If one speaks it should only be to say, as well as one can, how wonderfully all this fits together, to indicate what a long, fierce peace can derive from this knowledge. — Barry Lopez, “Children in the Woods”

And then a Plank in Reason, broke… — Emily Dickinson, from “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”

Not recognizing but trying to recognize the wrinkles on my hands tells me something I don’t want to know but know too well: my childhood is long over. The new year began with radically different challenges for me than the last, and an ennui I can’t recognize and don’t want to. So what? Does it all fit together, wonderfully or not? Does seeing an integration in one’s life create peace, fierce or otherwise?

I grew up with some great influences I wouldn’t trade for anything. Parents who I think unwittingly complied with Lopez’s notions about how to speak to children in the woods; teachers who provided similar tools; shelves full of LPs that hammered me with another plane of existence entirely, infecting me with instruments of utopia and war and peace: these things and more fit together because I’ve allowed them to, and the fact that I see that they do is wonderful in itself. But where’s the peace?

Bird hunting, because it requires (the way I want to do it) integrating a dog whose very being makes me understand better than anything else Emily Dickinson’s obsession with death (others’ and hers), has also made me really pissed at time and gravity. How much longer will I have the muscles to walk uphill? There was an old guy in my old neighborhood in Boise who used to be a chukar hunting fool. He walked like a fool, every day, rain or shine, a walking stick in each hand and a fetching houndstooth Tam O’Shanter on his head. Often I wanted to yell at him, “You’re nuts!” He wasn’t strong enough to hunt chukar anymore. I wonder what he thought he was training for, or if he was just trying to cheat death. I still don’t get it.

I think my season is over, but I might get out another couple times before the end of the month. My log shows I climbed more and hiked farther than ever this season, and I wonder how that’s possible, but — surely — am grateful to have been able to have done that. But lots of things were different this year, and it sure felt more segregated than integrated. For whatever reason the parts didn’t jell: Peat had the big seam to cross and figure out how to hunt without Angus; I didn’t recognize what we were doing without the old warrior, especially at first; Leslie had to learn how to hunt without the best partner, and we fought over that; Medusahead seemed to have cropped up overnight in places it didn’t exist last season; bird numbers were way down; shooting steel seemed like a good idea until I literally hit nothing for weeks; we ran into more chukar hunters in one week than in the last decade combined; I was no longer a teacher and had become a ______________.

I already wrote about the 2020-ness of 2020, so I guess this is just more of the same. Sorry. The new year, and the promise of a new administration and vaccinations and improving health and economies and weather and the plunge of Twitter from ever-present consciousness loom as a great array of “I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it” things. Maybe all this froughtness is just my response to seeing that I’m in the group that won’t get a vaccine until June. That’s probably it. But it still feels like a disintegration still happening in slow motion. Chukar hunting, this season, has not been the antidote it was once. There’s been little there there.

It seems, though, that in a way there is in fact integration going on here, although its wonderfulness is open to debate. It all is what it all is. Do we even have a choice to refuse fitting things together? I think it was John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” He would know, right? I look out the window, and notice that seventeen straight days of f-ing frigid fog is lifting just before Beer:30 and I can see my old friend the mountain. I have a headache and am worried for the thousandth time I have Covid. Leslie’s sitting near me reading a book of words about words and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. 73 quail are eating us, to our delight, out of house and home. The fire’s about to go out but there’s more wood on the porch. Dinner is coming (“Garden burgers AGAIN?!”). Peat sits on the other side of the dog door in the garage waiting insanely for his half cup of kibble. Twenty-six miles northwest chukar are eating as much of the fresh blades of winter grass as they can, if their crops on the last batch we butchered are any indication.

Sense might be breaking through. Peace.

11 Replies to “Reason”

  1. Bob.

    “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” is what young Dylan Thomas had to say. It is not what his father said. If we had heard from him, what would he say?

    Hunt a few more days before 1/31.

    1. Thanks, Patrick. I love Thomas and often think of that line. We got out today, as a matter of fact. An interesting hunt: had to compete with (and lost to) a peregrine, which snatched the chukar Peat was pointing right before his eyes. Awesome sight.

  2. Don’t be afraid of Covid! My wife and I both have been through it and the odds are it won’t be much of an ordeal! It wasn’t for us. Just keep going until— you can’t! Always been my philosophy!

