Gathering Season

(This column was originally published in 2013)

There is a small marsh between Walker and Park Rapids that I notice each time I drive past.  In October, it is rimmed with rust-colored bulrushes and scruffy. molting cattails. It is home to at least one tribe of muskrats, from what I can tell.  This week, I noticed two enormous trumpeter swans swimming in circles on the north side of the pond.   They looked bored and overdressed, socialites who dressed for the opera but ended up in a dive bar with a juke box playing Willie Nelson songs.  I know that swans migrate in the opposite direction from most winged creatures.  I would make a  lousy swan.   As soon as the snow starts to fall, I dream of Florida.

When I’m in the car alone between the pine forests and the prairie, these are the things I ponder.

It is Gathering Season.  I am conscious of this as I drive farther west and see the flocks of birds and waterfowl who congregate in the fields and sloughs waiting for their relatives to show up.  I imagine that the geese and ducks spend a lot of time discussing the close calls and dodged bullets and are relieved when they see their kids coming in for a landing.

Near Elizabeth, I noticed a farm field full of hundreds of crows gleaning leftovers from the harvest.  Suddenly, on cue, they took flight and transformed into one noisy black cloud.  I watched as they swooped high above the field in unison only to dip low to the earth over and over, a black ribbon of birds doing a primal, well choreographed dance…. swooping up, then down…back up, and down.  Crows do a lot of shouting.  One autumn, when I still lived on the western side of the state, a flock ended up doing a short layover in the large flowering crab apple tree in our backyard. For a half hour, they ate the bright red fruit, stripping the tree of every berry before resuming their trip, drunken and full.

Over the weekend, I spent time at the lake with a gaggle of family members who’d come for one last weekend of partridge hunting and cabin-time before everything is buttoned up for another winter.  October in our family has become less about the hunting and a lot more about the gathering.   But on Saturday, as my sister and I sat sipping good strong coffee in the lodge, our two sons donned blaze orange and went hunting.  I spied them though the kitchen window as they walked into the woods…two broad-shouldered, good-natured men walking together, performing a ritual their  grandfathers and great grandfathers did during other Octobers long before either one of them was ever born.

It is October.  The season for hunting.  And gathering, too.

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