Tag Archives: Hunting

A Hunter’s Journal, Part 3

14 Nov

Sunday, Nov. 9 through Tuesday, Nov. 11

Balmy and breezy, high in the 60s to howling gale, high in the 20s

Every year in commemoration of Armistice Day, Lisa Farrell Schwarz’s birthday or just the plain love of bird hunting, the Farrell/Schwarz partnership celebrates The Great Pheasant Hunt. It’s a 5-6 hour drive from my home in Southeast Iowa to Jim Farrell’s homestead at Camp Jiggle View in the village of Wahpeton on the shore of Iowa’s Lake Okoboji.

I arrived in the dark and found Jim readying the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters for the arrival of his son, Jon; his son-in-law, Dave; and Jon’s friends Dan and Caleb. We had a quiet time over coffee, catching up before Jon, Caleb and Dan arrived. They had been hunting in Danforth, some hour southwest of Okoboji.

Dave Schwarz arrived later after visiting his folks in Spencer. As we laughed and talked about the exciting events of the day, we were aware that the weather forecast for the rest of our hunt was not as inviting. Dave and I had planned a morning duck hunt for Wednesday, but after reviewing the forecast, we decided against it.

“I had a limit (three roosters) by 11:30 this morning,” Dave said with glee. “It’s been a long time since that’s happened.” The total take for the day was five, and each bird elicited a story from several points of view. The stars of the show were, naturally, the “Three Pointer Sisters”: the Vizsla, Buhda; and the German Shorthairs, Storm and Ruby.”

“Good dog work bordering on the heroic,” Jon summarized.

As we found our ways to bed none of us were really prepared for what we’d endure for the next two days, but because of modern improvements in weather forecasting, communications and outdoor apparel, it would be nothing like the Armistice Day Storm of 1940, but the similarities were haunting…

Abridged from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Armistice Day Blizzard (or the Armistice Day Storm) took place in the Midwest November 11 and 12 1940. The intense early-season storm cut a 1,000-mile-wide swath from Kansas to Michigan.

The morning of 11 November 1940 brought with it unseasonably high temperatures. By early afternoon temperatures had warmed into the lower to middle 60s over most of the affected region. Conditions quickly deteriorated. Temperatures dropped sharply, wind picked up, and rain and sleet and then snow began to fall.

 The result was a raging blizzard that would last into the next day. Snowfalls of up to 27 inches, winds of 50 to 80 mph, 20-foot snow drifts and 50-degree temperature drops were common in the path of the storm. In Minnesota, 27 inches of snow fell at Collegeville, and the Twin Cities recorded 16 inches.

A total of 145 deaths were blamed on the storm.

Along the Mississippi River several hundred duck hunters had taken time off from work and school to take advantage of the ideal hunting conditions. Weather forecasters had not predicted the severity of the oncoming storm, and as a result many of the hunters were not dressed for cold weather. When the storm began many hunters took shelter on small islands in the Mississippi River, and the 50 mph winds and 5-foot waves overcame their encampments. Some became stranded on the islands and then froze to death in the single-digit temperatures that moved in. Others tried to make it to shore and drowned. Duck hunters constituted about half of the 49 deaths in Minnesota. 13 people died in Illinois, 13 in Wisconsin, and 4 in Michigan.

Prior to this event, all of the weather forecasts for the region originated in Chicago. After the failure to provide an accurate forecast for this blizzard, forecasting responsibilities were expanded to include 24-hour coverage and more forecasting offices were created, yielding more accurate local forecasts.

Nobody died in our party, but our 40-degree temperature drop was breath taking; the 16-inches of snow in St. Cloud, MN must have had older folks reminiscing. Let me try to describe the experience of hunting pheasants in 20-degree temperatures and north winds of 10 to 20 mph gusting to 30-35: Exhilarating.

Once your cheeks went numb, you couldn’t feel the tears freezing on them, and the walk wasn’t that bad. The dogs seemed impervious to the elements. They hunted their hearts out daily, showing no signs of fatigue from the constant effort other than a torn pad here and a runny eye there – the usual wear and tear of their profession. And they found birds.

They pointed birds and two hens even sat still in front of the dogs long enough so that we got to walk in and flush them. The roosters? Not so much.

