Late in the hunting day, when the humid evening chill finds the odours of the season at their sharpest, my mind goes back to the man who first introduced me to hunting five decades ago. After a day afield chasing pheasants, Dad would leave me to rest in the car while he hunkered down nearby to pass-shoot ducks. With the window cracked, I would watch the light fade and take in the evening smells of new wheat stubble, pasture sage and the occasional whiff of prairie slough. Duck wings whistled overhead. Later, Dad would materialize out of the darkness, wet mallards hanging from one hand. His waders brought the scent of cattail muck and wetland into the car, mingling with the sharp tang of spent shotgun shells as we drove through a prairie landscape awash in the glow of a harvest moon. Once we arrived home, the air would be filled with the pungency of new-fallen poplar leaves in the backyard.
Dad died 25 years ago. By then, my hunting had shifted from prairie farms to the foothills of western Alberta. But when I tramp back to my vehicle once another hunting day draws to a close, that damp evening chill still immerses me in familiar, much-loved autumn odours—pine sap, the decomposing chlorophyll of fading leaves, and the sour-sweet scent of beaver ponds and willow swamps.
To a weary hunter at day’s end, the half-light is as rich with the smells that define the season as it is mysterious with possibilities. Sometimes, the old familiar odours even make it seem as though Dad could appear out of the gloom, the scent of his old hunting jacket mingling with the sweet, nostalgic aroma of poplars and prairie, just as it used to. And we wouldn’t need to say anything. We’d just breathe in the rich scents that signal the end of each good day afield, and cherish the memories that go along with them.