As I walk through the landscape that I have spent early November in for 23 consecutive years I can't help but notice the changes that have taken place. The view is still a breathtaking image of an upland landscape. It isn't the glory days when pheasants could be heard cackling in every direction before shooting time on opening day, but there are still a few birds to find. It is funny how I hardly noticed just how beautiful it is when I was younger. Now I look over it with different eyes. As I walk I am haunted by images of old dogs, friends, family, experiences, and events that have taken place there. Every bush, tree, ditch bank, and field is a slideshow of pheasant hunts passed. There is a single apple tree I have picked an apple from every single year. Except for the year there wasn't enough water for the tree to produce any apples. The apples are small, but it is the most delicious apple I eat in any given year. These days many of those fields of memory have lost their beautiful pale yellow grass to the plow. The bird habitat gets more narrow and less dynamic every year. You can't blame the farmer. He is simply trying to scrape a living from the land. I am very worried about the future of this place. Having grown up on the edge of agricultural land I have watched all the farm land near my parent's home turn to subdivisions, mini malls, and box stores. That is what pushed me to find new hunting grounds 25 years ago. Now we face the same thing again in a completely different way. I keep telling myself it isn't as bad as development. It is much more likely a wheat field could be turned back to CRP than a house. I am still saddened by it all, and it is completely out of my control.
So this year as I walk, and I look over the classic fall colors. I see the silhouette of a man, a boy, and a dog walking through the grass below me. I see the light in a young dog's eyes turned on by the first encounter with the intoxicating scent of a wild bird. I see an old rooster cackling from the cover after being bested by an old dog's nose, and brain. I see that old dog living up to his bloodline doing what ever fiber of his being tells him he was born to do. If only we had such purpose. I see the faces of people spending time outside doing something they love. And a thousand other images that I want permanently etched in my mind. I don't want to think of a world without these things. Lastly, I am going to walk over to that apple tree and eat the best apple of the year, and hope it isn’t the last one I eat.