The Working Ruddy

By Chris Espenshade

I recently made five duck decoys from salvaged crab-pot floats.  All I used was a hunting knife, Gorilla glue, and left-over house paint.  My goal was to see if I could create a functional working decoy quickly and cheaply.  The idea when making a decoy for hunting is to capture the essence of the form and colors.  The challenge is to do just enough to fool ducks without expending any unnecessary time, labor, material, or funds. 

As a pursuit, decoy-carving has moved away from a basic survival skill undertaken by watermen in their free time, using the materials at hand.  Today, the vast majority of decoy-carvers are making art for the mantle, even if some of these decoys are occasionally put in the water.  Decoy-carving has evolved from a craft to an art, and each decoy must now be a tour de force.  This shift has caused significant changes in the materials, the tools, the precision, the realism, and the time required for each decoy. 

While once decoys were carved quickly with hatchet and pocket knife, now they are produced slowly and precisely with band saws, Dremels, Foredoms, belt sanders, and air brushes.  Where eyes were formerly dots of paint or two tacks, they are now carefully selected and set glass eyes.  The generalized form has been replaced by pieces with each feather depicted.  Wood salvaged from broken masts, tree falls, or an extra fence post has been replaced by kiln-dried basswood ordered over the internet.  The general impressions garnered from years of waterfowl hunting – I know what a canvasback looks like — have been replaced by precise patterns and painting guides. 

roughly carved clay duck decoy floating in aluminum pan of water.

As I was messing with my decoys, I was also working on several flash stories, fiction, and creative non-fiction.  The attentive reader knows where this is headed.  I see the challenge of short-form writing as capturing the essence of a narrative.  The end product should be just enough to lure the reader to commit to the story.  I see flash works as being something produced quickly and efficiently, using basic, traditional tools, to serve a limited function.  Although I appreciate the effort, the software, the writers’ groups, the editors, and the skill needed to create, revise, polish, and produce long-form literature, not every story warrants such attention.  Many times, you simply want to tell the story and be done with it.

I do not expect my crab-pot, ruddy drake decoy to be as anatomically correct and artistic as a mantle duck; I just hope that my decoy works.  I do not expect this short-form piece to rival any novels; I just hope that this one works.  Given that you are now reading the final lines of the story, I think I got you.  Were you a duck, I would be shooting by now.

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An archaeologist, Chris Espenshade branched into creative writing in 2017.  He’s had creative non-fiction accepted by The RavensPerch, , Georgia Outdoors News, The Raven Chronicle’s Journal, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and the mobile app of Life in the Finger Lakes magazine.  Chris lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.

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