It’s Coming

It snuck up on me. I had shoved my hopes and impatience so far down that I actually hadn’t recognized it for what it was.

It rained into the mid-afternoon, poured, deluged really to that point where you crank the wipers so high you worry they will fly off out of control. The rain eventually let up, to the joys of those preparing for the party, and the sun shone through while everyone was busy fussing and primping. This wedding would have sun shine, big clouds, and a strong breeze keeping the humidity at bay and the water on the lake softly rolling. My suit, the corona in my hand, and distraction of good company belied the underlying importance of the earlier storm and the reprieve it brought from the typical August hot & humid.

Bleary eyed and obligingly I woke to her soft whine. The old shorthair, still holding on despite the departure of her hearing and a few teeth, needed an early morning bathroom break. Standing there in the orange wash of the garage flood light with a liver pendulum in my hand I felt it. My fresh buzz cut heightened the sensation as the cool air put a grip around the back of my neck and a near shiver ran down my spine despite the long sleeve T I wore. Still hazy, I half recognized it & half brushed it off.

The old girl must have sounded the alarm to her comrades, I returned to a bedroom very awake save my Wife. Stepping out for their morning routine, a bit earlier than normal for a post-wedding Sunday morning, I found myself thinking of standing at the tailgate feeling that same chill and knowing that 5 minutes of weaving in and out of high stem density will have me enveloped in warmth quickly. While it only dropped to 60 degrees, it felt like the mid-40s. Who knows what the weather holds for the next few weeks, but I’m taking comfort in knowing I weathered the sticky parts, most of them anyway, where a short run has the dog panting hard and my shirt drenched in sweat. The first cold front came through. And with it came the flood of excitements, anticipation, and the motivation to start the preparation. It’ll be here before we know it.

It’s coming.

Questions without Answers

Fresh off a divorce, many would think it inadvisable to date multiples at the same time, although there are some who would say that’s just the ticket, I’m sure.  I found myself in the latter camp. A blonde and a brunette, both lean and athletic, both viewing me with a healthy skepticism, not
unwarranted at the time. After some time, and lots of whittling, I found myself woven into their lives.

I am lucky. The Blonde gave in and married me. The Brunette we kept around, now sharing the bed with us as her time comes to an end, a sympathy perk for the Blonde’s first dog, the aloof liver shorthair in our trio of crop-tailed pointers.

Five years later we fear it’s coming to an end. A deteriorating body betraying a young spirit. Kisses are hard to come by, but she still greets me at the door, pushing her front paws up off the ground as much as her arthritic shoulders allow.Sleeping Sydney

The Blonde and I have hushed conversations, asking each other questions whose answers we don’t want. How long can this go on? When do you think we should call it good? She hates the car, should I find a vet that does house calls? How will we know?

It won’t be easy. A first for both of us, our first go around with this type of thing. Her first dog, and while I didn’t come along until she was, by many standards, an old lady, she’s my first dog too. The others family pets, my relationships with them unearned. It was quite the victory in defeat when the Brunette started choosing my side of the couch when given the choice between the Blonde and I.

I wasn’t into bird dogs then, in practice at least. I knew I wanted one eventually, but hadn’t taken the plunge.

Knowing what I do now, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble, and started my obsession with a fire breathing, run for days shorthair. If I’d been able to insert birds where tennis balls currently take up space in her brain I’d have spent the last 13 years burning all the boot leather and gasoline I could afford.

Instead, we pay the landlord for pills, renting more sand in her hourglass. She seems upbeat, but you can tell she isn’t completely comfortable when she’s awake. The limping has gone away and stairs are still manageable. The meds wear off in the early morning hours. We’re snapped awake to her fitful cries as she stumbles to get comfortable. It is unnerving. I feel helpless.

I’ve made some bad decisions in my life, terrible really, but have very little regret. I learned a great deal from those experiences and am very grateful for where they led me. But I regret my lack of time with Sydney.  My ‘What if?’ girl. The answer I want to a question I can’t ask.

Enough.

Our last day ended with my brute of a wirehair curled up in the passenger seat, wrapped in my Woolrich licking a busted nail, worn raw at the quick, while I sat in the drivers seat, watching the sunset, and trying to come to terms with a season cut shorter than I’d like. Nine more months until we can do this again?

Over the last five years I developed a purposeful restlessness who’s worst enemy is sitting still. So I’ll spend the next month or 2 tying flies, writing, and hopefully running the dog in some productive cover, fully expecting the sideways glances as she casts by, “What gives, no gun?”

Maybe that’s one of the reasons we all love this so much. The nine months spent waiting, and dreaming, and preparing.

Some would say four months is plenty, perhaps most would. But for the handful of us who spend stolen minutes in the office plotting out new spots to check out and guarding our weekends as if we’re surrounded, figuring out creative ways to say no to the second cousins baby’s birthday and the wedding of a college buddy whom you haven’t spoken to in years, the end comes too soon. The fires still burning.

It burns in the dog, too. The crusted snow may have gotten the best of her today, but if given the option of a tomorrow before the gun her answer would be abundantly clear. And so it goes. We’ll rest up, heal up, and spend time mimicking the real thing for the next nine months while we work diligently to lower the flame to a manageable level.

She’s sprawled out on the couch now and is running in her sleep, and I choose to think she’s running toward the blaze of autumn, full out, poised for her best season yet.

Patience, I remind myself. Soon enough.

