By Cody Bruce
A June Accounting
26 July 2015 – The doldrums of the Kansas summer are evident as I traverse the dusty Russell County road. Trails of spilled wheat from a transiting grain truck line the interior of the bar ditch; squadrons of mourning dove make the best of an impromptu feast. No doubt it is late June. The combine’s hushed roar is barely audible in the distance, but the song of a nearby meadowlark is resonant during my evening sojourn. I’m afoot now because of repressed wanderlust. Although I’m an avowed autumn romanticist and despite my ardent dislike of the heat, there is still great appeal in surveying the countryside.
Like any good sportsman, I’d prefer to cradle a shotgun during my outdoor excursions. Yet, fear of sickly rabbits and absence of squirrels would make it purposeless. Instead, I delight in a walk with my wife. We talk as only newlyweds do, yet as each slate-colored dove flushes I am lost in predatory fixation. A flushing pair, ascending left to right makes an easy mental double. I receive strange looks from my better half as I mount an invisible shotgun. No report follows, but as sure as the Kansas sunset that brace of birds would be in the game-bag. Quick to conceal my unabashed preoccupation with wingshooting, I point out a purple coneflower (snakeroot) and describe its medicinal qualities. No one falls for the gambit. She too knows that fall is coming.
With the intent of my evening walk fully revealed, we both agree to make mental notes of the pheasant population. Within the first 100 yards of the walk we flush a pair of roosters; my response is now unhinged. The cackling and crowing that persists throughout our walk has elevated me to the heights of elation. As each stocky fowl rises I am reminded of Datus C. Proper’s fitting description of our best-loved non-native fowl: “A Bird Like Christmas.” It seems like Christmas too. Each heart-pounding rise is indisputably a gift.
Not long ago a persistent drought seemed destined to rid our fair country of this spectacular bird. Yet, this parcel holds more promise than others. A wizened farmer with a heart for conservation had declared this acreage a sanctuary in years past. One can see that the choice has paid dividends. Cocks are taken regularly on surrounding properties but this piece of ground has remained undisturbed. As a result the field is practically rife with birds.
As we stroll back to the farmhouse I can’t help but think of Kansas as the realization of the conceptualization of America as the land of opportunity. Of course the folks here have proven that hard work and dedication can overcome great difficulty. Yet, there is also another level to it. With a simple love of our resources, Kansans have also ensured that they will be around for generations to come. Here in Russell County the ringnecks seemed to have weathered the drouth. Now reports indicate that the population of Lesser Prairie Chickens in Kansas’ Shortgrass Prairie has increased by approximately 27%. With a little luck the Northern Bobwhites across the state have faired similarly. Each bird is powerfully nostalgic in our state’s history and deserves our attentive dedication and concerned efforts. As we edge closer and closer to the welcome days of fall, let us all consider how we can not only stock the larder—but how we can all pitch in to conserve the birds that warm our memories and quicken our pulse.