Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Any Given Saturday

I am a double agent.  I pass through two mutually exclusive camps with the ease and stealth of a ninja.  I am trained in the art of blending into each camp as if I know nothing of the other.  I must keep my dual identities separate and intact at all times in order to avoid complete disaster.

OK... so it isn't really that intense.  There are no life and death situations.  No Cold War era spy-craft.  I don't have to attend secret debriefings, nor do I often dangle, Tom Cruise style, mere inches above a pressure sensitive floor, but things do come to a head every year.  And it's about to happen again.

The problem lies in the fact that fall is the greatest time of the year by leaps and bounds.  I literally yearn for that first day of every year when I step out the door in the morning, and the chill takes my breath for just that one instant.  It's here.  This is what we've been waiting for. 

Birds and retirees will be staging for their long journeys south.  Most of our gamefish will be strapping on the feedbag, gobbling down the calories and protein in preparation for the long winter to come.  The crisp air will somehow seem clearer, all the better for leaf peeping and bird hunting.  The bucks will be starting to travel solo, the ancient drive to reproduce arriving once again.

While all of this is happening, another force, equally compelling, will be rearing it's awesome head in celebration of autumn.  Badger football.  And not just the games themselves, as truly awesome as they often are, but the heady, almost magical atmosphere of an entire game day in Madison.

I'm as happy as I can be in the woods in fall, but if there's a game on, I'm a man of two minds.  Even the illustrious woodcock fails to hold my attention completely.  During the short water breaks and pauses, my phone will come out or the truck radio will come on, searching for that fix, much to the consternation of my hard-line, old school hunting pals.  They've never been here for a Big Ten Football Saturday.  They haven't tasted the the electricity in the air.  They haven't thronged expectantly into Camp Randall just in time to see the tubas lead out the marching band for the pregame show.  They've never screamed at the last second touchdown or polkaed maniacally to You've Said It All in a swaying upper deck during the world famous 5th Quarter.  They're not junkies like me.  They don't understand.

On the other hand, most of my Madison friends cannot understand the allure of being out there.  There are a few hunters and fishermen among them, and I'm grateful for their friendships.  Some of my "city friends," as they are known to the outdoors friends, even camp a couple times a year.  If you can call drinking around a fire 20 yards from the car "camping."  They've never had the good fortune to taste fresh trout and watercress on the stream bank.  They don't understand the thrill of a long awaited buck appearing from the early morning mist or the magic of a perfectly laid out fly cast.  They can't know the jolt of adrenaline that races through you when a pheasant erupts at your feet, and somehow sees fit to fly into your pattern.  They don't understand either.

So I walk the line.  I consider it a blessing and a curse, in that, both cliques want me there.  When I take off for the cabin on a home football weekend, the avalanche of razzing can be almost interminable.  If I stay in town for the game, my fellows hunters can get downright gruff about it.  It's a balancing act that I'm glad to perform.



The similarities help.  Both groups know the high fives, the back clapping hugs, the pain of disappointment, and the utterly comatose crash that follows a long day afield or a big win at home. 

The separate components of each outing, to the woods or the parking lot, carry their own similar familiarities.  Both days often begin the same.  With food, of course.  If we're tailgating, I've got a house full of people while trying to get the brats boiled, the corn silks tossed, the flank steaks marinated, and the associated paraphernalia in the truck.  If I'm going hunting, it's considerably more quiet.  I grab whatever meals I've prepped for the cook stove, and throw them in with the go-bag of standard hunting gear for that season.

Arrival on site brings the same rush of excitement, no matter the venue.  The parking lot downtown is awash in a sea of red.  The cacophony of music and people, fans and families, all gearing up for what promises to be another gorgeous fall Saturday in Madison, grabs you immediately.  While the gravel parking lot of the hunting ground or boat launch is considerably more subdued, there remains an air of expectation.  In its own quiet way, it is just as exciting.

Then we start to walk.  The dogs are excited, but working well.  The frost in the grass is loud, and you're still working the kinks out of all your hinges, but you are there.  It has started.  Back on the asphalt, you get the grill going and the tables set up.  Friends and family begin to arrive, and the excitement begins to build.  It too has begun.

Both days progress through lulls and highs, riding seas of emotion.  You make a brilliant cast to a rising fish or a winning toss in a highly charged game of bean bags.  The feeling is the same.  You cost your team a round of Flippy Cup or whiff on a pair of passing of wood ducks.  Either way, in that moment, you are the goat.  No two ways about it.

Bucky dominates again at The Camp or you stride confidently back to the trucks, game pouch freshly refilled with feathered glory.  You get skunked while wading all morning in seemingly glacial water or the football gods chose to smite the Badgers this time.

On any given Saturday in autumn, any of it can happen.


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