I take great pleasure in publishing an essay by 14-year-old Sarah Sanderlin of Dubach,Louisiana. Sarah recently penned a winning essay in the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association Youth Journalism Contest about a special duck hunt with her dad. Her writing shows an understanding of the deeper meaning of the hunt that far outweighs her few years of experience--and gives us hope for the next generation of hunters and those who write on them:
Soft gray light through the trees. The smell of rain. The rhythmic pat, pat, pat of water dripping onto wet leaves.
My dad and I are the only ones there to sense it all. It’s a magical solitude that has been felt so many times before, from ancient times to the Information Age. So is the spell of the hunt, forever passed down to the next generation.
On this particular morning we’re seeking wood ducks. They’ll fly from their roosts soon, when the sun begins to materialize over the eastern hills. I’ll lie in ambush at one of their favorite landing places, a bend in the creek affectionately dubbed Zorro Bend by my dad.
The creek is just ahead through the trees now. A slight catch of excitement rises in my throat. Will they already be there? Once in sight of the water, I drop to my hands and knees and crawl forward, checking every inch of the creek while my dad hangs back. Soon, when it’s apparent they haven’t yet arrived, I rise and creep to my seat.
I settle down on the wet ground, my back against the old familiar oak tree, my toes within about two feet of the creek. My eyes begin to scan the surrounding area, my mind to analyze it.
There is the deep, rich mud-smell of the creek; a soothing, natural scent linked with some of my fondest memories. There is the chill in the air; not hard cold, but a refreshing, nippy cool in the light breeze. The gray light is getting a bit brighter through the heavy clouds, revealing the swollen water of the creek hastening past under its thick, almost impenetrable fog blanket. I drink it all in.
This is life at its best.
I sit perfectly still; meditating, watching squirrels chase one another through the cypress treetops. Then, suddenly, a wavering whistle breaks my trance. Wings! Three ducks fly overhead, barely visible through the treetops, too far away for a shot. They don’t circle or land, but continue away from me. I relax, listening to their distinctive cry of “wheep wheeeeep whuup” as it rings hauntingly through the swamp, fading, fading away.
I smile. There will be more.
And so, ten minutes later, I’ve readied myself for the two that land. They crash onto the water downstream from me, out of sight in the thick fog.
I remain motionless. Wood ducks almost always swim upstream. And so they do: two small phantoms in the blanket of white vapor, paddling with determination against the creek’s strong current.
It is a male and his mate. The male is a sparkling gem of iridescent colors, a glistening rainbow even in the dull light. His companion is also iridescent, but colored mostly olive drab. It seems that some master artist painted every shade and line on their bodies.
Breathing raggedly, I move my shotgun into position in slow motion. The male duck is closer to me than his mate—an easier shot. I press my cheek hard against the cool wood of the gun’s stock and line the sights up with the male’s head. I pause with my finger on the trigger, oddly uncertain.
The male stops swimming and seems to freeze in place. His round, black eye blinks once, focusing directly on my face. We stare at one another. Years pass in the half-second that our eyes are locked.
Somehow, some way, I sense in that moment that he knows why I’m there and he is ready.
I pull the trigger.