“I really thought they had that one,” Jon exclaimed as we clustered around the trucks after Dave and I had watched the three girls point, brace, hold, chase, point again, brace again, and on and on for some 20 minutes before their quarry simply disappeared. “They had that bird for some 600 yards before he snuck out for good,” Jon concluded.

Walking in the wind with a blaze orange stocking cap pulled down to the eyebrows and over the ears puts a hunter in a seeming bubble of unintelligible noise. Hunters often hear the flush of a bird before they see it, and such hearing was out of the question. The sound of the dogs’ bells toning as they move are a beloved part of the hunt, but when they were downwind of you, they were as soundless as when they were on point.

The 5-foot-tall blue stem grass that covers so much of that plains habitat danced madly under the influence of the gale, whipping and slashing at my glasses. I watched hunters on either side to make sure that we were in line, a critical safety measure, and when I turned my head to look at the guy on my left the guy on my right disappeared from my consciousness because of the wind.

In my gale influenced cocoon of silence I thought about that infamous Armistice Day storm that I’d read about and wondered at all my life, and felt happy to have solid ground under my feet and friends at my side.

And then I went back to humming that song that wouldn’t leave my mind, Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting first line, “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down, of the Big Lake they call Gitche Gumee; The lake, it is said, never gives up its dead when the skies of November turn gloomy…”

God, I love to hunt…



The Lovelorn Mallard

16 Feb

When the lure of the Red Drum (red fish) called to us this winter, we went to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. There was a familiar “deep South” feel to Grand Isle and surrounding environs, with their elevated homes and businesses, lush green “winter” look and the contradiction of grand homes and estates on one side of the navigation canal and the shotgun homes and trailers on the other.

It brought back memories of our short stint in Natchez, Mississippi. It was a great period in our lives. Our children were the only white riders on the school bus, and while they were treated nicely by the other children, they took away a real awareness of what it means to be a minority in America. None of the other neighborhood children attended public schools, and thus did not ride the bus.

While we were there only a short time, it was a learning experience in a whole new world out there.

Hunting ducks in shirt sleeves on Thanksgiving; it was the “early season.” And there was a quail hunt that allowed me to win a regional writing award for my newspaper.

But as the drive to the Gulf provided me with plenty of time for nostalgia about our time in Dixie, one part of that story kept haunting me, and that was the episode of the lovelorn duck.

Our home in the Natchez Trace Estates consisted of a nice home, some outbuildings and a portion of a 2 to 3-acre pond; one of series of ponds that snaked through the subdivision. It was pleasing to find out right away that a hen and drake mallard pair called our pond home. We arrived in fall, just before hunting season up north.

In those days, Susie stayed home to help the rest of us settle in, and she had turned her elementary education background full force on our family. She exercised her bulletin board decorating skills without fail at every holiday opportunity. She had boxes and boxes of appropriate materials for any holiday Hallmark could think of.

Then she read about wild mallard duck eggs for sale at a local feed store, and she began a hunt for an incubator so our kids could watch the miracle of birth up close and personal.

All she needed were some duck eggs, and as the hunting season wound to a close in late January, the pair of mallards on our pond answered her call. The hen just started laying eggs willy-nilly around the yard. Susie collected them and placed them in the incubator.

This all tied together the morning we discovered that an owl also called our neighborhood home, and it had in fact attacked the drake mallard. I learned of this wildlife tragedy as I came home from hunting Louisiana’s famed Catahoula Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

The kids met me as I backed the duck boat into the car port, excitedly describing the headless drake and wondering what had happened to it.

I explained again the natural events of predator and prey, and, as usual, they pretended to understand, but still felt sad for the drake.

The next day, I got a double-barrel taste of the sadness when I came home to hear about the hen. Susie had a pent-up day’s worth of anecdotal evidence that the hen was grieving the loss of a loved one, just like we would in similar situations. I don’t believe in personification with animals. They’re animals, and I love them as they are, I don’t permit myself to give them opposable thumbs or the ability to weigh options and select a course of action. I love Bambi as the fantasy it is, nothing more.

To a busy editor without much of a reputation for sympathy, this was just column fodder, and that weekend I wrote about the tragedy that we were witnessing as day after day the hen appeared to mourn her departed partner.

On the last day of the season I hunted, and when I got home, on a whim, I tossed a drake mallard decoy into the pond near where the two live birds had spent so much time loafing together.

The hen was fooled completely.

