“It is easy to forget that in the main we die only seven times more slowly than our dogs,”
The Road Home, Jim Harrison
October is finite – not only in volume, but in reoccurrence.
In Idaho, October is the perfect month. The weather cools and the aspens start to drop their golden leaves. Brown trout move upstream to spawn, colored up like the aspens and hungry and edgy and mean. Sharp tail seasons line up with other upland species so the whole host of bird hunting is on the menu.
October is a marker for my years and sometimes it’s alarming how fast they tick past. Throwing out a pair of worn out boots I realize it’s been a dozen years since I bought them. Sorting boxes of factory pheasant loads with $9 price tags, I try to remember when you could buy Golden Pheasant loads for that price.
Fondly remembering a hunt with a good friend, I realize we haven’t spoken in years. I look at my dogs and see I no longer have one in her prime and one on the upswing, but one in her prime and one that may not have another October left in her.
For a good long time, I was certain my springer was faking deaf. As in, “I can’t hear you boss, but there’s birds!”
Turns out she is not faking, at least not anymore. Sometimes I walk past her bed and out the door without her waking. In the evening, I occasionally have to walk out and retrieve her from the yard. She’s healthy and happy, but she has lost most of her drive and she can’t hear anymore.
She’ll make a few trips this year. Judging by our walks and initial trips out, she will mostly be at heel, strolling along as the old lady of the pack.
Last fall, I took an ill-advised shot at a rooster on the last day of the season. He seemed well hit, but locked his wings and glided across a good-sized channel of the Snake River into some cattails on the far shore. My old girl was never a good water retriever and I never force fetched her, but as I stood there wondering if my waders were in the truck, she lit out into the cold and fast water. She hit the shore and worked the cattails for several minutes before wading out and swimming back. She held a totally live rooster in her mouth, his head erect as she braved the current again.
I remember thinking, “That could be the last great retrieve I see her make,” because even then she had slowed down. Mostly, the fire has gone out of her. She still wants to go, she wants to head out the door and ride in the truck, but the barely controlled bird craziness is gone. It’s nice to have her around. She’s mellowed. She can lay down at your feet instead of pacing constantly. She can ride in the car on a gravel road without howling to be let out.
She’s just older. It happens to all of them. And to all of us. For me as well there is a day coming where hunting turns into something else.
We only get so many Octobers.