It’s been a long time in coming-anyone who has ever owned a
retriever, a Labrador Retriever to be sure, longs to see that first
retrieve. The hours in the back yard and trips to the local pond with a
jacked up pup and dummy in hand knows this. It’s one thing to hit the
water at full tilt in July, but quite another in a mucky cold marsh in
Molly made her home at the Meurett camp 2 years ago and even though
she has a stellar pedigree, one never knows until feathers hit the water
so to speak. She had a prolonged training period since signing on with
her hunting partner (me)-a major injury kept her out of her first fall,
but we resumed working in the field as soon as possible after that. A
considerable worry for all hunters is gun shyness, but a gentle
introduction to the report of a shot proved no problem for the excited
dog chasing pigeons. Good friend Jamie (a master with German Wirehaired
Pointers) provided the birds and encouragement through Molly’s
indoctrination to the gun.
Last year became her first as a hunter, even though she was four
years old. Prior to her joining me in the pick-up, she lived at a
breeding kennel and had no field experience, despite her championship
bloodlines. I remember vividly her first hunt at some DNR property
where pheasants are stocked-she could be exposed to a few birds there
and we could take our time to work them. She became birdy within
minutes, speed and urgency surged through her body and soon a rooster
was in the air. A fortunate shot brought it down and Molly knew exactly
what to do, returning it to hand through the tall grass. I was so
proud. She went on to have a great autumn, doing well on pheasant,
grouse and woodcock. Upland game is one thing, but waterfowl, quite
We never had a chance to hunt ducks or geese last year, so it was a
priority for this fall. I was given permission from a neighbor down the
road to hunt a small marshy pond for one weekend-a rainy cool weekend,
perfect for ducks I’d hoped. Being on private land, I didn’t have to
worry if Molly totally failed at figuring out a retrieve on a woodie or
mallard, we could be patient. This would be the perfect location to see
if all our water work last summer would pay off.
It’s been 2 years
since I donned waders, tossed out decoys, and slid 3 steel 12 gauge
shells into a gun. Man, I’ve missed that. Molly didn’t know what to
think of all those bird looking things floating around in the water-they
sure looked like her retrieving dummy. I figured as much, so I tossed
her fake duck out a few times and let her thread her way through the
bobbing decoys to see if she could distinguish between the two. She
could. We settled into a makeshift blind behind willow branches I’d
cut and the natural cattails getting pelted by the rain and waited. I’d
brought my two favorite calls along, but realized any bird that flew
near this pond was going to land here with no encouragement from me.
That’s exactly what happened-I heard a splash and glanced to see 3
woodies already swimming toward the decoys. Molly did as well and spun
out of the blind and in seconds, I managed to stand and drop one of the
birds in the water. Molly was interested in perusing the flying birds,
but quickly saw the flapping in the water and was in, instincts taking
over and she was back with the bird in the blind. That was her first
duck, so I snapped a few pictures, which she seemed ho-hum about, it was
like she was saying “that’s what I do dad-dahhh.” It would also be the
last bird we’d see that day, but it surly was a successful hunt.
We returned the next morning a bit late (still pelting rain) and
quietly approached the pond-I sensed maybe there would be geese on it as
I’d heard some flying earlier nearby. Sure enough, as we crested the
dike, birds were in the air everywhere and I picked one and dropped it
on the far side of the water. Again, Molly had it pegged and swam
across to pick up the large goose and returned across the water with the
bird seemingly half the size of her. I think all labs get really
jacked up about geese, for her compact body and tail were just
quivering. So our second trip to the water was also a success as she’d
made her first goose retrieve and I couldn’t have been more proud.
We returned one more time, but birds were scarce and soon decoys were
packed in oversize bags and the clumsy hike in waders back to the truck
began. I’ve found that hunting with a dog changes everything. If I’m
by myself, working brush or a swamp for hours and never click the safety
off, it can feel like a poor hunt. With the dog along, it’s fun just
to see them work cover, get birdy and in the end, trot alongside you as
we return to the pick up-they are just happy to be out there, as I am. I
hope we have many more years together in the field and marsh, for
seeing how Miss. Molly did on her first retrieves I know all the summer
“work” pays off and there will be many more proud moments for this
hunter and his pup.
