By D.M. Zumbaugh

By my definition, there are three indicators of cold. Uncomfortable happens at about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, with a damp wind of around 10 knots. The demarcation of cold itself is initiated at 15 and at 5 degrees or below the real battle with the “old man”, begins. This is when your hands and feet cannot be kept in statia, no matter what high tech fiber is in your mittens or socks. If you are not in motion, you are freezing.

On Tuesday, November 20, 2007 I was returning to the city from McPherson, Kansas at the end of a fruitful upland bird-hunting trip with some long-term hunting buddies. I decided to toss out a few mallard decoys on a secluded cove at a state lake and attempt to ambush a few quackers. Although balmy weather was depressing us outdoor types for this late in the year, a frontal system was predicted and threatening and my hope was to take advantage of unsuspecting waterfowl migrating ahead of it.

I waded through a bronzed patch of CRP and a smothering stand of Eastern red cedar bordering the glassed waterway, that had plenty of ducky groceries close by. Selecting a stealthy vantage and having the imposters in place, I settled in with hopes of a red-meat dinner.

An eerily quiet and slate overcast sky shrouded our chosen hide-out. My back propped against an ocher earthen bank, with the canine slightly behind and comfortable in the musk, I got out my calls, in an attempt to entice some candidates. Soon auditory senses began to indicate a groaning gain in the landscape, but my mind was unable to detect the origin. A keen imagination estimated the noise to be a large truck careening down a washboard road in the distance. But no, this could not be the source of the increasing volume, because it refused to dissipate or cease completely.

Waves began forming on the small cove and a flock of raucous crows smattered across the gap to find better shelter. The recent calm gave way to a rising foam of cascading winds and a flurry in spits of vapor, rapid temperature decline and general dissolution for living things. The embattled hound began to whine, begging for interpretation of her instincts, but I was out for blood. I was not leaving before the law mandated. A flock of 6 big ducks worked for a few passes but launched for safety elsewhere, regardless of my pleas with practiced songs, on expensive acrylic flutes.

As if in an extravagant Hollywood production, a weather wave crashed over the world, from nothing to something in mere moments, not more. Without warning, a chill came over me with the increasing but invisible velocity, so I buttoned up my canvas-shooting shirt over the long handle cottons dressed earlier. Within minutes my comfort level disappeared completely and I was gritting against the gale and swearing that I would not give in until the last light of legal shooting. My straining eyes scanned the bleakness for any encouragement, but with no cooperation.

My usually stoic four legged hunting partner began chattering her teeth like a sub-machine gun even with several visceral critisicisms from me, the master. No amount of self-assurance could surmount this natural onslaught. My mind was a battlefield in mortal conflict over how much physical torture one could endure, versus survival. Near the strike of sunset, the magical moment of law and natural reasoning, I picked up the dekes and bolted for the truck. Without regard to direction, terrain or landscape, I pushed forward through the blackness and scratchy bush. Blindly I went, occasionally whistling for the dog, hoping she would find the shortest line to safety.

With burning face, watered eyes, stiff knees and crushed ego, I discovered the outline of the 4X4. Immediately, I inserted the key into the ignition and prayed she would cough to life. RRRRR ka room the V8 was lit and I reached for the Thermos jug, blended from 4:30 am.  Although I scorched this batch of java in my camp stove pot, added too much powdered creamer and not enough sweet, it was the most perfect cup of coffee I ever poured down my gullet, albeit now, lukewarm. My life was renewed and with God’s mercy, I lived on for another chase.