Some things are rituals. It was never discussed on Saturday but over the course of the last four months it was customary or tradition that we’d bird hunt on every Sunday.
Last Sunday morning while sitting in front of the wood stove drinking coffee and looking out the living room window toward the mountains, Bob said, “Let’s go for a hike after I get done grading papers. Just because the season is over doesn’t mean we can’t go for a hike. Besides, we all need some exercise.” I agreed wholeheartedly.
I grabbed my upland bird pack from the garage and transferred things from it to my day hiking backpack. It was always a practice during hunting season that I’d have a mental check list of things to add to my pack so not to forget something important. It was routine to fill my hydration pack with water, look to make sure my gloves were still in there, to add some dog treats and snacks. Of course this time I didn’t need to worry about packing enough shotgun shells or to remember to put my shotgun in the back of the pickup. One ritual we didn’t break this time was to bring GPS collars for the dogs. Bob accidentally forgot the collars once so as we would drive away from our house, I would always ask him if we have the dog collars. We don’t really need GPS collars if we’re not hunting but Angus is deaf and senile sometimes and it’s comforting knowing we could track him if he wanders off, which he did a couple of times this season.
We drove through town and past a couple of churches with parking lots packed full of big pickups and cars. We’d always joke on our way down to the canyon on a late Sunday morning that we were going to the 24-Hour Church of HELLS Canyon.
It was a beautiful February afternoon. We started up a steep ridge, and the ascent felt easy. We continued our climb for another hour through the sage and bitterbrush, and the dogs went on point down below me near Bob. The sound of a covey busting filled the air. Out of habit, I was expecting to hear the sound of Bob shooting, but it was strangely quiet and I wondered if the dogs were confused why we didn’t shoot. Did they know we weren’t carrying a gun and it’s the off season? Traversing up the ridge we found a few more coveys of Huns but no chukar. We’d hunted here once before earlier in the season but the dogs had found only chukar and no Huns. Weird.
We hadn’t spent a lot of time in the canyon this season, but spiritually I feel like the hills are sacred. The hills are my church. We eventually turned around and headed back down, and I stopped to admire the view of the distant snow-covered mountains and to watch Peat and Angus running through the golden bunchgrass and I knew at that exact moment that this spot I was standing on was where I want to scatter some of Angus’s ashes.