Another lonely morning in the treestand. A gray, late-arriving November morning completely devoid of deer. Only the red squirrels scurrying in the leaves puncture the far-off soundtrack of commuters heading to work.
I unload the .308, climb down, stretch the back and ready myself for my re-entry into the gotta-get-to-work crowd. Thirty yards from the stand, in a mix of dogwood and aspen saplings, I almost step on a lone woodcock. The color of a potato or a good beer. About the same size, too. It startles me, but I recover in time to playfully bring the empty rifle up to the shoulder and swing.
“Bang,” I say.
The season closed more than three weeks ago on these birds – little long-billed, worm-eating, tight-sitting, upside-down-brained migratory things. This one, I’m guessing, hatched in eastern Quebec and is on its way to, I don’t know, Virginia, maybe. North Carolina? Whatever. It should be there by now. We’ve had hard frosts. Snow is in the forecast. I’m awaiting snow for tracking deer and for making turns in the mountains. Everybody’s lighting woodstoves and furnaces. These are not the days for woodcock to be hanging around, although the weather dudes say we’re in something like the fifth warmest November on record.
Empathy is my first reaction, but then I remember not to doubt the acumen of nature, the insight of evolution. If this woodcock is tardy in arriving to its winter destination, there must be a solid, reasoned explanation. Not that I’m going to get it, or frankly, do I deserve it. I’ve guessed wrong about things woodcock too often in the past to develop any kind of logical rubric.
Maybe that’s the allure: not knowing, not understanding. If we figured it all out, if the answers were too easy, then the whole thing would be a sham – us in the driver’s seat of nature.
We wouldn’t want that.