He may be the best dog I will ever walk the ground with. Perhaps not. Perhaps there will be another dog that will display and dazzle. But there will never be another dog like him. And there will never be another time like his. That I do know.
Some would say he was just a dog, but there are those of us who know the other plane. That place of which Henry Beston wrote: “In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
There are humans, though, who at a minimum understand Beston’s other nation. They may even live there. Perhaps. Many are my friends. Hunting men mostly, men who hunt because they have a dog and if they did not partner with a canine, they would find no pleasure in walking an autumn field with a shotgun no matter how much they enjoyed the taste of roasted pheasant. They certainly would find the cliffs and crags and rough tough of the chukar partridge much more empty. Perhaps they would draw upon the wildness and raw beauty of the desert, but without a dog pal the picture would be incomplete like Mona Lisa without her smile. Can an old woman with a Peekapoo experience the same kind of other plane, that melding of human and dog mind into a mutual understanding that transcends verbal language? Perhaps. But I think not. The reason is quarry. There is something very different about an animal that lives to hunt for you, that pursues what you pursue. You are caught up in a mutual joy of the hunt, a mutual drive that sinks deep to the soul into the core, the heart, the bone, the very cells that make up a living creature. This is in our DNA, those of us who hunt. I am sure that dogs that hunted held a different status in the ancient nomadic tribes of which we are rooted than dogs that plodded along at heel, eating food and in the end becoming food. Each type of dog—the food hunter and the food “on the hoof” certainly played a role in the survival, but it was hunting dog that actually earned its keep by living, not dying.
It was hot that day. Christ was it hot. June. People do not think of Wyoming as hot. Wyoming is snowy peaks and ice, wind and empty. That day it was over 100 and the sweat poured over my eyes. I took a half-splintered Pulaski bandaged by black electricians tape and a half-sharp shovel and made little progress. A more prudent man might have a sharp shovel and a strong-handled swinging tool, but I did not expect to be burying my dog. Maybe at twelve. Definitely not at six. He lay next to me in black plastic and I did not look over there very often. I swung the Pulaski and water ran off of me, out of me. I was miles from nowhere and the desert made me small. Tiny. Alone. Only a half year earlier, I had walked the same piece of ground with a shotgun in my hands and him out there before me. And now he was wrapped in black plastic. The desert had never made me feel so small. True enough it is a big place with sky flung in all directions, miles from water, miles from those snowfields on the Bighorns and the Absarokas. No it was not the desert that made me feel tiny, it was death. I was no longer a man with one hell of a bird dog. I was just a man.