© 2011 Joshua Stark
It's funny, I found myself particularly reflective this past week, and then, reading Hank's post on resetting yourself, it occurred to me: for California hunters, the New Year takes place on the first Monday after the last Sunday of January.
California hunters' year doesn't end with December. Many seasonal hunts are still going strong during January, when the Pacific flyway is awash in waterfowl, coveys of quail and chukars explode at the snow line or across the Valley or deserts, and rabbits and squirrels search out foodstuffs during breaks in the storms.
For us, the end of January signals the end of the year, when hunters (except those kooky pig hunters) put up their guns. This is our time for reflection.
For me, the last day of the season perfectly summed up my last year.
My cousin and I met two friends at the Yolo check station, paid our entrance fees, and, because my cousin had drawn fifth in the reservation lottery, we were able to pick a decent blind. We drove out, set up the blind (well, I didn't do much, since I've a hole in my waders, dear Liza), and checked the clock.
One hour and forty-five minutes to shoot time...5:15 AM for those of you who don't read your clock by "shoot time".
By the time we were able to shoot, we experienced a mild drizzle and a nice, calm period of about fifteen minutes. When the clock struck, we were in a solid rain with a north-heading wind.
Over the course of the day, we'd experience just about every weather pattern the California Valley could throw at us, from rain to misty drizzle with high fog, a South and then a North wind, clearing and sun with calm. We sat in that blind and watched a very good number of ducks all day long. We cracked jokes, talked only a little politics, and waxed profound on shot shells.
I shot the absolute worst day of my life, with no hyperbole. My shells piled up, miss after miss, while my comrades were taking duck after duck.
For some of the time, I experienced mild hypothermia, I'm sure. Other times, I shot way too early, or tucked my head too deep into my gun. Each time I missed, I became more and more frustrated with my shooting.
The day ended, and I had one beautiful greenwing teal hen to show for 19 shots.
It will go down as one of the happiest days of my life.
I had a great time, a powerful time. I saw white pelicans, ibises, avocets, swans. I watched some good shooting. I spent a day with a cousin I love and good hunting buddies. After some groups around us took off for the day, it was even nice and calm.
The waning day was the best. The Sun had cleared some of the clouds, but there were still powerful storms moving around us, especially to the East over the Sierra. Pintails were working our decoys, and when they would pass across the sky and bank, their beautiful browns and tans and white across their perfectly sculpted bodies were simply awe inspiring.
That is the perfect analogy for my last year in one great day. I worked part-time for just over half the year, limping along like professional hypothermia, and then I was laid off, and didn't get a job until last week. It was a bare-bones year, and became worse during the last half.
But family and friends pitched in a great deal. And last September, our baby boy was born.
During the last half of the year then, I was able to spend time with my newborn and my daughter, help my wife (I hope) in nighttime feedings and diapers and just being there.
Was I always as positive-sounding when it was happening? Far from it; but, neither was I positive when missing those shots last Sunday.
Last Sunday, and last year (my Chinese year, by the way) were two of the toughest. And I wouldn't trade them for anything.