I left the tree stand at 10 a.m. We weren’t seeing any deer; breakfast sounded like a better idea. I walked across the field and up the hill to the west. It was cold. At the top of the hill I stopped and looked to the skyline. The land was cold and barren; the horizon was hazy as if a holding a mystery to be unraveled. I was looking at the landscape but I was also looking at the change in the season. Autumn gone; winter ahead.
I stood for a moment then walked down the far side of the hill and into an area that 10 years ago was open field but now is growing over. I was looking for wild asparagus. I’d found two of them on this hunt. An irony, I knew, that in the waning days of the year in November’s chill I was looking for asparagus and in that, planning for spring.
“They met my eyes, Riika and Thor, bright eyes still full of the joy of hunting.”
A grouse flushed; then another; more. Eight in all. I thought, “Well that’s interesting. More grouse than deer.”
Then I went the shack and cooked bacon and eggs.
A week later deer season was a memory. So were the grouse. But the grouse, that memory had possibilities. I loaded the two dogs in the truck and we went hunting, my old dogs and me. We were hunting for our own memories, of past hunts and past seasons and in the full knowledge that we may not pass that way again. Two old dogs; they can’t hunt forever. Nor can I. For to confront the reality and the mortality of aging dogs one, at a certain age, does the same for oneself. No dog can hunt forever; nor can any hunter.
On this day the dogs hunted well, watching me often, responding to hand signals which is all we have now; they are both deaf and the whistle does no good. But they hunted with heart and enthusiasm. What else can one ask?
We did not see grouse where they’d been. I circled closer to a swamp.
I never got the gun up on the first grouse; the stock caught on my coat as I tried to raise it to shoot. I straightened the folds of the coat. The dogs watched me. I took two steps and another bird flushed and I killed it as it flew left to right in front of me. The bird landed on the swamp ice and skidded thirty feet across until its momentum slowed and then stopped forever.
The dogs were on it, slipping on the ice, old dogs but still keen to hunt. I took the bird from Thor. They met my eyes, Riika and Thor, bright eyes still full of the joy of hunting.
I pocketed the bird on this day of early winter, on this day of old dogs and an old hunter and with memories of past hunts and memories made on this day both.