Kevin Merrill: Graduating into a different future

Kevin Merrill

The end of the holiday season comes to an end for me on Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany, every year since I was a little boy. It was our last chance to receive a present as part of the tradition of placing our shoes filled with hay on our front porch so when the three Wise Men passed by, they could feed their camels as they made their way to visit the baby Jesus.

In return for the hay, we would receive a small gift. We looked forward to it every year. Now it signals the time to take down our Christmas tree and assorted decorations, including several nativity scenes placed around our home and with renewed hope, look forward to the year ahead.

While we are still inundated with unsettling news daily, we are seeing folks getting vaccinated for the dreaded COVID-19 virus, we received almost 2 inches of rain a couple of weeks ago to help offset one of the driest periods I can remember and we optimistically look for more to follow in the weeks ahead.

Our folks are back to work on the vineyard pruning, following much deserved time off. Our tractor drivers and irrigators are getting ready to begin the growing cycle of our vines all over again. Our family is blessed to remain in good health.

I enjoyed the time off as well and was able to take advantage of going duck hunting up north near Durham with our son Clayton as guests of Nathan Miller over the New Year holiday. As this was our first experience hunting ducks between the flooded rice fields near Durham, we made a trip earlier to Sportsmen’s Warehouse in Visalia to get outfitted for our trip.

First thing we needed were warm chest waders, which thankfully the store in Visalia had just what we were looking for. Along with the waders we bought warm camouflaged coats as it can be wet and pretty cold out in the duck blind.

While we were not in the water hunting, the duck blind is placed out in the middle of the rice fields on a raised border separating the flooded portions of the rice fields. The borders are maybe 3 feet wide and can be slippery and uneven to walk down to get to the blind, easy to slip into the water on either side if you are not paying attention, especially in the dark.

We met our guide at 5:45 a.m. in town and followed him out to the field. Once there we attached headlights to our caps, grabbed our shotguns and shells and began to walk in the dark early morning hour down the narrow dirt, rice straw covered border, separating the flooded fields toward the blind about 100 yards away. As we got closer, I could barely make out the decoys floating on the water near the blind.

We could hear large flocks of geese all around us either flying over us in their V shaped formations or hearing them as they fed in yet-to-be flooded fields of harvested rice nearby.

As usual Clayton outshot me and brought home a few ducks for dinner that last day we went out. It was a great experience and a much needed getaway for me. I look forward to going out again next year, especially since we have most of the equipment now. Although I'm sure I can find a few more items to get at Sportsmen’s Warehouse ... maybe dad needs a new shotgun?

Happy New Year.

Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is a board member of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and a director on the Santa Barbara County Fair Board. He can be reached at