgrimages, the “For Sale” sign went up and that was the end. But it takes so little to stir the feelings.
At least once a year during cold times, I’ll be working at the desk here. A glance out the window sends me reaching
for the phone. One hundred and forty-one miles away, someone will pick up and will immediately intuit an exact moment of our shared history when I report, “Jerry! We’ve got a lyrical snow.”