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 It’s out of date maps and middle of nowhere flats, busted ball joints, bent rims and blown fan belts.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.
Click. The truck door closes and cold, crisp sage hits the nose…
The truck door closes and cold, crisp sage hits the nose.
The shotgun slides out of its case, warm and familiar.
The tailgate drops and an explosion of black and white and various shades of brown erupts, bursting with yelps of excitement and unbridled instinct. For a moment, it all borders on chaos until direction is given. You watch all that energy channeled into a force that shoots across the landscape, bending vegetation in its path like the winds that continually pummel this place.
Boots break thin surface ice is as you leave the road and start heading up the hill. You look up to see the top of the mountain shrouded in falling snow. You aim for it, even as it descends to meet you halfway.
This moment, full of anticipation and possibility, defines it all. Does it really matter what else the day brings? Have you ever felt more in-the-moment alive than now?
I wanted poetry. But that’s not the way it happened.
I wanted one last spin through stem and stubble, one last sudden pivot on wobbly legs. One last point.
One last rooster.
A burst of feather and wing to slate sky. A swing of double gun, a pull and a puff and the old boy on it, smelling it, mouthing it. His last rooster.
But that’s not the way it happened.
His ass-end gave out two hundred yards from the truck before we were in the really good stuff. We had to turn back, the old man pulling himself on his front legs, fickle back legs making drag marks in the snow. I offered to carry him, but he had none of it.
One last point, one last rooster. One last shot. I wanted that for him. I wanted that for me. But that’s not the way it happened and it occurs to me that poetry is a precious thing, a whisper on the wind, a blink.
A friend’s beautiful wife dies of leukemia before she turns thirty. There is no seventy-five years of shared life, no watching children and grandchildren grow and laugh. No poetry.
Another friend whose law enforcement career had spanned two decades spangled with accolades and decorations spent his last day investigating the disappearance of a woman while standing within feet of where her corpse lay hidden beneath a pile of trash. Days after the laughter had faded from his retirement party, his former colleagues discovered her body and arrested the boyfriend. No last day heroics, no “one last bust,” no poetry.
An Olympic miler steps off a city sidewalk and shatters her tibia. No poetry.
And so. An old bird dog on his last hunt ends up pulling himself home by his front legs. Two months shy of his thirteenth birthday and there will be no final pheasant. There was, but it was placed in the game bag months before without thought that there would never be another. Forgotten. Not even realized.
He sleeps now on his bed downstairs and I know that someday soon, he won’t be able to get up and walk from it, that he will have to drag himself and then I will know it is time. And I think about moments that have passed for him and I on our journey together.
And I think about the look of him then, all tri-colored and feathered, pivoting out in brambles, pointing and casting and moving in rhythmic upland music and I realize that in fact this is why I love bird hunting. For in that motion of dog into wind, in that movement of fur and nostril, it is there: Poetry. When all else in life lacks, upland behind a setter provides.
Sometimes life is just life. Sometimes it sings and the melody is bird dog.
A Bird Hunter’s Table is about cooking, eating, and sharing friendship. It is also about gundogs, gamebirds, and getting outside to enjoy the land. Featuring contributions by MOF’s Tom Reed and Greg McReynolds, among other notables…
A new, “highly recommended” addition to the upland hunter’s bookshelf has just been released – A Bird Hunter’s Table by Sarah Davies.
A Bird Hunter’s Table is about cooking, eating, and sharing friendship. It is also about gundogs, gamebirds, and getting outside to enjoy the land. Featuring contributions by MOF’s Tom Reed and Greg McReynolds, among other notables.
A Bird Hunter’s Table includes over 130 recipes, stories from the field, and a smattering of natural history. To learn more, see a sample of the book, or to purchase, visit www.birdhunterstable.com or contact the author at email@example.com. Trust us – this one is worthy, friends.