ESSAY: Adventure

There’s only one reason to go outside and hike, hunt, or fish: Adventure. Nothing much happens inside. But outside anything can happen, and does.

And it’s not always pretty. I fell through the ice on a Minnesota slough one February day, one very cold February day when I had been hunting pheasants. A long, cold walk back to the truck just got a lot longer. And a lot colder.

I had assumed the ice was solid. That’s the key word. Assumed. Because here was something I didn’t know– shifting springs kept the ice on this particular slough thin all winter long. Ice that should have been two feet thick was instead an inch. And that inch had been covered by a few inches of snow, a nice little staged pratfall for any of God’s creatures unlucky enough to venture into it. In this case it was me. I went straight down, instinctively throwing my arms up to protect my gun, hitting gravel in five feet of water. It was ten degrees and I was a mile from my vehicle and now I had a nice little adventure going, thank you very much.

Back on shore my dog, a little skinny hunting springer, gave me a very curious stare. This is unusual, her eyes said. She started toward me and I yelled, or rather growled, “Get Back.” She got back.

I threw a leg over a cattail hummock, and found it was not connected in any way to the bottom. As I climbed aboard it went over like an inner tube, and what wasn’t wet before was thoroughly wet.

Breaking ice I crawled to the shore. Already my clothes were freezing. The dog followed and we scrambled up the hill and out of “Dead Man’s Slough” (yeah, I gave it a name) and started walking along the tree line, back to the truck.

I had advantages. I wore heavy wool overalls. I was young and dumb.

You guessed it. The first bird got up at the end of the tree line. It sailed into a patch of unpicked corn. The dog started following and I yelled at her and slogged ahead, my boots like ice blocks. She jumped a hen, then another rooster. Then four roosters burst from a ditch and flew into the stunted cornfield.

Enough was enough.

I loaded the gun. But when the next pheasant flushed I couldn’t shoulder it any more than The Tin Man could swing his ax. My coat had frozen.

Two more roosters flushed. I fired “from the hip”, one-handed. Now what do you think had to go and happen? I hit the dang thing.

The dog fetched it back, a splendid cock pheasant. I carried it in one of my bare hands, hands, for warmth. Then the dog got “birdy” again at a grove of stunted willows and sure enough another big rooster jumped right from under her nose. I fired, just pointing the end of the gun in the general direction. With a little bit of adjustment for speed and wind, of course. Down came the second bird.

Half-frozen, guessing and firing, I had achieved a significantly better shooting average than normal, which I will not share with you. But normal is not 100%.

Was I onto something? Just trick-shoot ’em from the hip? I didn’t have time to answer. The dog and I were running for the vehicle by now. I was freezing to death.

I carried a bird in each hand, the gun slung over my shoulder. At the truck my hands were just warm enough to work the keys, but I got got the engine going, got the dog inside, warmed up and drove home and didn’t tell anyone until today because it’s harder to blame something on youth and inexperience when you’re young and inexperienced.

I don’t expect my adventures are finished, either. Adventure tend to find you, whether you’re looking for it or not.

Richard Donnelly

Richard Donnelly lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Classic flyover land. Which makes us feel just a little... superior. Mr. Donnelly's first book is 'The Melancholy MBA,' published by Brick Road Poetry Press in Columbus, Georgia.