They Kept Coming

Image of Short Story

Devan often came to the pond when he was a teenager in the late fall or early winter. His father now allowed him to hunt on his own without his supervision, a privilege which he cherished dearly. He came to the pond to see if they had come back again. They were his private discovery, a matter quite personal to him. He had unveiled their existence by pure happenstance.

One November day late in the morning he had been driving down an old heavily washboarded county road on top of Pearl Hill in search of Hungarian Partridge, one his favorite gamebirds and a tabletop delicacy the entire family enjoyed. He drove slowly, eyes peering intently up the road searching them out, shotgun at the ready. Suddenly out of nowhere a flock of large white birds descended below the low hanging fog which often enveloped the hill this time of the year. They glided downward gracefully from the gray sky crossing his vision from left to right and began to set their wings, a sure sign that they intended to land somewhere nearby. What luck! he thought to himself. Waterfowl for the hunting!

Due to the speed at which they had passed by he was not entirely sure as to the identity of the birds other than knowing that they were waterfowl, most likely either Snow Geese or Ross Geese. Ross geese were legal to shoot and bag, but killing a Snow Goose would net him a $500 dollar fine and the suspension of his hunting privileges because they were listed as an endangered species. He would have to be careful and not misidentify his quarry. He was intrigued because they must be returning from their feeding fields this time of the morning so there must be a pond nearby he had yet to discover. He turned his pickup around, backtracking up the road to a point where he had spied a gate built into a fence line and parked in before it.

Ever so quietly he opened his door and slid out pulling his shotgun with him and leaned it outside the cab in the crotch between the door hinges and the side view mirror. Retrieving his insulated camo hunting jacket and gloves he pulled them on as protection against the bitterly cold November weather. He then ever so silently shut the door so as to not noisily arouse suspicion. Climbing through the gate cautiously to prevent snagging himself on the barbs of the wire, he then headed off across a snow dusted wheat field, its stubble rising from the dirt like an extended crewcut on a tow headed boy, in the general direction of the flightpath of the brilliantly white geese. After a quarter of a mile or so he arrived at a gently sloping hill and determined that he should find its summit and obtain a viewpoint. Just before reaching the top heard the waterfowl chatting each other up, so he sank to his hands and knees and slowly crept his way upwards towards the crest of the hill hoping to remain undetected. Just as he neared the crest he came to a large stand of sagebrush and edged behind it utilizing it as cover. Then he slowly and cautiously poked his head up.

What he saw astonished him. There was a large pond-a small lake really-nestled into a long wide swale between the fields of wheat stubble. Thick stands of cattails surrounded it’s shoreline and he spotted Coots and Pintail Ducks swimming amongst them. It was, however, what he spotted further out on the water that gained his full attention. He had been incorrect to identify those spectacular white birds with brilliant orange feet descending past his sightline as geese at all. Not Ross Geese nor Snow Geese. They were swans! Trumpeter Swans making their way south towards Baja California for the winter. Slowly they swam around the pond, necks curving in lazy esses, heads held high and proud. He remained in hiding to observe these rare and regal waterfowl specimens until the cold became too much to bear.

He now recalls the look on his long departed fathers’ face as he related his secretive observations to him. After his excitement had subsided he had asked Devan if he had shot at them and Devan had assured him that he had not because he knew that they too were an endangered species like the Snow Geese and far, far too beautiful to consider killing anyway.

For a few years he and his father would drive out to and sneak up on the small lake to observe the swans which loyally returned to it within a few weeks time every migration season. They would leave their guns in the pickup and carry with them binoculars instead.

After Devan moved away to attend college those forays with his father diminished and then sadly ended all together as their lives drifted inevitably apart. Much sooner than anyone expected his father passed away bringing a permanent end to the tradition.

Devan returns with his own son now. They too leave the guns behind. Instead, in lieu of firearms, they pack cameras with them on their excursions of bonding. Devan himself gave up hunting in his late thirties trading his Remington shotgun for a Canon SLR. His son never took up the hunt himself, opting instead for a career in outdoor photography. Every year without fail they keep coming and so do the Trumpeter Swans. And since their placement on the endangered waterfowl list there are now more and more migrating through each season. Now though Devan and his son come in the late afternoon and await the arrival of the swans from their feeding fields. The morning cold has become too difficult for Devans’ old bones to fend off. The warmth of the afternoon November sun allows his scarecrow fingers to manipulate the controls of his camera with less difficulty. His son worries about him now, Devan knows. He worries about how much longer they can continue to keep coming together to the pond. Every year he calls Devan wishing to know if the swans have arrived and if his health will allow them to go together once again to photograph the majestic birds.

And Devans’ reply is the same year after year. ‘If the swans keep coming, you will keep coming son. And we will go out together to shoot them.