LONGWOODS, MD. -- The battered old farmhouse at Winodee Hunt Club, just off Skipton Creek near the Wye River, has been around a century or so and bears the scars of times happy and hard.
Footprints, for example, in bright blue paint make their way up one wall, across the ceiling and down and out the front door.
"Hippies," said Gilbert Baxter. "They rented the place back in the '60s. They must have had some good parties here."
As for hard times, "You can see that the only heat used to come from the wood fires," said Baxter, one of a dozen-odd goose hunters who took over the Winodee lease 15 years ago. "See how shallow the fireplace is? That's how they built 'em, to give off the most heat."
Baxter was ensconced before a roaring fire, while outside the fields and woods lay shrouded in deep, soft snow. It was the night after the first big winter storm of 1988, a night among the cheerfullest the old house would know.
In the kitchen, heated to stifling by a kerosene stove, Gary Blunt put finishing touches on a venison roast and a goose stuffed with apricots and prunes, while Roy Williams pottered around keeping the old place neat.
It had been an awesome day, and each man carried visions of it in his head.
Geese and ducks and swans flew almost continually as the weather went from harsh to violent, from snowy to wet and windy, and finally to bitter cold when the northwester that follows most winter storms hereabouts roared home. Perfect waterfowling weather, so good it was hard to leave the blind even for lunch.
Now it was moon-bright and clear outside, pungent and warm inside, and hungry men were ready to eat.
"Boys," said Blunt, forging his way with steaming platters through the unheated foyer to the dining table by the fire, "it just doesn't get any better than this."
And for once, the TV platitude seemed appropriate.
Let us now praise hunting clubs and old, rough places, the rougher the better.
It is the observation of the Spanish writer Miguel Delibes that one of the delights of hard hunting, or hard anything in the outdoors, for that matter, is the value it gives simple pleasures when you're done.
A person who has hunkered down in a wet, cold field waiting for birds to fly, set snowy paths on a pair of cross country skis or hiked a high mountain trail in a brisk winter wind knows a greater delight in a simple warming fire and plain, hot food at the end of the day.
And the more you do for yourself, the keener the pleasure.
For the members of Winodee, who do it all themselves, each day is an exercise.
Which blind will be best on this particular wind? How should the decoys be set? When will the geese move?
These and similar questions are intriguing enough to club member Roy Williams that he's all but taken up residence in the drafty old farmhouse during goose season, hunting for days at a time and abandoning his more comfortable digs in Alexandria.
"We have a trick we invented when there's snow on the ground," he said excitedly the other day. "The geese that fly over are looking for something to eat, so we haul hay out in the field and spread it around the decoys, so it looks like they've rooted the place up, feeding."
To blend with the driving snow while he's doing his work, Williams, a retired civilian employee of the Navy, dresses up in a home-fashioned, snow-white jumpsuit and burnoose.
So attired, he was racing around in the decoys, digging them out of the snow with a stiff brush and scattering hay under their fake beaks when the sky filled with geese.
Soon the air was astir with their haunting cries: "Aaa-RONK! Aaa-RONK!," and the stage was set for a memorable day.
Oh, some of the fellows had seen it better. "I can remember days when the geese wanted to come into these fields so badly you couldn't chase them off," Baxter said. "We'd be standing out in the decoys and they'd still come in and land."
It wasn't like that in the great snowstorm of '88. Fewer geese are around these days to begin with and, after a couple months of hunting pressure, the ones left are wary. Even Williams' hay trick didn't lure more than a few into range. But there were geese in the air for hours at a time, almost always close enough to call to, which is all a gunner can ask, and the few that came in, came in pretty.
It wound up a cold and wonderful day, replete with the usual foul-ups of geese flying off untouched even after they've made a should-have-been-final mistake.
Back on the porch, in the light of a bare electric bulb, Blunt pulled out his Polaroid to make a picture of the contented crew, but the wind was so cold the photochemicals never took. The picture came out mud.
No matter. Such scenes a photograph would only diminish. Better to savor the sights and smells first-hand, and let them sharpen with age.