For many who hunt, the start of the 2016 Minnesota duck season this past weekend was like an early Christmas. There are few specialties within hunting that offer more opportunities to eagerly prepare and hopefully anticipate than does duck hunting; from boats to blinds, decoys to dog training, duck calling to specialized armament, not to mention the varied natural histories of the many species a duck hunter encounters. A duck hunter can keep busy with some dimension of the sport virtually the entire year.
I'm sure it's no more than rumor that John Steinbeck's celebrated novel Of Mice and Men began as an essay on mouse-proofing the family cabin. You know how it is once rumors get started. Obviously, Steinbeck knew where the money was, and came out way ahead by writing an enduring, if controversial, piece of American literature.
This is the week that turns the page. At least that's how many of us see it. Autumn does not officially begin until Sept. 22, the date when the sun's arc across the sky has slipped southward to a path that will take it across the equator. But that technicality does not necessarily square with the observations and the senses of those who experience the seasonal realities at our latitude well north of that equatorial line.
I'm not one to routinely scan the obituaries in our local newspaper or that of my hometown, in search of familiar names. Some people my age do, but so far I haven't acquired the habit. I take no comfort in knowing that quite a few people my age, or younger, have encountered the ultimate proof of their mortality.
I was disappointed when I discovered that the Chinese calendar does not have a bear in the rotation of twelve animals that mark its zodiac cycle. In Chinese tradition, each year is governed by one of 12 animals, and that creature's attributes are said to characterize the year. Given the manner in which the presidential primaries have progressed in this election year, it may come as no surprise to learn that 2016 is officially the year of the monkey.
In the world of marketing, there are groups of people who are identified by their readiness to adopt new things. Those who are adventurous and always on the lookout for the latest things are not surprisingly called "early adopters." At the opposite end of the scale are the "late adopters," those who seem to wait until nearly everyone else has tried or purchased that new thing.
There is probably no other time of year when Minnesotans in such large number are so narrowly focused on a species other than their own. Yes, there are more fishermen than deer hunters, and in May of each year there are almost as many boat trailers on the highways as there are cars. But devotees of that sport are diluted among many species, from musky addiction to trout snobbery, bassin' passion to walleye myopia, panfish preoccupation, and so on.
There are two transformations I take special note of as October passes and November arrives. Most dramatic is the loss of the vibrant leaves of maple, birch, aspen and other trees and shrubs, loosened from their moorings and finally knocked to the ground by wind and rain. Aside from the leaves of the tenacious oaks, what remains is a latticework of bare branches, which can be interesting in their own right, especially against the backdrop of a brilliant sunrise or sunset. The other transformation is more subtle and gradual.
I was sitting on the plywood seat of a duck boat, watching the sun gradually work its way up over a silhouetted ridge line on the eastern horizon. It was morning on the third and last day of a duck hunting trip, there with my hunting partner of more than three decades.
There was a time in the early history of man when the nomadic lifestyle was the rule rather than the exception. Tribes and bands of our ancestors commonly moved from place to place in response to such forces as seasonal weather, the habits and abundance of wild game, the availability of wild edibles on which they also subsisted, and so on. The development of primitive agriculture, man's ingenuity in using fire and the protective and sheltering byproducts of the hunt - like skins and furs - and using natural shelters, eventually made the nomadic lifestyle less universal.