I drive around the area--my area--and the license plates read like a litany of the dead for what used to be bird country: Alabama. South Carolina. North Carolina. Tennessee. Florida. Kentucky. Virginia. Georgia. Arkansas. Louisiana. Mississippi. The In-state-but-out-of-towners. The Mongol hordes of landless Texans. And me. I want to hate them all for being here, for screwing up my little set-piece dream of solitude and birds and the pup and me and not another living soul under this brilliant bowl of sky. But of course I can't. Because they are me. He is us. Not enemy, but kindred seekers trying to sate the desperate hunger for a moment when sky and birds and dogs converge into an instant of pure meaning._
And how can I begrudge my kindred their quest for such validation of existence? I can't. So my little set-piece dream is returned from whence it came, shoved back in the mental file labeled "unfulfilled." I load up the pup and drive home. There will be no solitude, no magic and no first point this day. Today belongs to others. And as road dust obscures the receding prairie in my rearview mirror, I must convince myself once again: I don't begrudge them. Really, I don't begrudge them. But you can bet your ass I'm gonna beat those kindred sonsabitches out here next weekend.
I wrote those words in my hunting journal some 14 years ago. Times have changed. This past weekend marked the quail opener in my home state, and despite the howling wind, the crunchy, drought-stricken vegetation, and quail populations hovering near all-time lows, I do what I have always done: I load up the dogs and go hunting on my favorite piece of public ground, the very same place I wrote about in frustration all those years ago.