Burned Oatmeal – Again
This past week I began my annual visit with the best
old friend I have never met. I started
reading again through a trilogy of books that I have that are a collection of hunting
and fishing stories written by my favorite author – Gordon MacQuarrie. These stories have had a hold on my heart and
imagination for over forty years. I can
demonstrate that hold with hard evidence:
I give you Exhibit A - a bluebill decoy. It is an old balsa wood block with chipped
and faded paint. It’s no showroom museum
piece; rather, it’s of working-class stock.
It’s spent plenty of time in the field.
Now, it might not seem so odd that someone like me, who enjoys outdoor
pursuits, would own a duck decoy, except for the fact that I have never hunted
ducks. But MacQuarrie hunted ducks. And he had a particular love for late season,
bad weather hunts for bluebills – the diving ducks that are the last to abandon
the northwoods during approaching winter.
I give you Exhibit B – my membership card in the Old Duck Hunters Association. The ODHA was a literary ‘invention’ of MacQuarrie. There were two primary members of the original ODHA – MacQuarrie was the junior member and his father-in-law, Al Peck was Mr. President. The ODHA set the stage for the various real-life hunting and fishing trips that MacQuarrie experienced and then eventually shared with us as the “Tales of the Old Duck Hunters”. It is within the ODHA that MacQuarrie, in the midst of duck blinds and deer stands, wrote so eloquently about the big things of life – awareness of the beauty of nature, that we are created to participate and not just observe, he wrote of the value of the use of wit and humor, humility in success, failure without defeat, death and life.
Several years ago, a group headquartered in
Northwest Wisconsin where MacQuarrie was born and where he learned to hunt and
fish, gathered a collection of MacQuarrie memorabilia and started a museum in the
little town of Barnes. You can support
them and become a card-carrying member; I have card and membership letter to
prove that I am ODHA Member #64.
I give you Exhibit C – the ice formed on my
moustache this morning - trust me that it was there! Although the thermometer sat stubbornly at
zero and refused to climb as the sun lit up the east, I decided to take a long
walk outside this morning instead of a warmer and saner indoor workout at the
“Y”. The only explanation I have for
that choice was I read my personal favorite MacQuarrie story last night – “The
Day I Burned the Oatmeal” right before I turned out the light. I can’t read that story without needing to be
outside – out “in” whatever nature is dishing up that day. In fact, the more challenging the weather,
the more well-suited it is to the Oatmeal story. That’s all I will share about that story;
you’ll have to read it for yourself.
I give you Exhibit D – the tattered dust
jackets of my trilogy set of the Tales of the Old Duck Hunters and Other
Drivel. I don’t so much as reread
MacQuarrie’s stories each year as I revisit them. In his stories you can’t help but feel the
first winter cold of the season gnaw at the back of your hands, or hear the
stiff wings of a flock of bluebills tear the morning stillness as they circle
around the decoy set, or to take in the wonder of dusk on a trout river – the
way that the water begins to dimple from trout stirring to feed on emerging
mayflies and stoneflies – the magical moment of the rings of the rise, or to experience
the blur of a grouse busting from sun-dappled cover in the headiness that is
I reread, no I savor, MacQuarrie’s stories each
year. I always read them at this time of
year because midwinter for me is a time of fireplaces and wool and hot
coffee. It is the season of
slowdown. It is the quiet time – quieter
life and quieter mind. It is always a
re-grounding for me.
I reread these stories each year because they remind
me that I like familiar places. Familiar
does not mean ‘the same’. Sameness would
become wearisome. Sameness is impossible
in Nature that so well reflects her Creator.
It is the person who revisits the same river pool each trout season that
realizes the subtle difference – a tree fresh-fallen midstream or now washed
out, the bank eroded by the spring floods, the far pool scoured deeper, a slight
shift in the shape of the gravel bar.
I reread these stories because they always remind me
of days afield long passed with people now gone from my life. I share the laughter with my brother Tom and
his ever-ready jokes again; I see the flash of the big brown trout as I watch my
brother-in-law Ron reel him closer to the outstretched net; I am back to deer
camp with K.C. again; I hear my dad explain to me again how the old
knuckle-buster reel works.
I reread these stories because they that
re-grounding is important for me. It is important for
my peace of mind. And peace of mind is a
good start to seeking a re-grounding of soul.
His peace <><