She was so excited she couldn’t leave that decoy alone. She preened in front of it; dived under it to come up in the mallard version of the Missionary Position, but it was unrequited in every possible way.

She would literally swim in circles around it for a time, quacking and even moaning before flying off in a huff only to come back over and over again with the same results.

This went on for two weeks, and the editor couldn’t resist updating the readers on these very human-like conditions being displayed by a mallard hen in our pond.

Then a sympathetic reader who had the ability plus a romantic turn, showed up on February 14 with a wild mallard drake he’d captured. He’d trimmed the bird’s flight feathers so it could move around without much danger that he’d fly off.

The hen happened to be in the next pond down the street when this obliging gent explained his intentions to Susie, then proceeded to pull the bird out of its cage and toss it up so it could glide/fly down the slope of lawn to the water. As it lit, it let out its amazing “qwik, qwik” call that seems so soft yet carries so far.

The hen heard it and came flying over the levee, spied the newcomer and with a series of welcome “hey, hey, hey” calls lit right next to the drake. He noticed her, too. After a series of flirtatious head bobs, they apparently reached some mutually agreeable conclusion, and started swimming side by side off to the part of the pond where the shoreline was less maintained… the mallard equivalent of “get a room?”

Suddenly the hen stopped and looked back at the decoy swaying on the breeze, and then, with a “don’t ever say I didn’t give you a second chance” approach, she circled the decoy twice, clucking at it. Again, the non-responsive phony stayed mum.

Then, with an almost audible “sniff!” she pecked that decoy right in the middle of the back so hard it bounced on the end of its cord and sent ripples all around the pond. Then she regained her composure, shook to get every feather in its proper place, and with what was obviously a new swagger to her tail feathers, caught up with her new beau and sailed away to matrimonial bliss.

Post Script.

While that final scene with that decoy made one last entry in the newspaper, it wasn’t the end of the story.

Susie and the kids, with the help of the incubator, brought off a clutch of two baby mallards – a hen and a drake. (Yes, you can sex wild birds easily at birth: the hens have orange bills; the drakes have olive green bills otherwise they are identical in their appearance.)

Meanwhile, the newly weds wasted no time on their own, actually building a nest in the tall weeds and one day some time after our pair emerged they paraded their own clutch up and down the pond.

The incubator’s chicks had gone swimming the first day, but they imprinted on Susie who took them down to the water while natural born chicks imprint on their mom. These critters feed themselves, clean themselves, and are in every way imaginable, self-sufficient from birth. Chick starter on the porch for the Balcom clutch proved to be a big hit with the wild bunch, too, so pretty soon it was possible to open the front door and find all the babies and two adults in the yard.

Susie’s birds had to be coaxed into the water at first, but then they were more often out there swimming than crawling all over her and the kids in the living room.

Interestingly enough, while the mated pair had no problem mixing our hen baby with their brood, the drake would have nothing to do with our drake baby. Our little guy was ostracized from all the group swims, preens and bug hunts. The tiny hen who was his clutch mate stayed with him, choosing her birth-partner over the adults and other babies.

And, when it finally came time for our babies to abandon us completely to live with the wild birds full time, it was heartbreaking to see the wild flock packed around and under the hen and drake as the sun went down, while our babies were 10 feet away, silently living alone.

The final chapter was written one night on the wings of death as the owl took our baby drake; left the body and took the head as is their want. Within hours, our baby hen was just another part of the wild brood.

Years later, it was great to be back in the sun and warmth the South offers during February. It is a great place and a great time to be out there, enjoying the wildlife lessons available to anyone who takes the time to observe and learn.

Wood Duck Wonders

9 Jan

Wood ducks have always captured my imagination out there.

They’re weird little creatures from the hen’s white eyeliner and mournful cry to the drake’s fantastic colors so easily hidden to the human eye until they explode off the water.

And, they frequent water that holds trout. For an angler they’re often a fulfilling side show to an evening chasing trout.

They nest in trees, and as their populations declined decades ago from the dwindling number of hollow hardwoods in the North Country, they became a cause célèbre for the outdoors set.

Before long the countryside was littered with little boxes nailed to trees for the specific purpose of fooling a hen woodie into mistaking the box for a hollow tree. We’d staple a piece of hardware cloth inside below the fake hole in the tree to help the chicks climb out and we felt good about helping the species.

But there are still hollow trees, and you can count on a woodie hen to find them.

