Have you ever built a blind?
I hadn’t, before Covid.
My dad is not a hunter, and therefore neither am I. My grandfather, however, was. I do not know why my dad did not pick that up from him. I never asked him, and my dad is not really much of a talker, so he never brought it up.
I don’t necessarily regret it, but I always felt like I was in a minority among my friends. When I got into birding and nature photography, I found myself asking those same hunting friends for tips about how to conceal myself and approach birds. I was doing my own sort of hunting now.
My plans for 2020 included spending countless days in the early morning blinds at Rowe Sanctuary. It is an experience for the soul, and a play with three acts.
When you enter the blinds it is pitch black. All you can hear is the throat rattling calls of the cranes. You feel the energy. It is like being blindfolded waiting for a surprise to be revealed on your birthday.
The rising sun welcomes us into Scene Two. It creeps over the horizon and slowly the birds take shape, revealing a majestic scene of dancing birds. They put on a great show.
Finally, for the last scene, thousands of birds take flight and leave their roost at once, headed to the fields to feed. It is the ultimate combination of auditory and visual stimulation. It is literally awesome.
Tragically, I thought for a moment that Covid had robbed me of that experience for at least a year. Thankfully my grandma lives along the banks of the Platte River and allowed my son, Bennett, and I to build a blind. I knew cranes roosted in front of her property, but I hadn’t made the effort to view them there because Rowe is so close and convenient.
Bennett and I collected the materials, headed to the river and built ourselves a blind, consisting of t-posts, burlap and zip ties. It was not perfect. In fact, it was far from perfect, but it was adequate. We could safely approach. We could conceal ourselves. The primary crane roost was close. I visited the blind seven or eight times in March and April. It was exactly what I had hoped for.
However, the cranes are not the most remarkable part of this story. Instead, it is something I found near my blind.
On the day we built the blind and I was driving the first posts, I noticed another structure hidden among tall brush 20 to 30 feet away. It was another blind. Decaying boards. Standing water. A couple busted up chairs. It was my grandpa’s old duck blind.
It was unsalvageable, with the water and exposed nails everywhere, but that was not what got my mind turning. I realized my grandfather had taken the same walk I had, decades earlier, searching for a place on the river. His instincts were the same as mine. We chose the same location. We had the same goal, to blend in and experience nature, albeit one with a gun and the other with a camera.
It made me feel close to him again. He died approximately 13 years ago when my daughter was just a baby.
My dad and I are not a lot alike, but my dad and grandfather were carbon copies. The silent types who rarely show emotion. Everyone considers them the nicest people around. Hard-working does not do them justice. They expect no help from others but will do anything for someone else. My grandfather never finished high school, but he was one of the smartest people I knew. I loved how he called us turkeys when we were kids. In turn, my brother and I made fun of his bald head. He always joyfully replied that we would be cursed with one someday, and he was right.
I miss him a lot.
Most of all, I’m sad that my kids didn’t get to know him. He would have been a fantastic Great-Grandpa.
My oldest son, Samuel, is a clone of my grandpa and my dad. The same quiet intelligence and kindness. Samuel doesn’t say a lot or betray much emotion, but when he does speak up he usually displays a lot of wit. Interestingly, Samuel has been like that from birth. The gene evidently skipped me, but it appears to be hard-wired in some Nikkila men. Even though he isn’t much like me, it makes me happy to see Samuel becoming the good man that my grandpa and dad were and have been.
All that came to mind sitting in my “Covid” blind just a few feet from where my grandpa sat many years ago, looking on the same river and the same sunrises. It was also an amazing place to photograph cranes. I got some of the best pictures I have ever taken. It was my honor to print one of them and give it to my grandma. I hope for years to come I will have more opportunities to share these mornings on the river with my grandpa.