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A Reflection


I love flying.

But in truth, the people, places and opportunities make it worth it all. I wrote this ten years ago after Dad died. I can still smell the sulfur and cranberries when I read it...

The Final Flush

Clear, crisp September mornings were running low for my father. His emphysema was progressing beyond an ability to flush grouse. Though unspoken, we both knew his trips were limited, yet we hunted as if it was our first.

Since before I was old enough to hunt, my father roved the woods around our friend’s hunting cabin, located about fifty miles from town. In the past, our friend’s airboat had been our only transportation up the shallow river to the cabin. Things had now changed; I had finished flight school years before, and recently purchased an airplane.

My father hated planes, always nervous when flying. He, my brother and I spent many years hunting from our car, canoe and on foot. Success was more often measured in memories than meat; the memories lasting longer. Birds, moose, hare and some fur bearers were included in our hunting attempts-early weekend mornings on snowshoes chasing Ptarmigan, out of school for moose hunts, after school for ducks. This was a life long bond between us. When we couldn’t communicate any other way, we could hunt together and enjoy each other’s company.

Today was special. Dad had agreed to go on a “moose scouting” trip, and we were headed to the cabin in my Piper Super Cub. We planned to scout “Broadway”, a large, open, liken covered area running through the brush like a solidified river. My brother Glen’s death earlier that year left my father and I to hunt, my plane had two seats.

Landing on the gravel bar by the cabin we took a short walk. We had crossed the “cabin” swamp before dad needed a break. His health’s deterioration was very apparent that day. I had been away for college, work...life. In my mid twenties, I was seeing the mortality of my hunting idol. His breathing was raspy and labored. With a few minutes of rest it slowed to what he called normal.

Upon reaching Broadway we sat for a spell. Morning’s frost had evaporated already, making the fallen leaves dry and crispy. Some yellow, green and brown leaves remained on tree branches in a last stand against winter’s approach. More color was added by a scattering of red Cranberries and large dark green spruce trees interspersed about the hardwood forest, assuring shelter for birds during the coming winter. Freshness of the freeze-dried forest blanketed the area. The sweet, rich smell of ripe cranberries once frozen, then fermented mixed in each breath. Only the gentle tick of an infrequent leaf descending broke the stillness about us. Many would call this prime grouse country, though shooting lanes were narrow and short, giving every advantage to the birds.

Spruce grouse suddenly scattered upon our entering a cranberry patch. As it had been twenty years before, I became dad’s bird dog for the day. Like many scouting trips, he carried an old 20 guage, the one he’d purchased for me to use when I learned to hunt years before. It’s short barrel was perfect for the brush tangle we were navigating, Dad was still deadly in the light; in shadows his cataracts limited his sight for successful shooting. Soon he had a few birds and sat for a break.

After the first flush we only covered a couple hundred yards. Through the thin opaque glaze, dad’s eyes gleamed with pride and pleasure. His years of raising two boys through hunting courses, driving lessons and college seemed to peak here; sitting in these familiar woods on a sunny day with his son, an old shotgun sporting as many scratches as kills, and grouse by his feet.

Peep, Peep, peep... behind me about twenty feet one of the birds from the last flush was trying to find it’s brood. I pointed like all good bird dogs do. Dad smiled with pride. His sense of accomplishment and satisfaction towards me showed like I had never seen it. At that moment I realized his perception of me had changed. We were equals. His blue eyes took me through the rites of passage. To him I was not only a hunting partner, but also a man.

Lifting off the gravel bar, turning to dodge the trees ahead, my thoughts turned to a quote of Shakespeare’s: “Parting is such sweet sorrow”. Nowhere near our limit, with plenty of birds gathered about us we’d returned to the plane and eventually home. Our day and our lives fulfilled, even if for only one moment. To achieve so much understanding, where before there had been so little. Renewing our kindred spirit with each other. Venturing an area where blissful childhoods were spent following fathers, wondering if we could ever be hunters as good as they.

