We’ve never been huge-mile hikers. We’ve never logged more than 9 miles on a chukar hunt, and I think our average hunt is less than 5 miles. But for some reason, each season we seem to go longer. Last weekend I hunted Saturday and Sunday, and totaled about 17 miles, which is a lot for me.
Angus did about 44. Something about the sensitivity to his condition, and wondering how much he can take, made me realize that I’ve taken for granted the fact that we do this together, human and dog. It’s deliberate, intentional, the heading out, returning together, and everything in the middle. All that cooperating. Checking in. Communicating. Sometimes the obvious things are the most interesting because we take them for granted. Not a new idea, I know, but when you think about what happens between you and your dog(s) on a hunt, it’s really pretty amazing.
I’m not the kind of person who’s used to tributes being paid to him (one can only hope), but for a dog to hunt with you, you’re being honored. The irony of my just now noticing this is not lost on me since the last post I wrote focused on how Peat honors Angus. Both dogs honor me simply by putting up with me, but to spend most of the day looking for birds I can shoot so they might be able to bring them back to me is ridiculous. It’s idiotically sublime, and kind of a source of shame; it makes me think of that saying, “I’m not sure I want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.” I do a lot of dumb, thoughtless things. What did I do to deserve this honor?
The answer is: nothing. Dogs grant us themselves. It’s an act of grace, “undeserved merit.” Yeah, we might think that without us the dog would be nothing. We might think that since we spent some serious cash rescuing them from someone who’d give them a more horrible life than we do that they owe us whatever we get from them. We might think other dumb things. Humans do that a lot. We think the world was made for us, that “lower” creatures were made to serve us. Our founders thought this justified slavery. They were wrong.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for my dogs and their unfathomable and bottomless generosity. I’m thankful for their beauty and grace. I’m thankful for the fact that we go places together to do things together, and that we get out of the truck at the same time, hike in amazing country pursuing a variety of pleasurable experiences and recognizing each other in the process, and return to the rig together, continuing the bond of trust that threads my life together like the golden stitch. I’m thankful they want to be with us no matter what, that they’ll spend day after boring summer day baking in the bottom of the drift boat while I get increasingly grumpy from putting down countless trout. Like the honey badger, they don’t give a sh*t: they’ll still love my sorry ass.
It’s not like I never realized any of this. But it just hit me after two wonderfully long days with a dog living on borrowed time: this is a partnership only because he’s willing. It can’t be forced. He’s granting me himself. He’s done it, without fail, his entire life. That right there, that’s worth thinking about.