November 21, 2016
Talking with a friend recently, we both commented on how noisy this particular year seems to have been, unwelcome sounds stemming at least partly from an array of political headlines and an election cycle that won't soon be forgotten.
But as Thanksgiving Day arrives, there's also a growing realization there are many sights and sounds to be thankful for, things far away from the middle of Times Square, the beltway of Washington, D.C. or the hustle and bustle of a vast metropolitan area filled with smog, honking horns and the grinding sounds of commerce.
Outdoor blessings that – if we're willing to break away from the pull of modern life – can still stir our souls and give us even more simple reasons to pause and offer a silent prayer of thanks for all that there is to be grateful for on this great American holiday.
Sounds like ...
… the whistling wings of mourning doves rocketing their way over a September grain field while the heat of a Great Plains day begins to fade away while the sun dips towards the horizon.
… the soft feeding chuckles of mallards as they wheel overhead, circling the decoy spread one more time as a quivering Labrador retriever softly whines and watches the aerial parade.
… the vicious early evening smash of a hefty largemouth bass as she tries to inhale a Zara Spook that had been quivering on the placid surface of a lake just moments before the water boiled violently and the lure disappeared.
There are plenty of sights and sounds that can still stir the souls of America's hunters and fishermen, things like ducks circling a decoy spread. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
… the music of migrating Canada geese as they roll by overhead, rushing south on strong northerly winds whipping behind the first real autumn cold front of the season. As the gale gathers strength, the front has stirred something wild in the breasts of these birds once again, while triggering their mysterious urge to continue their annual southbound journey.
… the melody of a bobwhite quail's distant whistle as a high-strung bird dog shakes with anticipation in his kennel moments before being turned loose for a day of upland bird hunting against a golden autumn backdrop.
… the thunderous gobble of a long-spurred, heavy-bearded wild turkey gobbler, a bird intent on shattering the stillness of a spring dawn. With any luck, those gobbles will soon be quieted by the roar of a 12-gauge shotgun as the gobbler gets invited to the Thanksgiving Day dinner table as the wild guest of honor.
… the rush of a mountain trout stream as fly line gets pulled from the reel, a false cast is quickly made and a caddis fly imitation is gently laid just above the rising form of a rainbow trout dimpling the Western river's surface.
… the shrill bugle of a love-crazed elk, a huge 6x7 bull knocking his way through the edge of timber next to an alpine meadow, issuing a verbal warning to any and all satellite bulls in the area as a group of cows nervously look. Cross this big bad wapiti – especially if you're a little guy – and you're in a heap of September trouble.
… the bone-jarring collision of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep as they war with one another for both territory and love, way up in an alpine basin surrounded by breathtaking peaks. Listening to these high-powered duels in the Colorado high country can stir the hunter's soul like it once did for American outdoor writer Jack O'Connor ... while making that same hunter want to reach for a couple of headache pills.
… the patter of whitetail hooves on a frosty November dawn as a doe rushes forward in front of the guttural tending grunt of a love-sick buck. With any luck, such sights and sounds will be heard all day long by the hunter perched 20 feet up in a tree above the Midwestern creek bottom, broken only by the rush of a broadhead tipped arrow as Mr. Big pauses one second too long.
… the sound of a large arbor fly reel whining in angry protest as a saltwater fly line rapidly melts away against the surging run of a triple-digit tarpon. Hook up with Megalops atlanticus on a Florida Keys flat near Key West on a late-spring morning and it's a sunrise you'll never forget.
… the haunting melody of a loon, a sound that greets a blustery fall sunrise on a Michigan lake as an angler chunks and winds a jerkbait. With any luck, he'll soon cross paths with a huge northern smallmouth bass, a bronzeback intent on adding another calorie laden meal before winter arrives.
From sunrises to sunsets, from whistling wings to shotgun blasts, there are many reasons American hunters can be grateful. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
… the chuckling eruption of a cock pheasant from a South Dakota corn field, an imported game bird as colorful as the American flag itself. With any luck, the wind torn cries of "Rooster! Rooster!" will be followed by the report of a 12-gauge shotgun. After the scatterguns fire, the command to "Fetch it up!" will complete this golden autumn scene.
… the stillness of a snow-covered morning as you step from the house with the Labrador retriever in tow for a winter journey to a late-season duck blind with billions of stars silently blazing in the Milky Way galaxy above.
… the steady whistles of pintails circling a shallow water decoy spread – for the 15th time, no less – on the Texas Gulf Coast. As soft early morning colors wash across the Creator's saltwater canvas, it's a duck blind sight that no painter can readily duplicate, although the late great sporting artist John P. Cowan sure tried.
… the silence – that's right, the silence – of stingrays floating past a fly angler's wading boots in a foot of saltwater while the fisherman studies intently the quivering form of a huge tailing redfish dining on shrimp and small crabs only 30 yards away. You'll only get one good cast, so make it count.
There are plenty of other sounds in the American wilderness, natural noises that reach out to stir the soul of the outdoorsman all throughout the year.
But there also are plenty of visual images too, sights that stir the imagination of hunters and anglers who witness something like ...
… the flash of whitetail antlers as a huge Boone & Crockett buck pops into view, pausing to freshen up a scrape and rub his antlers on a sizable Kansas tree.
… the bird-dogging form of a true blue Muy Grande whitetail, a buck running helter skelter across a South Texas Brush Country prickly pear flat as he tries to cut off a winsome doe before she disappears into the safety of thick cover.
… the upland drama that unfolds as the sun glistens across a dew-covered morning with a pair of English pointers locked up tight on an Oklahoma covey of "Gentleman Bobs," the bobwhite quail.
… the sight of an gray squirrel as she hastily gathers up leftover acorns, chattering nervously the day before a big storm turns autumn into winter.
It's tough to beat the sights and sounds an angler finds at sunrise. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
… the supple pluck of a dry fly by a wild-as-the wind trout, an aquatic moment so soft and beautiful that you simply have to be there to full appreciate it. But as you do, don't forget to set the hook.
… the autumn splendor of New England as a grouse hunter goes forth against rolling woodlands spackled with brilliant hues of orange, yellow, purple, red and brown.
… the stark hues of a winter's dawn as the contrasting shades of white, gray, black and brown offer up a unique beauty reserved only for those hardy few who venture forth from the comforts of a warm home.
In a year that won't soon be forgotten, those are a few of the sights and sounds inspiring the soul of hunters, anglers, hikers, campers and outdoor enthusiasts who venture forth across this great land of ours.
Be it Yellowstone, the Rockies, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Adirondacks, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic or Pacific coastlines, the Dakota Badlands, the desert Southwest, the mesquite flats of Texas, the vast prairies of the Great Plains, the deep forests of the Great Lakes, a river bottom in the deep South, or even the voluminous Grand Canyon, there's little doubt that there are many more yet to be described.
Sights and sounds that we can pause, remember and give thanks for over a piece of leftover pumpkin pie.
Even at the end of a noisy year.