The inevitable is here.
Yesterday, was my last hunt with Bob for the season. It was also Bob’s last hunt. We’d hoped he’d last until the end of the month but tomorrow he’s undergoing spinal surgery.
Our life for the past three months has revolved around his spine. Yes, our life. It’s not that it’s getting in the way of hunting things; we’ve spent many hours in the car together traveling back and forth for medical-related appointments and things, and his spine affected our ability to travel out of state to visit family over the holidays because sitting in a car or plane would be unbearable. We’ve missed going to see his students play basketball games for fear of being trapped in the bleachers when the pain would start up again. Bob even got to the point where he couldn’t go into the grocery store with me for even 5 minutes so he could pick out his own yogurt and cereal since I can never remember what kind he likes. Our time together spent moving up and down the chukar hills with the dogs looking for birds and being totally in the moment was the only time he said he forgot about his pain. When it did act up, the dogs were confused by him suddenly stopping to lay on the ground to get into a position that would lessen it.
Yesterday morning was spent doing chores he won’t be able to do after his surgery and other last minute things before heading out to hunt. Because of my lack of experience running our snowblower up and down our driveway by myself, we spent 15 minutes going over how the beast worked. I started out taking notes on a piece of paper but Bob suggested a video on my phone might be better so it would make more sense later.
I think he’s right. He knows me better than I know myself.
Opting out of hunting for the day and knowing I’ll have more chances before the season ends on January 31, I wanted Bob’s hunt yesterday to be for himself and for him to experience every point, every flush, and retrieve with both dogs. When Bob and I hunt together, Peat goes with Bob and Angus usually sticks with me. My fear every time we hunt with Angus is that we might lose him. This season because he’s almost totally deaf and going blind he’s relying more on his fine-tuned nose to find birds and because of this he’s ranging farther than he normally does.
Heading up into the hills from the place Bob decided he wanted to try hunting, he wasn’t totally alone. I decided to follow along hoping to capture the pure essence and gorgeous landscapes of everything around us. It was just like the old days before I started carrying a gun; I’d be hot on his heels for every square mile hoping to catch with the camera some of the action and beauty of the sport. Looking down from the rocky outcroppings on the delicate hoarfrost covering the fresh green-up, the fragrant sage, tall pine trees, and the luminous light on the hillsides made an idyllic last hunt. The steadfast and confident points by Angus and the slow and very intense creeps of Peat backing him was stunning to witness.
Lastly, yesterday on our long descent hunting down the ridge on the soft and muddy south-facing slopes, the dogs would lead us to frozen but protected draws. I witnessed the wonderment and fair chase of the wild busting coveys of chukar fueled by swirling cold winds now at our backs, and the curious mule deer we awakened from his nap in the tall grasses tucked next to the sage. All birds quickly disappeared over the next ridge, followed by the dogs who continued to work hard like they always do to find the same or another covey.
Our relationship has been a challenge the past three months. We both vowed in sickness and in health or something like that a long time ago. I know first-hand and intimately the fear patients face the second they set foot into a hospital. I worked in a major medical center as a patient care provider for 36 years, and the roles are reversed now: it’s not easy having a loved one on the receiving end and to witness his anxiety and fears of not knowing what might happen next, and the anticipation of general anesthesia, and knowing you are depending on someone or something else to breathe for you. Finally when the surgery is done, the long-term recovery, the medical bills in the mail that will soon follow, the reality that all of us are getting older and are slowing and falling apart: sometimes it’s hard to deal with or fathom.
We are some of the lucky ones to have health insurance, sick leave accrued, and money that we stashed away for a rainy day microdiscectomy. The weather forecast for tomorrow and the rest of the week calls for a chance of snow and then rain.
We’ll be okay.