You see, we had been hunting this land for years. As the skies closed in and the temperatures dropped, we would move out before daybreak and into the fields, to see if the big Canadas were there, feasting on the remains of the soybeans, or the corn, or the wheat, whatever had been planted. Then, after that early excursion, creeping and crawling, usually through mud, we would retire to the pit blind on the marsh that drew its life from the power of the Glebe Creek and from the Miles River and from the Chesapeake Bay and then from the almighty Atlantic.
The old manor house is gone now, its racoon and snake-infested drawing room burned in what became an exercise for the Easton fire department, and what is left is the old servants' house, greatly enlarged, the garages and - the windmill.
The old colonel had had the windmill built between the Great Wars, with some silly Delco patent system of providing electricity to the complex at no cost. The system had broken down long ago, and the vanes were only a memory in the mind of the present landholder, but each morning, on the way to the field and then the blind, the hunters would have to pass between it and the garages, and it loomed large on what horizon there is on the Eastern Shore.
We always took a noon break, of course: an eight-track of Richard Strauss in the massive living room, a lunch of scrapple, bacon, Gibbie's famous sausage, hard-fried corned beef hash and eggs, and bourbon, and some discussion of how we were going to do the afternoon hunt. We would go to the blind, usually, and then, at sundown, to the fields, where, on a particularly blustery day, the geese might be expected to settle down.
I must say that they never did, and still do not, do what we expected them to do. But one thing we knew was that when they came in low - and you can hear them before you can see them - they invariably came in across the windmill.
The old colonel's son, year in and year out, would fork an entire egg into his mouth during lunch and remark, jaws awork, that one of these sunsets we would have to be atop the windmill, which was - and is - 42 feet high, so as to close an extra few yards between our shotgun barrels and the honkers.
So on this day - not very long ago but shortly before I gave up the habit of killing animals for fun - "Thus spake Zarathustra" was roaring to an end and, having been in the marsh blind all day, the two men and the boy decided by God to get up on the windmill and see what it's like.
So at the end of the afternoon, when the sun was tangential with the horizon, the way it must have looked across the transit rock at Stoneherge, we moved out of the marsh blind and toward the windmill.
Now, the inside of the windmill is an exercise in primordial psychology. You enter in a doorway, at the base, and proceed upward in several flights of stairs, with three or four landings. The old colonel, a prodigious hunter, had lined the four walls with moose, elk and impala heacs, glass eyes staring, and proceeding upward was skin to a vertical trip through that stale, dead building at the Bronx Zoo where stuffed animals are presented as something to be proud of.
Add to this the fact that, over the decades, many of the steps in the stairs have vanished, so that we, the grown men, it is perceived, had to haul the young boy over the gaps.
Almost parenthetically, it should be noted that the Son of the old colonel is a painter, and once, for the light, had set up his studio on the top landing of the windmill. He stepped back one day, to evaluate a particaularly deft brush stroke, and came down the entire 42 feet, one step at a time, head over heels like a Hollywood stunt man, luckily awarding the irony of being impaled on the horns of one of those great, dead animals.
At the top, where the studio was, is a trapdoor, which will let you onto the top. At the top is a small fence, constructed by a carpenter who was obviously a political enemy of the old colonel, who was also, in his heyday, a congressman. The fence is anklehigh, and guaranteed to send the unwary hunter careening 42 feet to his massive internal injuries.
It was dark, inside that great, animalistic womb, and we had no flashlight. But we made our way to the top, through the trapdoor, and out onto the deck, where the wind was blowing at a steady 30 knots and gusting up to 60.
And then we heard them. They were coming in low, honking, and heading straight for us, and we admonished one another to keep quiet - Canadas, you see, can see your eyeballs roll at 5,000 yards - and we froze there, huddled precariously on a little deck atop another generation's construction.
Oh yes, they came in. And they saw our little ducky hats and our barrels, and when they were about a thousand yards away they said hey, and the veered and alighted in the water about 50 feet from our marsh blind.