It's become another yearly thing, photographing the Neillsville Homecoming parade..... Just like the first day of school, I like to have the camera at the ready for what I know will be some great photographic opportunities-as I like to say, a "target rich environment." The expressions of the kids, happy to be at the parade, maybe happier to be out of school early, are usually priceless. Walking down the street from school, with camera and long lens in hand, I'm everyones best friend it seems. There are plenty of "smile, say cheese" shots (which usually are the worst) but my favorites are the casual and documentary style ones of the spectators watching the parade in anticipation. Sometimes along the way, I manage some nice portraits as well....surprises in a way, but ones I like because I know just about every student sitting on the curb.
Of course, my best are always the images that I feel catch the personality of the person, and even though most of them are young, by now, a few years in my classroom, I see that personality come out frequently. Great kids, and as always, fun for me to photograph.
It was terribly sad news a day or so ago when I learned my Aunt Carol had passed away from cancer. She lived in Phoenix with her husband Jerry, where they had been for many years after leaving Wisconsin. I'm the oldest child of oldest children in my parents families, so my aunts and uncles were not a lot older than I. As a kid, I grew up with them and we shared a lot of time together, even outside of family gatherings.
Aunt Carol was a middle child and always of a full spirit. Of all of my Meurett Grandparents kids (six of them), she was by far the most fun loving and crazy with the greatest laugh. She and Jerry lived in Wausau, then Manotowoc and then eventually made their home in Arizona, which meant I didn't see them often. I grew up- school, job, family and spending time together with most of my aunts and uncles was limited to weddings, funerals and an occasional reunion. Carol and Jerry would venture back once a year to visit and if my schedule wasn't too busy, we might connect.
When I started this blog, she was one of the first to become a "follower," which I didn't know for some time. I'd find out from my mom that Carol liked some of my photographs and always enjoyed reading my little posts. I guess she lurked on the sidelines and never posted comments. She was cool and savvy enough to finally post her picture, (Admitting she was a "follower") which I included here. It's a small pixelated image, but one I always loved seeing when I went to put new material online-I knew even though she was a thousand miles away, she still stayed connected.
The last time we were together was at cousins wedding and family get together two years ago. We had a great time, all the aunts back together and I dragged them out to the trunk of a car to sample some of my home made wine. It was a hit, and we laughed, talked smart and truly enjoyed the day. It was a chance to catch up, to bring up the past and just be happy in the moment together. That's the feeling that is was still in me when I learned of her passing and the one I'll hold onto the most.
There will be a memorial service of some kind in the weeks to come and at times I've not felt very comfortable at those kind of things. Does anyone? But I think if Aunt Carol had her way, (and she would) she'd want the great aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews to head out into the parking lot again, uncork a bottle or two of homemade wine and toast her- remember her laugh and enjoy the time together-that's what she'd do and it seems so fitting to celebrate her spirit. RIP Aunt Carol.
Fall colour? I always liked that spelling and I do have French blood in me, so there it is. It was time-time to get out and make some fall pictures, not always an easy thing to do because haven't they all been done before? So many times I resist those brilliant trees, the cascading leaves and the carpet of color underfoot because someone else has already made those photographs better than I.
I decided-no matter.....the camera would be tucked into my game vest while the shotgun was cradled in my arm and the lab running around in search of all good things only dogs can smell. Yeah, I called it hunting this afternoon, but maybe not for birds, I just needed to be in the woods. Tenley had just gotten married and the past couple days have been like a wedding hangover-so much effort and emotion had been spent that now some quiet reflective time was needed. Maybe that was what I really was hunting for.
Fall is my favorite time of year by far-it starts when the crows and blue jays become much more vocal in late August and the early ferns start turning yellow. Something in me stirs, to use a cliche, (but true) and I look forward to the change of seasons. It's a bit frantic in a way, for autumn is short and there are so many things pulling me every direction that I love to do and experience then. The sight of full blown color, the smell which I wish one could bottle and the sound of shuffled leaves or flushed birds cures any and all things that stress a daily life. So that is why the camera shot many more things than the gun and even when the game bag was empty, it couldn't have been a more successful hunt. I hit the shutter with no regard for what anyone else may have ever taken a picture of-I was shooting for myself and what I liked. I enjoyed the result, even if I'm the only one who ever sees these images- they are a gentle reminder that sometimes I just have to make pictures for myself, for no other reason and be okay with it. These are my favorites from a couple days of wandering in the forest.