Days like today take me back; fog hanging low in the frost- flocked cottonwoods and willows along the river. Decoys set along the edge of the gravel bar next to the water of the South Fork. Brushing away the snow, and making a little nest among the trunks and roots of trees tossed by the river, into a pile on the bar. Waiting for the last few minutes of semi-darkness to pass, and for shooting hours to begin with the occasional honk of a restless goose, coming from a distant field where they have spent the night. It shouldn't be long now!
Gerry and I had been hunting together for several years. We worked together in the same organization at the National Lab, west of Idaho Falls. He's a tall, long legged former high school basketball star, a natural athlete and avid outdoorsman. I'm a stubby, short legged, out of shape wanta'-be. He could cover a hundred yards uphill, while I was getting up off the ground and brushing off my backside. We were quite the mismatch. We hunted deer, elk, upland game, and waterfowl together. He's deadly with his Browning Auto. Needless to say, he had to make allowances for me. He likes to fish, but wouldn't respond to my attempts to get him into a float tube or pontoon boat, and I couldn't interest him in a fly rod. I suspect negligence in his upbringing. I had to make allowances. We're both in our late 60's and retired now, and I don't hunt any more.
The day that I described above started well before dawn, on a foggy December morning many years ago. Gerry picked me up and we drove to an area called Twin Bridges, north of Ririe, where the river is broken into two large channels. Another smaller channel intersects the island created by the two main channels. We loaded up the plastic sled with decoys and necessities and trudged off through the knee-deep snow, feeling our way in the fog and darkness, through the thick cottonwood trees that grow on the island between the channels. Arriving near our destination, only the obstacle of the smaller channel remained. This channel was about thigh-deep and moving fast over river gravel and cobble rock. As we started to cross, it became apparent that it was too deep for my hip boots. We mistakenly thought they would be sufficient to cross the channel. Now what? Gerry had chest waders and would have no problem crossing. It was much too cold to remove gear and clothing and wade across 'au natural'. It was a thirty mile round trip to go home for waders, so I was about to write off the day. Remember the allowances that I told you that Gerry had to make? He got into the water, and indicated that I should come and get on his back. I outweighed him by eighty pounds. I had visions of me clinging to his back, and both of us plunging into the frigid water after about two steps on the slick rocks. Being young and dumb, I allowed myself to drape myself on his back, and before I could renege, he started for the opposite bank. After a couple of anxious moments, we arrived, warm and dry. It was up to him to make more trips across and back with the sled and gear. This had to be repeated on our return. More allowances.
We moved to the north bank of the south channel, and got the decoys set up. We settled into the driftwood blind, after donning our white coverings. It was very quiet and ethereal when we stopped to take stock. Sounds carried, but were somewhat muffled by the heavy, foggy air. There was a distant dog barking, a car passing across the bridges a half mile away, and the river rippling as it hurried along. The day started to lighten as the sun made its way toward the top of the invisible ridge, above the fog. It was a beautiful morning and a beautiful setting. It wasn't long before we heard a ha-ronk in the distance and then a few more. Geese were in the air, and not far off. We grabbed our calls and blasted off a few honks. We could hear them respond, and could tell they were coming. We talked back for a moment and then shut up. We could tell that they were flying low, up the river toward us, heads and necks craning to see where their friends were. We readied our shotguns and concentrated on keeping still. Here they came, barely visible, coming out of the fog with their wings set, gabbling and gliding toward our decoys about twenty feet off the water. We tracked them with our shotguns as they glided toward us, directly in front of us, then past the decoys and our guns, well within easy range. They settled onto the water in a quiet eddy, upstream about a hundred yards. Gerry looked at me and asked in his usual tactful way, "Why didn't you shoot, you dumb s**t"? I replied with the same question, in much the same manner. We both knew the answer to the question. They were just too beautiful. They were too close; too unsuspecting. It was too "personal". It would have been wrong. We both made allowances. Beautiful word, "Allowances."