Thursday, January 04, 2007

hunting dogs

Dad loved bird dogs- in particular, Brittany Spaniels. We had a couple over the years, and they were all our favorite dog.
Pebbles was the one I remember with the most fondness, because she was the only dog dad ever tried to hunt with. We’d take her, on a long leash, to cornfields adjacent to our neighborhood, and let her run quail and pheasant. We took shotguns with us, most of all to get her used to the report of the gun, but also to get her used to seeing the birds fall, and getting them.
We were pumped about taking her hunting for real. Only one real test remained.
Dad and I went out a couple days into grouse season, walked the edge of a cornfield with Pebbles. He unclipped her lead, and she ran off into the field in search of birds. She circled and circled and circled, and we thought, crap, we’ve trained her not to enter the field by having her on a leash- but she started going in deeper and deeper each time. Finally we stopped hearing her and we walked along the end of the rows to see if we could find her. About thirty rows in, we saw her, standing at instinctive perfect point. We walked up to her as quietly as we could, and when she heard us, she looked over her shoulder and dad signalled her to go in- she flushed a covey of quail that I swear to god, blotted out the afternoon sun for fifteen seconds. Dad shot into the tail of the flock and got our limit for the day for both of us, and we walked home.
The next day, we went back out and did the same thing, but this time Pebbles was circling a couple trees and running along a fencerow. We tried to follow but we never could catch up, and it got dark before we could get her, hollering and whistling.
We walked back to the house in quiet. Dad said “maybe she’s got on a point and is still waiting”. Nothing else. I kept quiet, sensing his fears. We always loved our dogs. Pebbles was closest to dad of all the dogs we’d ever had.
Late that night, sitting in the basement picking cockleburrs out of our game clothes, we heard a whine in the driveway. Dad walked outside and pebbles flew into his arms. he carried her to the basement and we cleaned burs from her fur, combed her down, pulled haw thorns from her footpads. Dad kept scratching her ears and she kept licking his face. I finally gave in to my weariness and went upstairs to bed, and in the morning, I found dad stretched out in an old recliner we had in the basement, with Pebbles curled up on his lap. Mom had covered them up with an old horseblanket.
We never hunted with pebbles again. I don’t think dad could stand the idea that he might lose her.
When dad died, pebbles was still young, and when he didn’t come home from work to give her her treat, she sat on the stack of railroad ties in the yard with her chin on the top edge of the chain link fence for three days, waiting for her master who would never return. Dad’s headstone bears their likeness, a man and a dog hunting in a field of tall corn, windmill in the distance.
Damn, now I have to stop again.