I don’t know about you, but I have friends who I rarely spend time with outside of bird season. It has nothing to do with the quality of those friendships; in fact, some of them are the most highly esteemed friends I have. But the intensity of our common love for dogs and big country cause our orbits to overlap around this time, and then the rest of the year life has a way of absorbing us in different directions. We occasionally keep in touch, but rarely do we cross paths until guns come out of the closet and the dogs are more antsy than usual and the sound of a bird busting from cover comes to dominate our thoughts.
It is that time again, and phone calls are made and e-mails traded and the mutual bonds re-energized as plans are made. But a nagging thought keeps clawing at the back recesses of my hat rack – another year has somehow gone by. It hardly seems real, but I haven’t shot the shit with “___,” I think to myself, since we were walking across that errant CRP field last October, game bags full of sharpies, my dog limping on a raw pad after a long day, a snow storm scudding our direction across the tops of the Big Holes… Jeezus – that was a year ago. A job I couldn’t stand was kicked to the curb where it belonged, new opportunities were created, new friendships, some old ones strained only to be strengthened again, others strained past the point of recovery, too little time spent with family, hopefully a little more perspective on what matters and what’s worth putting energy into… A YEAR.
I do the only thing one can do when such thoughts threaten to steal you from the present – I wipe the late September drip from my cold nose, drop a couple shells in the barrels, and join a friend as we head off toward the horizon, with much to talk about and little that needs to be said.
I see him disappear as he drops off the cut bank and into the river, purely intending to cool off. By “river” I’m referring to the South Fork of the Snake, currently running at 12,000 cubic feet per second.
The uninterrupted force of the river is cranking along the undercut bank where he went in. There is a tangled strainer of logs and debris just downstream, reaching out like a wicked, gnarled hand dragging long fingernails across the galloping surface of the torrent.
I sprint. He’s clawing at the bank without purchase, and then I see him starting to get sucked under and swept. His eyes go wide as dinner plates as the reality of his predicament dawns on him. Somehow sinks through that knuckle-headed pointer cranium of his. It’s a look I’ve never seen on his face, and my own probably didn’t look much different.
I dive to the edge of the bank, grab a fistful of collar and pluck him from the current with little time to spare. Fall on my ass.
I think about what would have happened if I hadn’t been right there, and able to respond so quickly. What if I was still back in the cottonwoods, looking for morels, as I had been just minutes before? He’d be gone. Pinned below the undercut, or swept into the strainer. I’d have lost my bird dog.
On terra firma again, he shakes the water off and tears off back into the forest, following the onslaught of spoor that rules his better judgement. Living as he always does – entirely in the moment. I give up on the morels and decide to call it a day. Too dry anyway.
He was fully immersed in his second favorite thing to do in this world – chasing a tennis ball.
Without warning, he abandoned his second favorite thing to do in this world, which could only mean one thing. He hooked a hard left and headed toward the houses, nose to the ground, inhaling scent at a full run.
From a distance, it was obvious he was on point.
A standoff had ensued. The fowl held its ground briefly, before making a fatal mistake.
As the yardbird turned and ran, the shorthair was on it in seconds, shaking the life out of it.
We’ve been politely invited to help our neighbor build a new fence.
The BHA 2013 Rendezvous will be held in Boise, ID – March 22nd to the 24th.
It will be another great weekend rich in how-to and DIY backcountry hunting and fishing seminars, information on advocating for your favorite piece of backcountry, excellent food, exciting auction and raffle items, and of course, time to visit with other members.
Jason Hairston, the former NFL linebacker turned revolutionary gear manufacturer (co-founder of Sitka Gear and more recently founder of KUIU) will be this year’s Keynote Speaker.
BHA works hard to protect the backcountry integrity of our public lands and our hunting and fishing opportunities. Please show your support, and attend if you can!
Over the crunch of dry grass underfoot there is a distant, creepy moan.
Like Keith Richards dropping in over Ronnie Wood’s steady strum, the cry floats above the sound of the wind rolling through the gentle folds of CRP.
My mind races through the possibilities…a lost moose calf down in one of the dense cover drainages? Mating cats? The ghost of a jilted lover, screaming from the tumbledown remnants of the farmhouse over the rise? I try to keep track of the dog as he works the currents, and for a while the distraction abates.
There can be an expansive, desolate melancholy to big empty places like this, so different than the claustrophobic disquiet of being alone in thick, dark woods, though it can be none the less unsettling. The dog and I continue to work the field, but something still feels odd. And then the caterwauling returns, so far-flung and ethereal, carried on sporadic wisps of gust, that I’m second-guessing whether I’m imagining it.
The rusty windmill in the distance continues to slowly spin, keening out its unearthly wail. The dog goes on point, but there is nothing there.