Once, I came home from a trying day at the office to be greeted at the door by a beaming wife who couldn’t wait to tell me about the excitement of the day: A clutch of wood ducks hatched right in our front yard!

From a hole some 30 feet up the tree, they came one at a time plummeting to the ground, bouncing up in the air like fuzzy ping pong balls as they hit. Each was then met by the hen who hurried them into the shrubs by the porch where she would call some more until another came hurtling down to join the flock.

Really? Oh, yes, she assured me. She had the details flat: “There were 12 chicks, and when the 12th one joined the parade, the hen marched them right across the street to the neighbor’s swimming pool where they had their inaugural swim! The whole thing took more than an hour for all the ducklings to get up the courage to make that suicidal leap!”

Last seen, she told me, the wood duck family was marching up the street to the city land that held the water tower and not much else.

I was shocked. Not so much by the vivid recounting of this magnificent outdoor experience enjoyed by my wife and young daughter. No, my real shock came that all the time that was going on I and my full camera bag were 6 blocks away with nothing better to do than edit copy on one of the slower news days of the year.

It was a sore point for some days following that, but Susie has always been supportive of my being out there, and one oversight shouldn’t diminish her many other fine qualities. At least that what she tells me even 30 years later whenever I bring it up…

But there have been other wood duck sightings in which I did participate. Like the spider web event.

It had snowed lightly the night before I found myself floating the Owasco Inlet in Upstate New York. As was my custom, Susie would drop off her car at my take-out point, then we’d drive upstream and I’d launch my little boat, decoys, etc. at the bridge. She’d transfer the truck back to the take-out point and go home.

Not every guy’s wife will do that kind of thing at 4 a.m. on a Sunday; at least that’s what Susie says even after 30 years or every time I bring up missing the great front-yard wood duck hatch.

Any way, that morning, I drifted down to an ox bow bend where I had a farmer’s permission to set up decoys and shoot from his bank. It didn’t always produce great hunting, but that little spot provided some fantastic late-season memories.

That morning was a nice, quiet seat in the outdoors. About 10 a.m. I decided I’d had enough quiet, and picked up to go home. Going home would take me through the black-water swamp that marks the beginning of the south end of Owasco Lake. No matter what the season, it’s dark in there, and in the winter there is usually a pretty well-defined undercut bank in places.

As I was rowing and drifting down the river, I noticed about 25 yards ahead of me a beautiful spider web completely etched in the snow from the previous night. While the snow had all melted out in the open, I thought, here it was left untouched by the warmth of the sun. I decided to row over and get a better look.

As I approached it, it started to move away from me! That’s when I realized that it wasn’t a spider web, but a drake woodie with his top knot all spread out, and its white streaks of feather resembling a garden spider’s nest!

And then there was the disappearing hen event.

I was fishing Fish Creek in Montcalm County, Michigan in the early 1970s. I’d just come home from the service and was enjoying reacquainting myself. Fish Creek was a hidden jewel in those days with a healthy population of eye-popping browns.

I was looking for one of those giants when I noticed a hen woodie coming down the river at full speed, and then seemingly she disappeared. A few minutes later, I noticed her again, this time she flew upstream, outside the streamside brush, banked left and then, as she flew towards me she disappeared again.

She was flying along and went behind a tree and never came out!

When I saw her do it a third time, I lost all interest in brown trout. I got out of the water and crept up the trail until I could see the upstream-side of the tree, and sure enough there it was, about 15 feet up in the air, a perfect hole just the right size for a wood duck nesting box.

I sat down and waited. I didn’t have to wait that long. As the gloaming of dusk was settling into the swamp, I saw the hen coming right down the stream at what seemed to be break-neck speed.

Then, as I watched, she pinned her wings to her body and vanished at full speed into the hole in the tree. I expected to hear her “thunk” on the other side of the tree – it was only about 12 inches in diameter – but I never heard a sound.

How she got her wings unfolded and stopped her momentum, I have no idea. I’ve wondered about it ever since.

The moral of these stories? If you want to see the magic of nature, you can’t sit in your office and expect a call. You have to be out there with your eyes wide open.

Answering The Call of ‘Whatever’

30 Dec

There comes a time in life when preparing to be out there is as much, or more, fun than the actual expedition.

It’s like the phases of a hunter’s life. The growth from how many to how that seems to be a universal experience.

