The current issue of Gray’s Sporting Journal (Bird Hunting Edition, August 2015, available at Barnes & Noble) features a piece I wrote about Angus a couple years ago. The best thing about the piece is Rachel Teannalach‘s painting, which I wrote about in an earlier post. Still, the piece is heartfelt and makes a nice tribute to one of the most compelling souls I’ve had the pleasure of being with in this short life.
“This, too, shall pass.”
God, I certainly hope so.
This will probably be our last puppy. Peat’s not all bad. He’s a puppy, doing puppy things. He’s got limitless energy and limitless appetite for biting everything and everyone. He can shriek for 20 minutes straight at any time of day. He has pushed Angus to the brink of speaking English to express his frustration; the look in Angus’ eyes after Peat mauls him for a solid half-hour is unmistakably desperate.
He’s 13 weeks old today, and continues to piss on the floor whenever he fancies. Peat does show moments of calm affection, and has actually begun sleeping on the bed with us through the night. And he is a pleasure to look at regardless of his behavior. But the puppy and his puppiness is wearing us out and has propelled our stress levels through the roof.
All this probably bodes well. At least I have to tell myself that. He’s interested in birds, and points the wing, as well as fetches anything I throw, leaning into me upon arrival. He’s quick, fast, and seems to have a super sensitive nose. I think he’ll be ready to look for birds in September.
Wanting a puppy to grow up just seems wrong. It’s the cutest time of their lives. When they’re sweet there’s nothing like it. After he’s calmed down enough to go to bed with us, he nestles in my armpit and lets me stroke the downy fur on his head.
When the season consumes you, you don’t worry about much else. When it’s over, you worry about everything else. Filling up that worry with good things to carry it away like water helps. Yesterday was one of those good days between seasons. We collected a painting we commissioned and hung it up. It is working already.
We’d admired Rachel Teannalach‘s work for quite a while. Her eye for light and spirit in landscapes resonated with us. We lucked into taking her for a hike into one of our favorite spots, and she got to work, after we subjected her to what seemed like thousands of “favorite” photos of Angus in Hell’s Canyon.
Not being a painter, I’d never studied her work closely, but having this on our wall now gives me the chance to see, maybe, what good painters see and translate through and onto their media and make into spirit and feeling.
Only connect. Yesterday my teacher Bruce Gandy won a major bagpipe competition. A year or so ago, after watching a video I’d made about connecting things (one of which was chukar hunting with Angus), he thought he’d found the subject title to one of his piobaireachd compositions. “Salute to Angus of the Chukar Hills” was title he settled on. Having two works of art in sight and sound is good. What’s best for me is the connection between people and animals and landscapes and sounds that make me feel connected.
Yesterday, we picked a puppy brother for Angus. Peat’ll be ready to come home in a few weeks (more on that later). We also went to a track meet and watched some of my students run well. Bruce won a major competition. We got a gorgeous painting. Ripples in water, crossing each other, making me smile inside, washing away worry.
Rarely during chukar season do we get a chance to look closely at these birds (alive or otherwise). Glorying in the welcoming early spring “heat wave” here, we hiked up a ridge we’d hankered after for a while and came across a few birds. This shot was total luck, but I’ll take it.
We took a hike a couple weeks ago before the rain. The chukar hills were bone dry, like mid-October. The only green things we saw were a few buttercups and some tiny wild currant leaves fooled by the warm, sunny weather. I tried imagining what a bird feels when it can’t get enough to eat.
Then rain came. Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, and everything turned green overnight. I imagined chukar sighing with relief and filling their crops with succulent blades of cheatgrass.
It feels good to care about this land for other creatures’ sakes. I suppose it lessens the selfishness I feel in the fall removing some of those creatures from their land. But really I just want there to be lots of birds to shoot. They need food. Food needs rain. What does rain need?
After hiking more miles and vertical feet than ever, the season ended too soon for us. January in this part of Idaho brought us less than ideal hunting conditions. We didn’t get out as much as we wanted to. We suffered through seemingly incessant weeks of thick fog, freezing temps, and post-holing crusty snow. It would warm up and thaw out for a day or so only to bring mud so deep that driving through it would only result in making the local paper about the lost hunters who never came back home again. The cold and flu season also ended up taking its toll. About the only productive thing besides a cough was more time to get our new home brewing system set-up.
Looking back, we had four months of great hunting. Angus hunted superbly, verifying repeatedly that he’s in his prime. We saw many miles of new terrain, and spent good times with friends and family. Here are some of our favorite hunting and some non-hunting memories of the 2014-2015 season. Enjoy.
“And she never slit a fish without thinking she hated the need to use it that way. Hating the need almost made it seem all right. Besides, it was a kind of a little murder, gutting a fish, so when she did it she thought back over her life, and there was something to that. The knife was a potent thing.” — Marilynne Robinson, Lila
Reading the end of Robinson’s latest novel tonight, I got this little gem of an explanation of the paradox with which hunting occupies me. Sorry to beat a dead horse, but that’s how it is. You feel something, think about it, try to get past or through or around it, outrun it, pretend you’ve forgotten about it, and then on a glistening, sparkly day with no wind at all you’ve done it again: gotten blindsided by the little murder you committed.
It’s not like you didn’t mean to do the things leading up to it. It’s not like it wasn’t premeditated. It’s not like you were actually surprised, because you’ve done it, on purpose, for years. It’s not like you accidentally put all your crap in the pickup, loaded the dog, remembered to bring extra shells and a snack, and found yourself, oh my gosh, on some terrible road in some of the bleakest, most beautiful country far from much else. No. You meant to do it. Sometimes you’ll do it and forget to notice and then days or even weeks later you’ll catch yourself getting caught by it, the realization of what you fully realized and intended, “needed” to do at the time you did it.
Part of it’s the dog’s need. But not really. That’s kind of a lie you tell yourself so that it’s maybe not so bad a thing to contemplate. When Angus returns with a living bird whose eyes contact mine as I take the hand-off I know what I need to do, don’t like it, and do it anyway because it needs to be done. “Hating the need almost made it seem all right.” Then, I remember the one bent dried up cheatgrass stalk whose head is buried in snow making an upside down “V” and casting a shadow that the heel of my left boot landed exactly in the center of on my hurried way toward pointing Angus.
Suffocation’s my knife for these birds, so there you go. Taking a life, even if it’s just a wee bird’s, gets me thinking back on stuff, and I’m never sure what that’ll be. There’s “something to that.” I’m always almost all right with it.