Two months of waiting in crowded doctors offices was cause for a continuance of hunting in the frozen hillsides. I needed such calm the timber provides, whereas I sensed the coming months would not be so peaceful. Ed and I returned from hunting in the Ozarks during the week after Christmas. A bitter cold getaway in early January, unable to launch our canoe from a marina encased in ice.
A stiff Ozark winter wind can easily topple a small boat, with the deadly average water temperature of 30-35 degrees. In an unforgiving winter, few venture out into frigid Missouri waters.
As I grew up, it was considered by public opinion as sacrilegious to go hunting on Christmas Day. Nevertheless, I don’t believe there should be such a stigma. As a youngster, after our festivities I grabbed my boots and headed into the nearby timber, often with my little brother in tow. Neither Mom or Dad scolded me for taking off. I’m sure Midwest pioneers left the comfort of the homefires to face the harsh snow and relentless ice-cold wind even on Christmas Day if it meant salvaging a meal for the family. Modern day deer hunters know that as well; if you want to eat, you trek to the woods any chance you can, beit Christmas or not. And Ed and I have done just that more than once. Our camaraderie is an understanding that hunting opportunities are rare as working folks.
Those first prairie hunters were not disrespectful of the blessed Jesus birth, they were as any hunter of good morals. Opportunists. Practical. Raised by hardworking settlers, farming and hunting was their way as God ordered our descendants to do. Such was life in an era of self sufficiency for my Iowhan Indian-German and Quaker grandma farmers. Hunting is a vital commodity to feed our belly and spirits as well as to fulfill tradition. An example of some huntin’ humor:
“In Genesis chapter twenty-seven Isaac, one of Jehovah’s main covenant kids, gets to feeling a bit peckish one day, and you know what he asks for to satisfy his hunger? Was it tofu? No. Lentils? Wrong again. A wheatgrass smoothie? Strike three, Chicken Little. It was venison, a Ted Nugent back strap fever feast, that’s what! Yep, Isaac commanded his son to pick up his bow and collect him a buck for some down home barbecue.” Doug Giles | Jan 18, 2009.
Another God-fearing hunter; going hunting with Nugent would be at the top of my bucket list. Ted and Shemane are my heroes as well.
Close to noon I sat on a fallen tree overlooking the ice-covered water, strips of melting ice shown translucent from the sun’s rays. A larger boat than ours could cut through the thin sections that lay in narrow sheets, floating ice beds. Took a breather from hunting, hadn’t seen any deer sign. High above the water across the cove I watched a pair of Bald Eagles perched above the shore. I’ve taken photos of Bald Eagles that did not turn out as stunning as this one in flight — but my awe is the same — it makes me feel protective and proud. Regal and defensive of their territory, first one dives into the cold water, then the other to grab a fish. Expertly swiping its talons into the icy current and instantly yielding a meal. Lunch!
For hundreds of miles, Bald Eagles nest along the great rivers but Ed and I watch them many times while coasting upstream fishing. That was the first time I’d seen a pair in the wintertime. Look close and open the link below for the zoom. My brother got a rare snapshot of a pair nestled in the bare trees overlooking the Des Moines River.
On Highway 7 shortly after dawn, I had hiked into the woods while Ed walked around the ice-covered cove at the gravel marina. That was a long day in the 20 degree cold sitting on a stump, soon I still-hunted, watching and chuckling at squirrels scrambling up and down oak trees. I didn’t re-e-a-ally expect to see any deer on top of the peninsula, but it’s where Ed had stationed us, so there I was. Listening intently for deer movement, I should’ve been squirrel hunting; but was content. Time to put up the canoe, my gun and camo.