Snow falling like God’s own dandruff, “What to do with 43 ducks” recipe simmering on the stove, pot of coffee at my elbow, streaming bluegrass music out of Alberta (CKUA.com radio; I give it my highest recommendation), McPhee sprawled out on the dogge bed downstairs in front of the fire, and the kids finally settled down, it is (finally) a good time to reflect. Better bang something out, ‘cause the peaceful easy feeling is ephemeral: too much can change too quickly. (postscript 1: that feeling vanished when encountering the new blog).
This has been a singular season, and more than any other, I’ve been haunted (or just distracted?) by the prospects of change: everything is temporary. Fergus said it well (A Hunter’s Book of Days”), writing of the same landscape:
…it is no solace, no solace at all, to come to an understanding that nothing lives forever, not even in memory: not the coverts we hunt, nor the birds we pursue, nor the dogs we hold close and whose bodies we memorize with our hands; nor the partners who accompany us on our days afield…”
McPhee turns 11 next week. He had probably his best year since moving back from Alberta in 2001: healthy, fast (but thank goodness gracious not as fast as he used to be), and birdy as hell. I remember when he was coming off ACL surgery a couple of years ago and the poor Dirt Doc had to listen to me whine ad nauseum about how he was all washed up, etc. This year, he got to retrieve a handful of grouse, about a dozen pheasants, and a few ducks. And that Merganser. Tasty. Billy “Lawless” Siemer got to watch the poor old dogge knock me over after he changed his mind after delivering to me a downed grouse up at Black Lake. I’m not so sanguine to assume anything besides this being a crescendo year before the end comes. I hope to be pleasantly surprised, but it was still pretty tough walking out at as the light faded. There will be other dogs, but never one that takes the place of your first. (postscript 2: he had a massive seizure on Sunday night, his first in the last 9 months. Took him about 10 minutes to come out of it; thought we were gonna lose him this time).
As winter has muscled fall out of the way, there’s something else on my mind that is forcing me to look at this landscape with a fresh eye, durn it. You never love a place as much as when you might leave it or lose it. It looks pretty likely that I’ll be heading north: next fall I will be looking for new coverts (and trying to not pound the piss out of the ones my Finger Lakes Friends have shown me, heh-heh). It will be a change for the better, but certainly not without regret. This is a good thing: who wants to run away screaming from a place, a life? Pete and I will hunt again together, but probably never again as our regular Saturday morning routine: Coburn, the “Cobert Covert”, Broken Rib, and The Valley. I’ll miss that, even if I am still “0 for Pennsylvania” on grouse, and some of our most creative duck hunting involved trying to do “duck drives”, pushing the semi tame mallards away from streamside houses, front yard pools laced with bread crumbs down to where it was legal to take ‘em…what with my ethics.