Dad made one more short trip to the cabin a year later moose hunting. He could only walk behind the cabin to the “cabin swamp” before becoming too exhausted to continue. Once more we hunted grouse together, along a road we had traveled many times. The road had aged with time, grown over with tall weeds, almost losing it’s ability to function; signs my mentor had shown for some time. Once again, Dad shot his grouse that day, though he could only stand on the roadside, watching, while I retrieved it.

Soon after marriage and a move took me an hour’s plane ride from Dad. My mother’s death came with my first anniversary, taking much of Dad’s remaining energy. Our hunting trips together became good dreams and fond memories while alone and happy conversations while together. My success’ on hunting trips without him became heralded stories to neighbors and friends that stopped or called his house, always with the epitaph: “I taught him every thing he knows”.

Though my father and I shared many waters, dabbling riffles for Arctic Grayling and trout, no fishing trip seems to match the memories of hunting together. Truly, no memory of my life is more wonderful than our hunt that crisp September morning, sitting in the Cranberry patch, dad holding out the gun with a smile, offering me the final flush.
I hope that someday when I am near the final hunting days that my son will have reflections as vivid as yours.

I too lost my father in recent years. Due to heart problems he was not able to make a hunt for his final few years. We did however share a stream, catching many fish and enjoying the scenery. When he passed we put his ashes in that very stream that we had enjoyed together over his final few years.

thanks for sharing your memory too.

Merry Christmas,
Dads story

What a great story. I could see everything you talked about. the closeness of a father and son. It reminded me of a few hunting trips my dad and I had. I remember sitting on a log with my dad in the sunshine looking down in a canyon while on a deer hunting trip just talking to each other. These times are the real jewels of life, make the best of it and don't let pride get in the way.

You should write books, it was that good.

What a well-written story. You shared the feeling, not just the event. Keep writing! I'm trying to imagine where in Southeast this all happens. I have a couple of guesses, but - - If you're willing to share, I'd be interested. Seems you wrote that you're in Juneau now - I lived and flew (recreation only) there for 16 years. There's a lot to like about that country, though I like where I am now also. My favorite areas were Seymour Canal, Spaski Bay, and Neka Bay. Are those areas still somewhat pristine?
Thank you guys!

If you look at my photo album, the pic of the plane tied down in the small brush is the same bar, and just down from the cabins I now own, (used my inheritance for the cabins).

This is up river from Haines. It is in a bowl, so gets very warm in the summer, and really cold in the winter.

Geezer, what did you fly? I hunt Seymore quite often this time of year for deer. Should go today with new snow, but alas, let myself heal.
I was guessing Chilkat or Stikine, based on the moose hunting and the 1 hr flight time you mentioned.

I started in a T-Craft that I bought from Bill Dean in Juneau; I think it was 1974. A couple years later I bought a stock PA-12 and put on the 0-320 and flaps. Both planes were on most of the decent beaches and gravel bars within 50 or 100 mi of Juneau - -. I played on the Chilkat in an airboat, just once, but not in the plane.

It's beautiful country in which to bask one's soul, to be sure. My Dad rode up with me from the south 48 once, after much coaxing - he too didn't think much of small planes. But he later said it was a high point of his life -- My kids flew all over with me when they were little; fishing, Christmas tree gathering, Haines fair, and just plain goofing off. Good times.

Your story evokes strong memories and feelings - thank you.
What a great tribute, thanks for sharing it with us!
Thank you for bringing my Dad back for Christmas.
God, I wish he could stay.........
Thank you for that. It brought back wonderful memories. My Dad, passed away six weeks ago. As yours did, he taught me how to love the wilderness, to hunt, to fish, to live. He even paid for almost all my flight training clear up to ATP. The "cabin" was also one of our most cherished get aways. He built it for $300, fifty some years ago. You write so well, thanks for putting into words thoughts and feelings that seem to fit some of the rest of us as well.

Merry Christmas!
I just wanted to thank you for your kind response.

Even now I find it hard to read without the emotions coming back, but is a reminder to enjoy the blessings, big and small.

Merry Christmas!