Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Neill grandson has learned fine art of observing nature

By Robert Hitt Neill

I’m writing this early for the Thanksgiving week column, and it’s a very special day today: my Grunk Anniversary!

One year ago, Betsy and I became grandparents, with the birth of Sean Robert Irwin, nicknamed “Sir” because when you monogram a name, the last initial goes in the middle. After the birth, the kids (well, they’re still kids to me, although they’re old enough to make me a grandpaw) were speculating on grandparent names, and mine went from “Granddaddy Uncle Bob” to “GrandUncle” to “Grunkle” to “Grunk.”

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 I prefer it as the title, bestowed by the state Kairos Board, of the which I am Chairman, as “The Grunk.”

Sir now looks a lot like my own baby pictures, though I’m not sure they really had color film back then. I have a picture of Miss Janice and me when I was about his age, and it looks to me like the blonde in the curls was added by an artist after the photo was developed.

Obviously, I was too young to remember; that was even before I had Lyme Disease. At any rate, Sir seems to “future” The Grunk.

He has been a lot of fun, and I’ll bet will be a lot more when we get shut of the dirty diapers stage. He enjoys his frequent (but not frequent enough!) trips to Brownspur, though it has gotten too cool for us to take our dips in the Swimming Hole.

But we still hitch up the Wagon Train Mule (The Grunk) for rides out to the pasture and especially up the Mammy Grudge Ditch bank, then the too-fast rides down the hill, when the winded mule can hardly keep up, to keep the Wagon Train going straight.

What really gets me is Sir’s power of observation: although he’s running around the house and yard by now, when he gets into the observation mode, he can be as still as his Grunk sitting in a deer stand or duck blind or squirrel woods or turkey blind. Matter of fact, I took him out to feed the ducks in the lake behind his house the other day.

It was early in the morning and kind of chilly, so we bundled up and took a half loaf of moldy bread with us. A flock of mixed mallards and wood ducks responded to our quacks (Sir is learning to call ducks and turkeys with his mouth, like The Grunk), and came paddling over when they saw me casting my bread upon the waters at the edge of the deck where we sat.

Though he had been quacking enthusiastically, when Sir saw the ducks coming over, quacking themselves, he shut up and sat tight. It was like his own hunting instincts suddenly surfaced.

Many times a youngster will make sudden movements at the sight of an animal or bird, scaring them away. I have done the same thing myownself in a deer stand or turkey blind.

Yet Sir sat still in my lap, only moving his eyes, watching intently as the ducks splashed and paddled from left to right in front of us, chasing the pieces of bread that I flipped from one extreme to the other. We went through the half-loaf completely, and he hardly moved a muscle, concentrating on the ducks. If he just had a shotgun!

Well, in fact, he does have a shotgun, as well as a 22 rifle and an elephant gun, traditional birthing gifts to male progeny from assorted uncles and cousins of the Neill clan. We even fired some of those guns when Sir got home from the hospital, to insure that the boy would not be gun shy. He doesn’t seem to be.

I anticipate that he will be a hunter, thereby an observer of nature, just like his ancestors.  Perhaps he’ll observe so well that he will later write about it.  

Over the years I have noticed that far too many people will return from a day in the field or woods or lake, disappointed that they did not kill something or catch something or at least fire their rifle. The true blessing of being able to hunt is in getting out there and being a part of nature, an active or inactive observer of the Great Outdoors, as we choose.  

I hope Sir learns that the gun in hand (as we’ve just opened gun season for deer) is merely an excuse to be in the woods, and to observe nature at her best, be it a butterfly that lit on the gun stock or screech owls courting or a squirrel taking a shed antler to her nest. Observe, Sir, observe! You, too!