 

 

Good and Cold

Note: I wrote this about a year ago. I’d been toying with the idea of this blog for a while, Every now and then opening Word and spilling out some thoughts. Given the wide 10 I saw on the drive in this morning and the impending snow, I thought it appropriate to share. 

I can feel it as soon as I step out the door with the dogs for their nightly routine, the chill wraps around my unguarded neck almost immediately. I can’t help but open my mouth and blow steam like a child fogging up the car window. It’s here. It’s good and cold. I’ll be sick of it in February when the seasons are closed, but they’re open now, and the best is upon us.

My drives are now, more than ever, focused around scanning the landscape and yards for cruising bucks, and the skies for flocks of ducks seeking open water. My upland hunts begin with the frustrating ritual of finding what gloves I can wear to warm my frigid digits, yet still get one in the trigger guard, only to shed them after 30 minutes of following the Dog. And She loves it. She isn’t panting after an hour and gives no thought to breaking ice on retrieves.

The full parking lots of October openings are behind us. The eagerness now worn off for many, vehicles sit idle and unwarmed in the driveway, owners mumbling over morning coffee about the weather.

This isn’t for fair weather fans. They don’t deserve it. Mallards are pooled up on any open water they can find. Coveys are merging for warmth. The antlered ones are thinking of their genetic survival instead of their surroundings, or if it’s cold enough they’re focused on filling up the tanks after burning them dry with lust.

The time has come. It’s here. The peak of the seasons. The hunting’s good, and cold. And we’ll be out enjoying every minute of it.

Nerves

It’s been simmering in my core for the last three weeks or so. That knot of apprehension, the growing seed of uncertainty, the lovechild of exciting possibility and dread. Every few hours, when I have a free moment from the distractions of real life and work, it boils up. Rising into my chest and shortening my breath until I re-focus on something else, telling myself that Saturday is too far away to be this bothered about it now.

——–

My start in dog training, and introduction to NAVHDA, began as the proud owner of a 10 week old puppy. The man who owned her sire called me up and said “We’re training tomorrow, I’ll pick you up at 5:30.”

I left that training experience in a sense of bewilderment… I remember thinking, “you’re telling me my dog can do ALL that? Seriously?”

And from there, the benchmark was set. They were training for the Invitational. And in my head I set a goal. I would run there one day, too.

———-

It’s silly really. It’s a Utility Test, not a life and death decision or event. She’s already run it once, and I know she can do a prize worthy version of the work. But can she show up and put forth a Prize 1 effort? Can she (we) qualify? How much do I put in or take away in that equation… So much uncertainty.

It’s too close now for the “too far away” excuse to work. Tomorrow. Bright and shiny and 90 degree high, tomorrow.

I’ve learned a lot in the three and half years since that first training experience. I grew, and so did the dog. She’s been great to me anywhere I’ve taken her, and she’ll continue to be, hopefully, for many more years to come.

I guess… At the end of the day tomorrow, does it really matter? Will she care about the new numbers next to her pedigree? High or low? Will she know we will, or won’t be going to Iowa next September?

Or will she be curled up on the front seat, enjoying the air conditioning, and dreaming about a cool breeze, golden leaves, and standing stock still, waiting for the sounds of the gun.

Rooster Dog

Her eyes grow wide, peering up at me from her half-cocked head, tense. Coiled spring. Front paws splayed out in front with hind legs quivering.

Ready to bolt.

She landed this way after attempting to jump on the bed, inadvertently landing on the queen bee of the pack, the 12 year old shorthair with personal space issues. A move that does not come without consequences.

So much for a few more minutes of faux-sleep. I’m out of bed now and here she is staring at me like a rattler on the verge.

I give her a nonchalant “let’s go”. Bad idea, the spring unloads.

Rocketing out the bedroom, legs spinning tires in a drag race struggling for traction, into the next, up and off the back of the couch, bouncing back to the floor and hurtling into the bedroom again, up on the bed, and now she’s fixed back into her tight coil. Barking at me to boot.

Good morning to you, too.

Daybreak

Lined on both sides by dark-windowed, quiescent dwellings he sips his coffee as the truck flows through the artery, extremity bound. He’s found a spot that isn’t phenomenal, but on the list of go-to’s it holds its own. The irrigation system long failed, the overgrown sod farm doesn’t look like much, and there’s a bigger tract just down the road where success is much more likely. The state increasing the odds once, sometimes twice, a week, but with those odds comes much more orange. A color he doesn’t mind, sometimes, his tolerance saved for when the guys are in town or they caravan westward.

Today the cab is quiet. The chatter from the news and the low rhythm of breathing from the kennel in the back seat barely audible over the whir of the tires. Going solo today.

Pushing the truck around the curves, his torso sways in the seat from the force. And the dog is up, she’s knows what’s coming.

Last corner now and he’s peering through the trees ahead. The headlights show no reflection, no sign of betrayal from the pull off.

He fidgets, takes another pull of coffee, and soothes the anxious dog as the sky starts to lighten. Almost girl, almost.

Close enough, he says and swings the door wide, pulls on his vest, and checks the front pocket for shells. He tops off the bottles from the jug in the bed, and unzips the case under the backseat. Light’s coming on fast as he depresses the latch on the kennel and he catches her before she can leap for freedom.

Collar on, barrels broken, rays of light starting to poke out from the east, he settles her down. This is the part he always looks forward to, the anticipation, the unadulterated start.

Hunt ‘um up.