  3. Bob, I just wanted you to know how much your writing resonates with me. I’ve been a silent follower of you and Leslie for years now. I’m a devoted woman chukar hunter just north of you a couple of hours and have had Brittanys my entire adult life. I also recently retired and have had all of the same thoughts you’ve articulated above. I was saddened beyond words when I learned of the loss of your Angus. I currently have 4 Brittanys, one of which is 14.5 years old and another 11. This season may be the last serious one for my 11-year old, and I don’t know how I’ll go on without him. I do have his 1 year old son, who hunted his first season this year and did very well. But he’s not his father, and no dog will ever take his father’s place.

    My 14-year old is one of the best to ever grace the hills behind my house, and she also made a name for herself in the world of field trials and changed my life forever. Watching this vibrant dog age has been most difficult, but I will be forever thankful I’ve had her in my life as long as I have. Many are not so lucky.

    The best we can do is appreciate every minute we have with them and know that their loss is the price we pay for the privilege of having them in our lives. It’s one I have never regretted paying. I always wonder at how our lives are enriched by these amazing creatures. There are big slices of Godliness in every single dog that touches our hearts, and they can give a person hope for the world when it seems there is none.

    Along those lines, as we move into 2021, I am very optimistic as the weeks and months progress, things will improve. For us both, who are in the “low risk” category, I hope we are able to get the vaccine in the next few months, or perhaps even sooner, so this fear we share will be over. For you, I hope a new puppy will soon join you and become part of your family. No puppy can ever replace a beloved predecessor in the heart of its new human, but that’s actually a good thing. What they’ll do is carve out their own spot, and that’s the wonderful part of sharing our lives with them.

    Cheers to you!!

    1. I loved reading your comment, Katherine. Thank you for finally writing to us! Everything you say is true, and I so appreciate your good wishes. With any luck, we’ll be sharing photos and complaining about a puppy in April or May. Cheers right back!

  4. Turning 70 tomorrow and missed chukar hunting because of an ablation for AFib that started last spring.Also one of my dogs is too old to hunt this year.
    Your post really struck a cord but I have a vaccination scheduled, ok’d today to hunt chukars and a new president!
    Things are looking rosier even though the clock is not slowing down!

    1. Thanks for your comment, and congratulations on getting the go-ahead to go hunting! And a vaccine! And yes, a rosier outlook, too. The sky is almost blue! Have a blast out there!

  5. Bob I hope I know when its time to quit chasing the devil. You may think I am the old man in Boise. Halfway to 80 and still hunting the Nevada hills, not caring about limits but loving too watch my young Brit work the high lonesome. Not so high anymore but just as fulfilling despite bad knees and back problems. While most of my friends do not hunt anymore or have passed I cannot help but think of Jim Valvanos motto “dont ever give up” dont ever give up. Besides which Brittany lover can ever say no to his or her companion hoping to go out hiking or hunting every day. The video tribute to Angus is great. Hard to watch but lifts my spirits every time I see it. Tell Leslie her chukar errings were a big hit.

  6. The sturm und drang of the last year was draining; it feels like the morning after a massive storm. In any case, I have a suggestion that may remove a figurative cheatgrass thorn from your sock: try bismuth shot. I switched to get lead out of the environment, out of the gamebirds, and out of my diet, and was very satisfied with its performance. A colleague of mine did the same, and felt likewise. We both bought cases of 12 & 20 gauge shells from Boss at a reasonable price, and I am sure there are other purveyors. Here’s to a better year…

  7. Thanks for your comment, Michael. I bought a couple boxes of Kent bismuth last year, and had to take two showers after admitting to myself how much I’d spent on them. I compared their patterns to my “equivalent” steel handloads and liked mine better, which felt good since they cost about 1/3 per shell compared to the bismuth. After switching back to copper-plated lead for the last 3 weeks of the season, I felt I was killing more birds, but there couldn’t be a less scientific experiment, so who knows. My shooting percentage was a couple points lower this year than last, but ultimately I attribute that to being a lazy sonofabitch when it came to practicing, for which there’s no excuse. Being unemployed and not having any idea where we’ll be next season, I’m not sure if I have a future hunting birds, so it’s all going on the back burner at this point. I wonder, though, when reloading supplies will become available again, if ever… Strange times indeed.

  8. Bob, I’m also an older hunter but am working hard to stay on the chukar slopes. I have an 11 month old setter who pointed many birds this year and I expect to keep her occupied for a decade more.

    Bismuth is fine, but I think chukar deserve the very best, so I shoot them with 32 grams of tungsten, 18 grams per cc, #8.5. I killed a going-away bird stone dead this year and paced the shot at 50+ years (across a contour, not major elevation drop). I must use non-toxic in California and think it is worth the cost in other states as well.

Chirp away

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