Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
It’s late September and I’ve missed dove season.
In truth, a cumulative three months remain to shoot doves here in North Carolina. But after that first weekend, hopefully cooled by breezes carrying a hint of the seasons soon to come, there are just not that many folks gathering for what Robert Ruark wrote was “a kind of community party, like a house raising or a cane grinding, or a quilting bee.” Of course, most of those things have gone the way of Ruark himself, leaving the singularity of that opening day that much more laden with meaning.
For me, the entirety of the season is contained within that first day, when people in coastal Carolina gather at the edge of fields ten miles, and seemingly decades removed, from the beaches teeming since Memorial Day and comparatively desolate by the end of the weekend. In a patchwork of fields, we honor a time when humans more starkly dependent on the dictates of nature came together to bulwark against the coming cold; to usher in the fall and celebrate the harvest.
Wholly divorced from seasonal growth cycles by worldwide logistics chains and corporate mega-farms, the sound of recorded thunder and a produce section mist sprayer are the closest I get to what was once de rigueur for people living closer to the land. Thus, the dove opener is my nod to an annual harvest. It’s a conundrum because I simply don’t care for euphemism when the stakes are life and death and I object to the use of “harvest” in regard to living creatures from whom I take everything with the swing of a double gun and a squeeze of the trigger.
But if the word applies anywhere in bloodsport, it is in standing with friends and dogs at the edge of a fresh cut corn field, glorying in the persistent verdancy of summer and the incipient colors of fall, and anticipating the sizzle of a dove breast in the mirror-finish Griswold #8 my grandmother left behind. Dove opener is an affirmation that we are all in this together and I’ve missed it, just like I did last year.
I hope I always will.
As much as I love the dove opener, and what it means, that long Labor Day weekend has become the time of annual gathering with people amongst whom I’ve grown from my middle twenties into my middle age. They were my wife’s friends before mine, going back to their early teens in some cases. Because she chose me, they welcomed me to a mountain top tent camp almost a quarter-century ago and, unless I was deployed somewhere, we’ve bearhugged annually in an evolution of tent camps, state park cabins, party houses, and now massive lakefront rentals, complete with pontoon boats and water toys the kids who haven’t yet left for college and first jobs have all but grown beyond.
Meeting these people in the same post-college phase of life, the one in which the oldest of our children now stands, means we’ve collectively lived graduate schools and jobs found, lost, and found again; we’ve celebrated weddings and births and navigated divorces; we’ve watched our children grow into young adults and we’ve huddled in one massive hug the year two of our number, amazing women and mothers, passed within one devastating four-month period. Now some of us are parenting our parents.
Craft brews and slow-smoked meat have replaced 3 A.M. keg beer and bacon cooked over a fire while deciding whether to sleep it off or just power through to the next night. Discussions of long-term health care and life in rest homes are slowly replacing discussions of long road trips and sleeping at rest stops.
It’s life, ours and yours.
But we still strum guitars and watch the kids put on a talent show and cook and eat as we ever have, in an annual competition against ourselves to see whether we can do better than we did last year, to show how much we love one another, this community party with a family made of choice, coming together to bulwark against the coming cold by ushering in the fall and celebrating the harvest.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Tom Beckbe