I’ve shared in the past how the pursuit of fish and game has led me to meet great folks, visit new places and share adventures big and small. A knock on a farmhouse door 20 years ago opened the opportunity to enjoy all three. I was following up on a “Hunting with Permission” sign I saw posted on an out-of-the way CRP field as I scouted for places to hunt pheasants. My research and plat map study eventually brought me to the Baker’s mud room and a conversation with Margaret, who was into her 70s when she first granted me permission to hunt the spot on the family farm. But not before sitting down in the kitchen for a chat.
That was the first of 20 such talks around the kitchen table, as she kneaded dough or chopped vegetables as Margaret and I caught up on the previous year. I knocked on the door every October since, too late for most hunters who waited that late in the season to ask for one of the coveted permission slips. I always nervously eyed the same hand-written note Margaret re-taped to the storm door each autumn, after all the allotted slips for that season had been awarded to hunters, stating that it was too late to ask.
Each fall it took a little longer for my knock to be answered, before was I ushered into a cluttered kitchen that always smelled of home cooking. Margaret would make me sit and squirm some years before revealing a permission slip that she had set aside for me, but I always left with more than I had come for, beyond the opportunity to walk the rich acreage she and her husband had set aside for wildlife each year. I was welcome and I was trusted, even after starting out as a stranger.
I have hunted the patch on Thanksgiving morning carrying an infant in a backpack, paced it countless times with my wife on warm autumn days and hiked it back and forth on bitter cold December afternoons, following one of four English setters that have come and three gone, doing their best to sniff out roosters hiding in the grassy swales there over two decades.
A younger version of Margaret met my tardy knock a few weeks ago, and I did a double take before her daughter informed me of her passing. Had I been on time this season I might have shared one more tableside chat, and perhaps some of her famous peanut brittle — which not even family members with the original recipe could replicate. Instead I stepped off the Baker’s doorstep for the final time clasping a note on torn pink paper stating that all the slips are accounted for. I left with memories of adventures great and small enjoyed in a field set aside for just that, and the person who opened the door to do so.