Growing up on the North Hill Marsh in Duxbury, Massachusetts was an outdoor kid's dream. Fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, living off the land – this is how I spent much of my childhood.
I remember waking on a cold, frosty dawn, crawling from my tent pitched high on a hill. Ducks and geese were noisily feeding on the pond below. A smoky mist whisked over the water's surface. As I stood up and stretched, I nearly had a heart attack when two ruffed grouse exploded into the air no more than ten feet behind my camouflaged tent. I've studied and hunted grouse all my life, and I still jumped a foot off the ground when they launch themselves into the air like rockets – at 45 miles per hour! If you haven't experienced the shear exhilaration of a surprised ruffed grouse flush, you're missing out on one of the most spectacular rushes nature provides (see your doctor first).
One day, I was hunting a hillside where I had seen and flushed (and missed) a ruffed grouse on three different occasions. Grouse are the hardest game bird to hunt because they are literally as fast as lightning. One flash and they are gone. On this particular evening though, I was confident I would come home with supper.
As I side-winded around the hill, I came to a beautiful pine grove that smelled with the sweet perfume of fall. As I stood there deeply breathing in nature's bouquet, a ruffed grouse came roaring into the grove at full throttle. He spotted me just as he put on the brakes and dropped his landing gear. If ever a grouse was surprised, this bird sure was. I swear his eyes were as big as saucers as he touched down no more than five feet in front of me. (Ruffed grouse are never supposed to come towards you. In fact, they are heard and rarely seen as they pour on the afterburners and disappear through the woods like a super sonic jet at an air show – now you see me now you don't!)
He immediately started making a nervous, red-squirrel-like whistling. He strutted, contemplating, not quite sure what to do. I stood there in utter surprise myself. When I realized supper was at hand, I tried to raise my gun. Only one thing stood between me and the tender, white meat: tall and medium-sized pine trees. Actually there were three and I was standing port of arms right up against them. When I had first come upon the "cathedral in the pines," I leaned against these trees and poked my head into the grove. Sort of like when you crack open a door and stick your head into a room to look around. Now I was so close to the pines, I couldn't snap my gun to my shoulder for the shot.
Suddenly, the ruffed grouse got his wits about him and exploded into the air. I nearly had a heart attack. In the blink of an eye he was gone without a trace. I stood there, heart pounding in my chest, and laughed out loud. Somehow, this bird had skunked me again. As I walked home re-playing the scene in my mind, I wondered – if I were a fox, would he of gotten away?
There are many sounds that I dislike in this world, one of them being the noisy dishwasher in my kitchen. My wife raising her voice, especially if my name is involved, is another. A blaring radio or television is not a very nice sound. You can add screeching brakes, a noisy muffler, air traffic, and jackhammers to that list, among other things.
Sounds that I DO enjoy, and this may surprise you, include chainsaws! Chainsaws are man’s work and he is creating something to be used later in a quieter way. A fire in the fire place for instance, to help contemplate some of life’s most difficult decisions. A chainsaw also gets you outside to enjoy the fresh, clean air and there are few sweeter smells in this life than fresh cut wood – especially if it’s fir, apple, or cedar! Then again, a pretty, young lady (my wife) handling an 18-inch blade, pausing to wipe her brow while sending a lovely smile my way is a pleasant thought... But I digress.
I also like the sounds of guns in autumn. Especially while sitting on a deer stand. Hearing a rifle crack in the valleys and mountains in the distance builds an excitement in the hunter’s heart like no other. I always offer up a “Praise God” when I hear a rifle crack, knowing that somewhere, some place, a lucky deer hunter has just filled his freezer with the finest, tastiest meat on earth. I’d like to sit around that hunter’s fire some evening and listen to the story of how he got his buck.
I’d give an awful lot, and do, to hear the call of the quail again in the cool of the evening air. “Bob-white…Bob-white…” Last fall I stocked fifty quail on my property just to hear their tranquilizing song. It worked for a while, but now I hear none and see the tracks of the fox and coyote. The “BOOM” of my shotgun would be a pleasant sound when I see the makers of those tracks. Will I stock again in the spring? Yes. Two-hundred this time… History proves Yankees don’t give up that easily, especially in love and war.
I wish I could bring back the call of the whip-poor-will that serenaded me to sleep each night in the summers of my youth in Duxbury. Sometimes several would be calling all at once. What a beautiful sound! The Lord God knows I miss them. Where they have gone, I do not know. The housing development on top of the cow pasture and the filling in of the little brook may have something to do with it…
One of the sweetest sounds in this life is my children giggling. They are a happy and contented lot, very smart and talented, if you don’t mind me saying. The sounds of quail and whippoorwill, and rifle shots in the mountains, and geese honking at dawn are all very, very close to my heart. But when I’m old and gray, and close my eyes, the one sound that I will remember and carry with me into Heaven, will be the laughing and giggling of my children.