Just as universal is the young man’s thought, while watching an older hand putter around in preparation for an outdoor event: “That’ll never be me.”

But it is, eventually.

My late father-in-law, Ken Roush, summed it up for me once. He was getting ready for an annual expedition into Canada in his motor home with fishing boat in tow. During the day he had referred repeatedly to “the list,” and had tweaked and double checked items and issues that I knew he never let lapse on a day-trip.

So I observed that the difference between us was that I would squeeze in time in advance of an adventure to ensure that gear was in shape, packed and ready; but it appeared he was really enjoying himself.

“I do enjoy it,” he said. “It’s all part of the trip, and sometimes it’s the best part of the trip.

“You can’t always predict how a trip is going to turn out. Fish don’t bite, weather turns sour, one of your partners gets sick, the truck breaks down – there are all kinds of things that can disappoint you on a hunting or fishing trip.

“But preparation? You can control everything when you’re getting ready, and that makes it fun. You grease reels or load new line on them; you touch up everything so you know that when you get there, everything you can control is under control.

“Then you just take your chances.”

And I remember thinking, “That’ll never be me.”

This summer we went up to Wisconsin to fish for salmon out of Algoma. The two weeks prior to the trip were spent in serious preparation, and it was a hoot. Now part of that might be that when you don’t have a regular, full time job, you have the time to putter.

And it seems outdoors guys, given time to putter, will fill that time puttering.

This winter Susie and I will travel to Louisiana’s Grand Isle to fish for trout and red drum and whatever else will pull our string, and the puttering has begun. Because this is a first-ever trip to that part of the world, the preparation is earnest.

We’ve loaded new lines on rarely used “big” spinning reels. (Most of our spinning needs involve bluegills, walleye, etc. and require only tiny ultra light reels. The reels we have for more serious fishing hadn’t been used for years, so we needed to clean them up and make them ready.)

And “the list” is in full production.

Packing for a week in the out there more than 1,500 miles from home requires planning.
There is plenty of gear and clothes on the list already, and it’s growing.

While we dream of screaming runs from powerful fish on idyllic days afloat, we can control only that our gear is ready for whatever.

It’s the call of “whatever” that drags us out there and leads us to prepare with passion as we understand that this is all just part of the trip.

Puppy Chow

21 Dec

One of the treats of living a life out there is sharing it with a canine partner, and we’ve been fortunate to have shared our times with some really fun and challenging Labrador Retrievers. Yellow, male, Labrador Retrievers.

But the hardest part of letting these loving, loyal partners into your family is that they eventually have to quit. They wear out so much faster than we do. You give your heart, your family’s heart, to them with the knowledge that down the road you’ll be grieving.

It goes the same way every time.

We’re a family with one dog until that dog is retired from hunting. Then the new dog comes on board, runs the old dog crazy, and takes over as the No. 1 dog in all things but mealtime.

It’s been that way for more than 40 years.

The first lab was “Shackaboo,” a 2 and ½-year-old beauty rescued from a family that didn’t have any idea of what it had, and no time for it if they’d figured it out. By the time Shack came home with us, he would sit, stay and come if it pleased him and he thought the only purpose in my throwing a retrieving dummy was for him and me to play “catch me if you can” once he had it in his mouth.

He was hyper to say the least. And protective. If you came to the car he never growled. If you reached in, as if to pet him, he just bit you. It wasn’t personal, just business.

We got him in Michigan in April and drove him home to Rhode Island. He was a mess, and after nearly daily calls back home to report how my efforts at turning this dog into a working retriever were going nowhere, my late father-in-law, Ken Roush, who arranged the rescue of this pup, finally, in July, told me “find him a good home; we’ll get you a puppy that’ll train when you get back here.”

Then something clicked for Shack and me.

On August 20, 1970 I separated from active duty and we packed ourselves back to Michigan with Shack taking up the entire back seat of our 1969 Pontiac Firebird. The week before we departed Rhode Island, we went to a street fair in the village of Narraganset. Shack walked at heel (on a leash that never went taut) all day. At one point, when we wanted to see the inside of an historic church, we left the leash loop over the top nut on a fire hydrant, told Shack to “stay,” and went inside.

After 15 or 20 minutes, we came back to find Shack sitting where we’d left him, with a huge puddle of drool under his muzzle and two little boys teasing him with the last bites of their ice cream cones. But that dog’s butt had never left the concrete where we left him.

