Saturday, August 17, 2013


In Screen Saver I tell a story about one of my three times in Wyoming.  That story was about the first time I was ever in Wyoming and the story doesn’t have much point to it except to set up my assertion that there didn’t seem to be much there and getting in and out of it as soon as possible had always seemed to me to be the best way to think about Wyoming.  All that had been to set up the fact that on my third time in Wyoming I had had an experience that had totally belied the accuracy of my former beliefs about the place.  But the real point of interest in that first experience, if not the story itself, had been one of my hunting companions.  His name was Glen, and I mention in that first-time-in-Wyoming story that he had grown up on Chesapeake Bay and probably should have been a waterman rather than being in the US Navy which was where he was and which was how I had met him.  We were both officers, I in the US Air Force and Glen in the Navy, at Lowery Air Force Base being trained to be Intelligence Officers so that we would have something to do when we got to Vietnam.  Glen had set the stage for events on a subsequent trip with the story he had told of the day, when hunting on Chesapeake Bay, he had shot a goose and it had gone down far out in the water.  It was dead and it was far out in the water.  Glen didn’t have a dog and the bird was too far out for him to get it, even by wading.  So, he told us (“us” not “me” because we were accompanied by another Air Force officer named Gerry) he did the obvious.  He played the dog.  He disrobed, swam out and retrieved the goose.

That had made a good story and filled some of the dead time that had hung heavy on our hands that day on my first time in Wyoming.  We had gone up there – just outside a town called Chugwater -  from Denver for the day to hunt for the, we were assured by a recent article in the Post, hoards of cottontail rabbits that were thronging around the Chugwater area.  Time had hung heavy on our hands because we never saw a rabbit.  But I had heard Glen’s story and on a subsequent hunting trip that story was to turn out to be mildly prophetic.

It was a cold overcast mid-morning somewhere north of Denver.  The three of us, Gerry, Glen and I were wading in slightly deeper than knee deep water that had impinged and surrounded a copse of some kind of deciduous trees.  But it wasn’t as easy as the description sounds.  The bottom of this forested pond was ankle deep mud.  The surface of the water was a crust of half inch thick ice.  So wading through this icy soup involved crashing a foot through the ice, letting the boot - we were wearing waders – settle into the mud until it got sucked solid and then rotating the other foot forward and backward until it could be broken loose from the sucking muck and lift it out of the water, crash it through the ice and repeat the whole process again.  In this manner we were walking through this treed slough looking for ducks.  We each carried a shotgun.

I said it was cold.  It was bitterly cold.  I had known prior to leaving home how cold it was going to be so I was well layered with warm clothing.  I was so well layered that I looked several sizes larger than I actually was.

We had been crashing and mucking for about half an hour without seeing anything to shoot at when, from behind us, the air became filled with large numbers of mallards.  They swept by to our right from back to front and skidded into some water ahead of us that was free from ice.  And more followed them; and more followed them.  It looked as if we might get some ducks.  And it was going to involve a classic form of duck hunting: jump shooting as they flushed ahead of us.

We edged closer to the outer edge of the trees where the ice was somewhat thinner; the muck on the bottom remained the same but not as much noise and effort were necessary in the thinner ice area.

As we moved into range some ducks leapt into the air and the three of us drew down and fired.  Gerry dropped one just to his left a little deeper into the trees where the ice was thicker and the duck dropped with a thud to the ice.  I had similar luck and my duck hit the ice not far from Gerry’s.  Glen’s duck hit the open water to his right and about thirty feet away.  Glen started walking toward it and was about half way there when an amazing thing happened.  Glen disappeared.  Then he re-appeared, but he was sputtering and flailing about as he assumed a swimmer’s posture and, fully winter-hunting clothed, swam back to shallow water.  It turned out – and it was something that had completely eluded all three of us – that the water where Glen's duck had gone down was open because, unlike the water in the trees, it was deep.  It was deep and it had a fairly swift current.  It had a fairly swift current because it was a small river or a big creek and it had overflowed its banks from the winter storms into the trees that in more clement times lined its banks.

Glen hadn’t gotten close enough to the duck to retrieve it, but he had dropped his gun which was now somewhere at the bottom of a deep body of moving water.

Then Glen did something that I would have thought to be irrational if he hadn’t previously told me the story about the goose on Chesapeake Bay.  He took off his clothes down to his underwear.  And he went into the water and dove, doing one of those bend at the waist and go straight down surface dives that we all used to do in the swimming pool.  But we all did it in the swimming pool in the middle of sunny days in the middle of the summer in pools filled with crystal clear tepid water.  Glen was going down in an icy coffee- colored soup of uncertain depth.  And he was going to be looking for something that probably had been moved along by the current, just as he had been moved, giving him a starting point with three unknowns: where he had been at the point of his plunge and where the gun might have been dropped in relation to that plunge, and where it might have been moved to in the interim.
I gave the endeavor no chance of success.  I was actually pretty concerned about the chances that I would ever see Glen again in living form.  But after a long time in slow motion movie terms he surfaced, with the gun and got to the shallows, handed the gun to me and swam back out and retrieved the duck.  Once the duck was safely placed in the crotch of one of the trees reality began to manifest its ugly face to Glen.  He commenced shivering with his teeth chattering at such a rate that I feared he might come apart at some heretofore non-obvious set of seams.  He was not a very tall man and what height there was of him had no excess flesh on it; there was no fat; there was no insulation.  And we were a long walk from the car.

It suddenly hit me why I had worn all those clothes.  It hadn’t been because I had been aware of the coldness of the day and had prepared for it.  It was because the great god of the Chesapeake had called out across the country and had told me to prepare to be the provider of a change of warm clothes for one of his children.

So Glen and I climbed into a tree and I peeled of a layer or two of my garments and Glen donned them, tying them in knots in many places to accommodate the fact that I was about half again as big as he, and he and Gerry and I spent the rest of the day harvesting our fair share of the duck population of the locale.  We stayed away from the open water however.

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