Knowing It’s There

I could go on about how the season came and went too quickly, although now that I think about it, a lot has come and gone since it began last September. I could lament not having gotten out more, though I think I did pretty well this year. I could allow myself to be reminded, every time I look at the dog, of regret at not letting him revel in what he is bred for, every second and every day that he is legally allowed to do so. But then again, neither am I, and that’s life.

Instead of giving in to remorse, I opt to wander through the ever-expanding topo map of places I’ve hunted which lives in my head. I think of fields full of sharptail, warm and yellow and glowing on an October afternoon, now harsh and iced over and windswept. But still, these tough birds reside. I think about new chukar land I walked this past year. About how dry it was – even for that country; about how those birds of the Eurasian steppe are surviving in their adopted basin and range. Blue grouse now burrowed into snow, and a lone wolverine, high above tree line on a February morning, trying to sniff them out. Huns, normally spread out and elusive for much of the year, now coalesced into a large covey that has moved into the undeveloped sage scrub near my house to wait for the days to grow long again.

Somewhere deep in the big empty.

Maybe my drive is evolving. Walking country for days, with nothing in the game bag to show for it, doesn’t feel so much like “failure” anymore. While sitting down to a meal of chukar enchiladas, or pheasant pot pie, is a yearning I hope never to quench, it’s more important simply to know that the country is there. That the birds are there. That I know these things irrevocably, because I’ve personally been cold, dirty and hungry in such places, and it’s left its mark on me. I’ll wake up hungry again tomorrow, no matter how amazing the meal was. But these intimate connections to wild country are a longer-lasting feast. Either way, you are what you eat.

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