If you have read for any length of time the drivel I endeavor to put into this space each week, you may be well aware of a particular tradition I’ve held to down through the gathering years.
Specifically, I like to spend the morning after Thanksgiving Day reflecting on the various things there are for me to be grateful for as an outdoors enthusiast who lives here in the Red River Valley.
Once again, if you will indulge me just a little bit, I’d like to pour another cup of coffee, polish off a leftover piece of my wife’s pumpkin pie, and embark upon another list of things to be thankful for this year.
Things like the various outdoors sights, sounds, and experiences that keep luring us afield. One such experience is the sudden whisper of wings overhead on an icy dawn in the late fall, the guttural chuckles of mallards suddenly sounding off over a North Texas pond rimmed with skim ice.
Or how about the deep grunts of a lovesick buck as he chases after a whitetail doe at the peak of the November rut, keeping the pulse of a nearby hunter on redline overload as he waits on a clear shot to present itself?
Or maybe the overwhelming stillness of a springtime dawn suddenly shattered by the sounding off of a big gobbler still up in a tree? It’s a familiar noise that assaults the senses each spring, bringing the promise that the ancient April game is about to begin once again.
This year, I’m also grateful for the chance to share such experiences with dear friends who share my outdoors passion. One such experience took place right at 12 months ago with my dear friends Jeff Phillips, Charlie Holder, and Andrew Howard as we all enjoyed a symphony of outdoors sights and sounds.
In a hunt that took place last December a couple of days before the Texas Hill Country wedding of my daughter Katie and my son-in-law Tim, the duck blind I found myself in that morning was actually not in Texas. But it was close enough, a swath of sheet water in extreme southern Oklahoma lying very near the Red River state line.
As our crew hunkered down in a well concealed blind, Dakota Stowers and his North Texas Outfitters guides hammered away on their Yentzen One duck calls produced by Holder’s Sure-Shot Game Calls company down in Groves, Texas.
As the dawn approached, a cacophony of duck calling ensued as we eagerly pleaded with the clouds of prairie waterfowl that were swarming overhead.
The shooting was fast, furious, and memorable, thanks in part to the numbers of ducks in the area as well as the rapid approach of a classic blue norther. As we watched the blue cloud mass approach, it was a beautiful morning of duck shooting with good friends.
An hour later, the front roared through with low clouds, rapidly falling temperatures, and strong winds gusting well over 35 mph straight out of the north. The mid-December duck hunt was over quickly, but the memory of that outing with good friends lingers to this very day.
I’m also grateful this morning for solo adventures like one I had last spring, a trip that saw me alone on one of my favorite bass waters as the spawn came to an end. Working a line of shallow water cattails, the morning was somewhat fruitless as I pondered whether it was time to load up and call it a day.
But with a #2 deer hair frog popper at the end of my eight-weight fly line, all of that changed in a moment when the proverbial bowling ball fell from the sky and a big largemouth engulfed the fly with a viscous topwater strike.
Tense moments later, I won the fight and finally had the big girl in my hand. When I slid the hefty sowbelly back into the warming water, the smile on my face was as big as the state of Texas, even if there was no one else around to see it.
But for all the sights and sounds I love in the Texas outdoors world, both in the company of friends and when I am alone, none of them compare with a moment that I witnessed at midweek.
As my wife and I waited for the newlyweds to arrive from central Texas for a Thanksgiving Day visit, a pickup truck pulled up in front of our home in Denison followed by the sounds of doors opening and the sight of my two college aged sons spilling out.
While their duck straps were somewhat meager as shotguns, waders, and decoys were unloaded from the truck, it didn’t seem to matter too much. That seemed obvious to me as I watched and smiled from inside, enjoying the sight of my camo clad sons Zach and Will as they enjoyed a break from classes and smiled, laughed and goofed upon one another.
As I watched the spectacle unfold and anticipated the full house to come that evening, a joy filled my father’s heart. Even as I write this, I’m smiling and remembering the Biblical passage where John wrote “I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth.”
While my kiddos aren’t perfect, they bring joy to my heart as they walk in lives of sincere Christian faith, love and serve others, and find their way out onto the grand canvas of Creation to hunt, fish, and enjoy time spent together with family and friends.
As a middle aged father who loves the same things in life, what more could I possibly ask for this morning? Except, of course, for one last piece of pumpkin pie.