White Oak Mountain Ranger: September Sky – The Chattanoogan


“There is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms…are exhilarating.” – Faith Baldwin
 
Lately, I’ve managed to find myself once again, accompanied by the old the bird dog, moving about in large fields.

Some fields are larger than twenty acres, some far greater than fifty acres. These fields all seem to come complete with large views of expansive hardwood ridge lines, Sand Mountain and White Oak Mountain among the best. Most fields seem to include varying seed deposits of wheat, or oats, and maybe some scattering of millet seed, or a scant slathering of both new and old sunflowers.
 
It’s the clouds that drift high over these fields that seem to contain most of my failing attempts at some matter requiring a keen degree of attention.
 
Out of the constant billowing clouds should come the birds that we’re here to meet. The birds come occasionally. Not as often as one would like or expect. But, every now and again, they flit about. Twisting, darting and slipping by much too fast, they gracefully slide into and out of view every now and again.
 
But, somehow a bird is just not often enough to prevent the slow, creeping drift off into obtuse styled sorts of daydreams. The tall, towering, oddly dark cloud banks of grey, white and pink, slowly scuttle by, as if it’s they are in some kind of strange dream sequence. A day spent in some river bottom field, with some kind of slow, twisting, sun glanced clouds filled with bird’s day dreams.
 
Then there are the bugs. The bugs of September apparently love fields where birds feast in preparation for a southernly migration. Big bugs, little bugs, biting bugs and large winged insects fly by for seconds at a time. Big wing spanned bugs, presenting visions of speed, size and shape, that for a brief millisecond, look for all the world like something that would make any anxious shooter thumb a safety on an old side by side twenty gauge. Bugs that can jerk you instantly alert and at the same time, make you feel relatively beyond pretty stupid.
 
But it’s the clouds, the sun showered, tall stacked and towering clouds that get me. The huge clouds billowing off in the distance are somehow magically mesmerizing. These huge autumn clouds hold distant crows, buzzards and hawks that manage to capture so much fleeting attention, while at the same time, managing to lull you to sleep in any September field.
 
More than a few years ago, I relinquished trying to calculate the number of days, hours and even the weeks spent scanning skylines for birds in these September clouds. Time is significant; we all instinctively seem to have figured out that part of the equation. But, lately, I’ve settled on the thought that sitting on some uncomfortable bucket, in a big cloud drenched field, watching the day drift lazily into sundown, with a dog in September, isn’t really quality time wasted.
 
It seems that hours, literally hours on end, can grind by in these fields. Fields, where your stated reason for being in the field in the first place, never happens. There is nothing but bug and illegal bird sightings. No shooting, no legal birds to even consider shouldering a gun to, no nothing, just sun and clouds to stare off into, as if the clouds themselves could produce the brightness of the impending future.
 
After a while it’s pretty easy to get lost in all of this cloud gazing business. Some might be of the opinion that looking at distant clouds is all about the fine art of self reflection. A much needed time in one’s short lifetime spent reflecting outdoors. Some profess that a Zen-like moment happens when the rapidly spinning world gears down a bit and you manage to find yourself with nothing other than you and your thoughts convening in harmony with good, old, Mother Nature herself.
 
I’m not sure that I buy that particular kind of new age (maybe it’s really ancient age) metaphysical, Shaman based, transcendental, whatever it really is that you call it.
 
I think that this, sitting on a bucket, in some September field, with an over eager dog, waiting for a bird to shoot at, is just some kind of simply strange and bizarre distraction of sorts. I mean who can sweat on some uncomfortable mobile seat for hours on end, in the bug filled heat, and maintain any kind of rational conversation, with anyone mysteriously named Mother Nature?
 
No, this is something different. This is something that borders on shear delusion. Why would anyone in his or her right mind spend bug filled hours, days, weeks, even GOD forbid, years of one’s lifetime watching clouds drift by in September? It all appears to be rather delusional when you seriously look this sort of behavior squarely in the eye.
 
I have never encountered anyone around the tailgate of a truck, at the end of one of these cloud viewing expeditions, who intelligently professed that he or she, had actually seen the light! Never has someone professed that they had found the answer to any of life’s profound mysteries. I don’t even remember anyone saying that this was one of the best days of their life! Good shoot maybe, but never an epiphany of any kind was ever divulged. Maybe it’s the company I keep. Maybe it’s the icy aiming fluid they tend to consume at the tailgates as the sun slides slowly into the Cumberland Plateau.
 
What in the world is it that makes some of us repeat this sort of delusional behavior year after year after year?
 
Surely, it’s not the smell of early fall, or the bugs and birds that we wanted to shoot at but somehow willed ourselves not to shoot. It can’t be the olfactory sense of the disked dirt and the odd odor that drifts in the breeze from two empty shotgun shells.
 
Is it really in the clouds? Could it be just as simple as sitting in some field in September that makes this some weird sort of annual pilgrimage? Can it be the feeling that stirs within from gazing at clouds off in the distance and getting lost in random and useless thoughts about things that need to remain useless and random. Is there really an acceptable reason to do this sort of thing? Is it really wasted time, this sitting in a field in September?
 
Does this sort of thing make you ask yourself, why do we do this year after year, and does it chew at your ankles like a September chigger?
 
Probably this is simply all about transition. Maybe it’s about the end of summer and the start of hunting another season. Can it be as simple as, “I hunt because I can.”
 
Potentially it’s about change, a slow metamorphosis of the clouds, a seemingly glacial turn in another season.
 
Maybe this is simply about something as uniquely mundane as sitting in some random field, on your favorite bucket and having yet another decent conversation with an old dog. 
 
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WOMR note: Send comments to whiteoakmtnranger@gmail.com
September 14, 2022
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