By T. Edward Nickens, contributing editor, Ducks Unlimited magazine (IG: @enickens)
We’d overslept by a few minutes, so I was already in a bit of a huff as Jack shuffled down the steps. We’ve hunted the Horse Swamp so many times we know nearly to the minute how long it takes to make the drive, cross the swamp, set the decoys, and hunker down in the cypress trees. Now we had to rush—rush to the truck, rush down the highway, and rush to get the decoys out. I was ahead of Jack by 20 yards or so, frantically pulling mallards from the decoy bag, when I noticed that he’d stopped behind me.
“Hey, buddy,” I shouted over, annoyed. “What are you doing?”
He didn’t seem to hear me. I grew even more agitated. At this rate we would never be ready by shooting light.
“Dad, just stop a second,” Jack said. He spoke with an imploring tone. Admonishing. “It’s just so beautiful.”
I followed his gaze to the eastern sky, where a rim of dark blue was bulging on the horizon, edged with orange. There was just enough light to see the serrated tops of the cypress trees and just enough dark for the western sky to still hold stars that glistened on the beaver pond all around us. The only sound was the trickle of water through the beaver dam. In the middle of all of this, Jack stood silhouetted in the water’s moonglow. I set the decoy down, gently, and stood up and shoved my hands in the wader pockets.
And we simply stood there, together in this beaver swamp, alone in each of our own thoughts. It wasn’t for long. Maybe half a minute. Then I heard Jack moving through the water again. The splat of a tossed decoy gave me permission to move myself. We set the rest of the decoys, and met under the three cypress trees that had become a home away from home.
I have no idea if we shot a duck or saw a goose that day. But what I do remember is that sight of my son transfixed by a sunrise in a swamp, and his insistence that I share in the moment. These days, especially, I find myself rushing towards another place and time. Instead of trying to beat the rising sun to the cypress trees, I’m trying to plan for uncertain days. I am rushing to get my kids in a healthy place, rushing to get ahead of a future that seems to change by the hour.
And then I remember that morning, and the lesson from my son. And whenever I recall his words—Dad, just stop. It’s so beautiful.—I set down my keyboard or calculator and put away my anxiety and fold my hands together. I don’t want to miss the sunrise that I know will come.