FIFTY-TWO DAYS and counting. Down to less than two months and I will be in my happy place. Less than two months until the little white house on the prairie welcomes me once again.

Though I could not imagine a better place than the woods of north Wisconsin to have lived in for my entire life, for nine days each year, my favorite place in the world is the prairie country of far northern North Dakota, where the sky is filled with the sounds and sights of hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese and other birds.

I could not imagine a better place than the many square miles I roam for those nine days. I could not imagine a life more wonderful than one spent hunting ducks and geese every day for a week in North Dakota, eating the best of them every day and being a part of the storytelling that goes on nightly in the confines of the little white house on the prairie.

I cannot tell you how much I love the smells and sounds of the prairie pothole country, the country where millions and millions of ducks and geese are born and raised every summer. You can’t imagine how satisfying to my senses is the sound of waterfowl wings slashing through the air in the predawn darkness of a 

“newborning” day on the prairie.

Nor could I find adequate words to tell you how fine it is to me to feel the wet swish of a retriever’s tail thumping against my knees after another duck is brought to the blind, nor the exhilaration that comes with a well-aimed shot, the smell of fresh-burned gunpowder in the air, the waving of cattail fronds in a stiff breeze and the warmth of an insulated pair of waders that wards off the chill of cold, autumn water in a prairie pond.

I love ducks and duck hunting, whether on the waters of north Wisconsin where I cut my duck hunting teeth or on the wide open prairie country of North Dakota. No other species of wild animal brings me the joy and rapture than does the waterfowl of North America.

But along with all the joys of hunting, the pure pleasure of being in the same place where ducks reign supreme, comes the reminder that all this might not have been possible for me were it not for eight decades of hard work, meticulous planning and never-ending fundraising of an organization called Ducks Unlimited (DU).

The name DU may imply a hunting organization, but though DU may count hundreds of thousands of duck hunters in its ranks, those people alone could not do the work it has taken to save, protect, enhance and preserve the precious wetlands of North America.

Nonhunters, anti-hunters, everyone from doctors, rednecks, “snowflakes,” educators, blue-collar working people, Wall Street money managers and even, yes, some politicians, have dedicated their lives to preserving the wetlands and wildlife that inhabit those watery acres.

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes far more than that to raise millions of ducks and geese throughout North America. And it isn’t just ducks and geese that benefit from the hard work and money of those people who choose to work for the habitat the birds live in.

It’s turtles, muskrats, insects, cattails and, well, I don’t have the space to rattle them all off here, but the number of beneficiaries of healthy wetlands numbers more than 900 species, one of which is man.

You may not have thought about this before, but were it not for these millions of acres of wetlands habitat, you might not have clean water to drink. You might not have clean water in which to bathe. You might not have clean water with which to cook your favorite dinner.

Wetlands aren’t just a place for ducks and geese to live in; they are the aquifers of our life. They filter contaminants out of water that otherwise wouldn’t be fit for cooking, drinking or bathing. They are the buffer against all the bad things we humans and, sometimes, Mother Nature put into the world’s groundwater systems.

Another thing you might not know about DU is that it is not paid professionals who do most of the work. Yes, there are fantastic paid employees of DU like our area regional Director Steve Kresl, who has poured more than 20 years of his life into DU and the effort to preserve wetlands, but it is volunteers who provide the grassroots work needed to continue on.

Unlike many prominent so-called charities, money spent on DU employee salaries amounts to a tiny percentage of the money raised. More than 80 cents of every dollar you or I contribute to DU is used for actual habitat improvement projects. The organization is fueled by thousands of volunteers who organize and put on local events. These events are what have allowed DU to do more wetlands habitat work in North America than all other conservation groups put together over the past 80 years.

I love hunting for ducks and geese. I love watching them in their natural habitats during nonhunting seasons even more. I love everything about ducks and geese, and the multitude of other species that use and need the same habitat that supports waterfowl.

That is why I have been a DU member since 1976 and have served on my Plum Creek chapter of DU as a committee member since its inception in 1982.

That is why I will be in my usual place come Tuesday, Aug. 28, at Clearview Supper Club in St. Germain, announcing the lucky winners of raffle and door prizes, all the while cajoling and unabashedly attempting to coerce my fellow DU supporters to give until it hurts.

DU is the reason, by far the biggest reason, why the North Dakota prairies and other areas where wetland habitat exists have been able to continue producing ducks, geese and all those other species from insects to mammals for us to watch, hunt and especially, just enjoy.

I leave you this week with one final thought. Won’t you think about joining me at this year’s Plum Creek dinner and if not ours, attend one of the several others in the area that are part of the effort to protect and conserve this invaluable resource we call wetlands? Please, do.