I recently read my friend, Doug Deats’ book, Smoke on the Wind: Short Stories and Essays, on a cold, Saturday in February. With the hunting season over and the fishing season not quite in full swing in Idaho, this book was a great way to spend a day and to feel that special connection to my beloved outdoors.
For those of you who don’t know Doug Deats, he hails from Central Virginia and works at the Rasawek Hunting Preserve where he trains dogs and guides hunts. In his spare time, Doug writes about his outdoor passions. I’m happy to report that the most popular post on Upland Ways was a guest post by Doug entitled: “The Final Word.” It’s a classic! Doug is the son of a preacher and is, himself, a preacher of sorts. His strong faith shines through in his stories, but never in a judgmental, in your face sort of way. It’s just who Doug is.
Smoke on the Wind contains true stories of Doug’s outdoor adventures from hunting squirrels with a brown dog as a kid to the pursuit of his beloved ruffed grouse with setters and native brookies with the fly rod. My favorite chapter of the book, “The Brookie,” combines these two passions as Doug hunts for grouse with his bird dog through an abandoned homestead with an overgrown apple orchard like you read about in so many of the classics. As he hunts this covert, Doug observes an old pump house that catches his attention. When he looks inside, Doug senses the presence of something special and soon sees a monster of a brook trout trapped in the pump-house pool. The mystery of such a fish was intriguing for both Doug and this overgrown kid. Doug wrestles with the thought on what to do with such a fish, let it be, catch it and take it home and eat it, or release it to the trickle of a creek it came from. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say I love what he decides to do.
Doug’s book also contains many short fictional stories. I enjoyed the “Brown Dog” chapters and “The Hermit of Root Hollow” (which had a nice twist), but my favorite short story was “The Pastor and the Partridge.” As an attorney, I always tell my clients that the three worst things a person can go through are: (1) Death of a loved one; (2) divorce; and (3) bankruptcy. In this story, the Pastor’s world is rocked by two of these life-altering traumas: The death of his son and a recent divorce. For a time, the Pastor struggles in doubt and darkness as he grapples with his loss. The heroine of the story, Dorthy, also had recently lost her husband to cancer, but rather than withdrawing from life, she decides to give her husband’s English Setter to “the grouse-hunting Pastor” she had heard so much about. Through this act of kindness, the Pastor is able to overcome his grief as he returns to grouse hunting. You’ll have to read it yourself to get the whole story, but it is a story of love and hope. I agree with Doug that there is something truly revitalizing about being in the great outdoors, especially with bird dogs.
Lastly, Smoke on the Wind has some great essays. For me, the most notable are “The Club” and “Whippoorwills and Woodpiles.” “The Club” is an essay about the small things in the outdoors that bird hunters and fly fishers experience–oftentimes alone–but which others know or relate to. Such common experience brings bird hunters and fly fishers together in an unspoken club. I could certainly relate and I’m glad to be part of such a group. As for “Whippoorwills and Woodpiles” the central theme is that “you can tell a lot about a man by the way he stacks his wood.” Doug will be happy to know that I used this chapter the other night to teach my kids the importance of doing their best at whatever task is at hand.
To sum it up, I enjoyed Doug’s book and I recommend it to the followers of Upland Ways.
On a personal note, I hope this is not Doug’s last book. I say this because my friend, Doug is currently suffering from cancer. The other day when I asked Doug about his health, he reported: “They say the cancer is back on the move so they are changing my chemo to some stronger stuff so time will tell, but I am truly OK with what God has in store. Thanks so much for your prayers and friendship.” I tell you this not so that you will feel sorry for Doug, but in hopes that his faith will inspire you as it did me. Doug is a good man and I am glad to call him my friend. God bless and preserve you, Doug Deats!
For those of you interested in Smoke on the Wind, here is the LINK.