December at this latitude is cold and dark, the days all start late and every glimpse of the fleeting sun is considered a minor miracle. The skies are grey and low, night comes quick and the northern wind sneaks a bit of it’s bitterness into everyone.
Outside our window we watch the snow fall and drift and swirl and we dream of heading south, but even a long drive in that direction still leaves us pretty far north.
The birds, like the rest of us, head into a little seasonal depression after the first honest cold snap. They hunker down in the spruce boughs, just as we curl up with the dogs in front of the great flickering game. All of us, content to choose warmth above all else.
But eventually we come to the realization that winter marches forward and we dig out our long johns, double up our socks, dose our vitamin D and get back to our daily lives.
The birds start moving around again and so do we.
It’s stubborn dogs and disappointed spouses, pigeon shit and pissed off neighbours. It’s early morning training sessions and an ever-growing to-do list. It’s puppy blues and terrible twos, pocket kibble and “it gets better” promises. It’s failure and frustration, two steps forward and four steps back. It’s ecollars and kennels, bells and beepers, leashes, launchers and leads. It’s living on good credit and bad coffee, staring out the windshield with half-lidded eyes. It’s out of date maps and middle of nowhere flats, busted ball joints, bent rims and blown fan belts. It’s scraped skid plates and gas price laments, dusty dead ends and permission denied. It’s heatstroke under an all-conquering sun or frostbitten fingers and sideways sleet sting. It’s thistles and thorns and slivers, sand and grit, mud and blood and sweat and tears. It’s rattlesnakes and forgotten snares, badger holes, barbed wire and “Are they bluffing?” bears. It’s tailgate trauma centres, porcupine quills and vet bills. It’s the ghost of gone dogs and all the heartbreak you can handle.
All for a few fleeting moments here at the confluence of nose and scent, where lead just might meet wing and time holds in brief suspension before the blur beckons and begins again.
And if you can’t find the beauty in that . . .
Well, you wouldn’t be here would you?
On our best days we are dog whisperers, shotgun wizards, cartographers of broken country. We move with poise and purpose, up steep chukar slopes, through thick grouse woods, out and over the windswept plains. On our best days we worship at the church of the wild bird and we leave our offerings out on the sagebrush sea, there in the chokecherry thicket, and just near the muskeg’s edge. We dance to the western wind and the ringing of the dog’s bell. On our best days we are tailgate raconteurs and field lunch gourmands, holding a secret knowledge of backroads. We drink from the well of wild and open place and we surrender to the present, wholly at ease with this world and our place in it. On our best days we come back home wind-burnt and worn, tired and thirsty. But we return home, generous at the tavern, gentle with our children, gracious with our partners.
On most days however, we are just funny folks in silly clothes, chasing impractical dogs. Staring down the tyranny of efficiency, forever searching for both birds and empty space.
Hoping for just enough breeze, so the dogs can lead us back, somewhere closer towards grace.