Lessons

There is much to mourn in this world, and in the even smaller world of those of us who chase wild birds with dogs:

– We mourn the loss of access.
_ The loss of our dogs, none of whom ever live long enough.
– The loss of so many Sage grouse, and the resulting loss of ample seasons.
– The loss of our own youth, our past injuries and aging bodies increasingly undeniable as we climb those first chukar hills of the season.

The list of course goes on, because we rarely ever find anything as good as it “used to be,” or at least as good as we selectively remember it. It can be tempting to think it’s all in a state of continual decline. We don’t shy away from such mourning on this blog, because sometimes those are some of the most intense emotions we feel in this pursuit, and our goal was always to peel away so much of the varnished excess that can epitomize portrayals of this sport, and expose some raw nerves now and then.

However mourning, while necessary, only gets us so far and the saying that “life is for the living” is an undeniable maxim. Sure, I do this because I love spending time walking in country that wild game birds live in, be it the desolate butresses of the chukar, the alpine living rooms of the various species of forest grouse, the sprawling open vistas of sharptail country. Yes, I do this because I love watching my dog vacuum up country with senses I can only dream of, and that I see best demonstrated when the two of us are working in tandem far from other distractions. Of course I love the satisfaction of a delicious meal I’ve obtained myself.

But really, all of those are just garnishes on the ‘meat’ of the thing. The truth is I do all of the above for one deceptively simple reason – to feel alive.

Q:Scrub

I believe it was Aristotle, or some other robe and sandals-clad aspirant to our modern Dude, who once said “the unexamined life wasn’t worth living.” Like so many other absolutist statements, this is really only a partial truth, best implemented in moderation. True, no examination at all is probably not a good thing, but neither is too much, lest it devolve into navel-gazing self-indulgence. It must be tempered by doing, or else all the self-examination in the world is worthless. Life doesn’t belong to the philosopher in a comfortable chair, it belongs to those of us who need to get dirty, exhausted, occasionally lost and sometimes even a little bloody. There is no frame of reference without visceral, firsthand experience.

I don’t want to sit around examining my life any more than I want to continue mourning losses I can’t control. Too many of us sadly don’t seem to live enough, to grasp this rare opportunity by the short hairs and wring what we can from it. But unlike just about anything else I can think of, there is no drawback  to over-living – walking away from the matching, over-stuffed luggage of past and future concerns, and utterly inebriating ourselves in the sensory stew of the present.

This more than anything, I’m convinced, is what our dogs have been patiently trying teach us all along.

Let’s Go

First frost in the valley, patches of golden aspen beginning to pop on the hillsides, the occasional mountain maple, as if overnight, lit up like those neon Rolling Stones lips, blowing seductive, semi-obscene kisses your way through the living room window.

This is no tme for staring at a laptop.

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A couple handfuls of purple shells.

A stout, trusty pump gun with an action scarcely changed in a century (thank you, John Moses Browning). A straight stock and a forend of scratched, pedestrian-grade walnut.

The old, simple canvas vest seems right for this, not the fancy, feature-laden modular one. As if it’s a choice.

Briefly wonder what choke is in the gun, but then figure that it really isn’t that important – whatever choke you left in it at the end of last season is probably just fine. There’s a danger in over-thinking this.

Jeans and Red Wings and a wool shirt.

A shorthair beside himself at the emergence of a long gun case from the closet.

Let’s go.

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Making the time

Willing grouse for the taking.

I’ve been kicking my own butt these past few days.
Seems as if I know exactly where a few blue grouse are and they are only about 15 minutes from my house, and somehow, I haven’t found the time to go up there with a shotgun.
This past weekend, I found the grouse while horseback helping a neighbor rancher round up some recalcitrant cows and calves that were refusing to leave the high country. Stumbled right into a couple of young grouse in the Doug fir, and just at the time that I was thinking: This looks like good grouse habitat.
Spent the whole day looking at guacamole-assed cows. The next day, I started to get nervous about the coming snowfall and gathered more firewood out of the hills. The next day–and yes, it was a three-day-weekend for me–I spent another whole day at the neighboring ranch helping sort cows for preg-testing.
Then work. Here I am. At work. It’s sunny outside. Damn my hide. Sometimes, I guess, life has difficult choices.
–TR