They call it the Little Choptank River because it isn't as big as the big Choptank, but the Little is plenty big when the motor has failed and your boat is being blown down toward Chesapeake Bay in the dark and wind and rain.
"I can't believe I really did this," said Gene Marder, late a colonel of American forces, as the shore lights on which we had been guiding winked out. "I spent a whole career keeping my powder dry, my [rear] covered, the terrain reconnoitered, plenty of spares in the supply room and the situation well in hand. Now here I am literally up the creek without a paddle on a wild goose chase."
Marder was claiming more than his share of the blame. The retired PFC he had invited to hunt from his leased duck blind also was supposed to know better than to go out in late afternoon on a stormy day in a rowboat with a cranky outboard motor and on oars, no running lights, no signal flares or CB radio, no storm cover ad only half a life-jacket per passenger.
It was the end of a day of Eastern Shore waterfowling that could have served as a Coast Guard training film on the dangers of unpreparedness. The Guard might well have had to come looking for us if a wind shift hadn't blown the little boat ashore on Poverty Point.
Reasonably prudent persons would have turned back when the motor began acting up on the way to the blind, but then reasonable people do not develop the passion for goose hunting that leads to hypothermia and marriage counselors. It was because the day was so nasty that Marder had left his desk at the real estate office and enticed a neighbor away from plastering the room-of-her-own he had promised his 12-year-old daughter for her 10th birthday.
A bad day for "ducking" is one that is bright, clear, calm and warm - "a bluebird day" in hunter parlance. Bluebirds are protected and anyway don't have much meat on them.
"Nice weather for ducks," is a lowering day with nasty wind and driving rain or sleet; the books say such conditions cause waterfowl to fly low and slow and come eagerly into the hunter's stool of decoys.
"Tell you what," Marder said after sundown (distinguishable only by the solar table in the Maryland waterfowling regulations) had come without a sign of a goose or duck. "Let's go on over to the Blackwater (National Wildlife Refuge) and read the geese the part about how they're supposed to blacken the skies on days like this."
The motor, running in fits and stops until the head gasket finally burned completely through, lasted long enough for us to gather in the three dozen decoys and get started toward a shore that had disappeared in the dark distance. Mosquitos kept us from growing bored during the long drift and the stumbling hike through the mud to the car.
Next morning, standing on the shore looking at the blind we couldn't reach, Marder dicided to touch off a few rounds into the river to check the pattern of his new Model 1100 shotgun. It jammed.
The two-day fiasco brought to mind the lament Capt. John Smith penned about the Starving Time of 1609 at Jamestown Colony, which has served ever since to describe certain sportsmen of the Chesapeake region:
Though there be fish in the Sea, Fowles in the air, and beasts in the woods, their bounds are so large, they so wilde and we so weake and ignorant we cannot much trouble them.