A warm spring day and a world of waterfowl was the setting as my 9-year-old son, Todd, and I traveled the gravel road up Cochrell Hollow, leaving the Mississippi River landing.
Early that morning we had launched the big jon boat and ventured into the marsh area above Lock and Dam 25 near Batchtown to view thousands of returning ducks and geese — a family tradition since the days of our ancestors who loaded ol’ Winchesters on their annual “spring hunts.” In this age, spring is just a viewing, not hunting.
“What’s the bulldozer going to do, dad?” quizzed my young son, referring to the yellow monster parked next to the narrow road.
“Looks like someone is going to clear some ground, probably to build a clubhouse.”
“What about all those little trees?” was Todd’s concern.
“Tell you what, let’s rescue a couple; we’ll plant them at home as a reminder of our trip.”
I stopped the Chevy Blazer, commonly referred to as the Duck Truck, walked into the woods and literally pulled up two small saplings, no bigger around than a large pencil and shorter in stature than my companion.
The trip home was a series of questions from a third-grader asking if our “trees” would live, where we would plant them, how many ducks had we seen, how many different species, etc., etc. The small scrubs were carefully planted along side our modest home, staked, watered and prayed for daily. A hot dry summer would prove to be the demise of one of our trophies, but God smiled on the other. The tree took root, buds soon turned to leaves and family pride was the result.
Fall waterfowling and spring migrations seemed to zip by as fast as a bunch of blue wing teal. The small sapling added girth, height and branches; distinguishing itself each autumn as the most brilliantly colored of all trees, a sugar maple.
Todd grew in stature just as the hardwood of the maple and as cool weather came each fall, the changing colors of the leaves were the barometer used to measure the patterns of migrating waterfowl. The success and failure of days on the river correlated with the amount of foliage remaining on the broad-leaf crown. One low-slung branch was used as a yardstick of growth for Todd’s sister, Amy, and other children visiting our home. Snapshots of children sitting on the sturdy branch became photos in family albums; even teenagers were pictured leaning against the trunk.
Life has been good to our family. Todd’s two sons, Samuel and Will, became ornaments of the sturdy maple and daughter Amy’s children, Michael and Jenna, have heard countless tales of ’fowling days told around the round table that is related to our maple.
Changing colors continue to remind us of ’fowling chores, just as cool evenings and calling geese tell us another season is already here. The poet, Joyce Kilmer, gives us a more awesome reminder in his words, “But only God can make a tree.”
Larry Reid is host of “Outdoors with Larry Reid,” which airs at noon Sundays on WBGZ Radio,1570 AM/94.3 FM, and streaming live on altondailynews.com.