After discussing the pros and cons of teasing a strange dog with a treat, the boys agreed this well-behaved dog had earned the treats they’d offered, and with Susie murmuring “gently” Shack took each in its turn without touching a finger.

Shack lived to be 14, and hunted until he was 12. The last two years of his life, he lived with Whiskey Creek White Lightning III. In every hunter’s life there are key moments, key markers in time and any number of “THEs” as in “THE best dog,” or “THE best shot” or “THE best day.”

Lightning was a “THE.”

In his prime, Lightning weighed 103 pounds with minimal body fat, and was a gentle giant in every situation. When our son was young, he learned to stand by crawling over to the dog, taking double-handfuls of his back and holding on as the big guy slowly got up, stood there a tolerable time as Casey grinned and cooed, then shook gently, disengaging the little guy, and slowly walking upstairs where he could sleep in peace.

Lightning’s salad days happened to mesh with mine in terms of hunting. I was crazy about ducks and geese, and he made 19 consecutive retrieves on the opening day of the 1980 duck season in Michigan. It was Lightning’s first birthday, and Gene Baxter shot 18 pintails at 10 points per bird right in the kill zone in front of the blind. All day I just sent Lightning and welcomed him back. By the end of the day, Gene turned to me and said, “David, I think this dog’s got it, don’t you think you should shoot at least one duck today?”

I did, and that drake mallard was the first of hundreds Lightning would bring back in his 12 years. He hunted right up to the end, and we went a year without a hunting-age pup, but “Mazaska Lake Jake” was already in the wings, waiting his time.

All of our Labs have been great house pets in addition to what they added to our days afield, but Jake was a handful. He and I got divorced almost monthly between January and October because of his aggressive and disobedient behavior around the house.

But our love affair was reborn each fall. This dog was THE meat hook. One of the first retrieves he ever made was on a poorly shot mallard that started swimming for the cattail marsh as soon as Jake was sent. I took one look at the distance separating the two and turned to “The Doctor” Bruce Plante and said, “You’re not going to eat that duck.”

But 10 minutes after both critters disappeared into the cattail maze, we heard Jake find the lakeshore and start our way. He found an opening somewhat adjacent to our blind, and the next thing we knew he was swimming back to us complete with a very lively mallard.

We hunted for three more years before we lost a cripple with Jake. That bird out-swam him and dived under the ice. Jake had seen that act before and brought back the bird, but this time he was too far behind when he dived under the ice and had to turn back – which I was really pleased to learn he could do.

We got the current ruler of our roost, “Indy’s Lost Ark Raider” in July of 2003, and immediately took him on a July 4th expedition to Lake Superior. In fact, his first 4 weeks in our household found him spending more nights in other places than home.

He became very familiar with our 17-foot Aqua Sport as we trolled lakes Michigan and Superior for game fish, and drifted our own Mazaska Lake for walleye and bluegill.
Ark is/was a pointing lab. Now 8 going on 80, he’s the victim of a touch of heat stroke that he acquired on the opening day of 2008 in Oregon. As soon as I realized just how hot he was, I rushed him off the mountain to a hose outside the landowner’s house.

I thought it was in time, but the next day he was less than interested in the game, and on the following day, during our morning walk that had always included an up-close and personal visit with a covey of quail, he never gave them a second look.

Every now and then after that, he would show a bit of his former self, but for the most part, he’s been a wonderful partner in a duck blind. Now he’s regressing at an unbelievable rate. Even when he marks a down bird it takes a number of false starts before he’ll finally take a line and fetch the bird.

This new regression to puppyhood has cost us some lost cripples. Now he’s just as apt to bark at decoying birds as he is to retrieve one.

Our dogs are a “womb to tomb” deal. We’re not the NFL. We don’t ditch pups for having a bad year. Ark will live out his life in comfort with occasional misery when I take off with the “interloper” and leave him behind. Susie will feed him treats and loving pats that will take the sting out of being benched. Of course, if we catch a break, he’ll be sleeping on the good ear when we leave and he’ll never know we’re gone.

So now we’re in the classic Balcom family mode of finding a puppy.

“Susie, there’s a litter of pups just up the road in Oskaloosa. I wanna go up and give ’em a look, whaddya say?”

And her answer will be true to the last three times this conversation started: “You go look. I’ll go buy the Puppy Chow.”