A Beginning and an End
©2008 by Pat Wray
Two girls, one eight years old and just beginning her life. She is flushed with the excitement of her first chukar hunt. The other, a doddering old lady at 12, shivering with cold and with anticipation of her very last hunt.
It seems right, almost poetic, for their two hunts to coincide. Madison Shaw, my oldest grandchild, has been looking forward to this hunt for several months; she’s almost as excited as I am. Misty, my 12-year-old pointer, has taken part in hundreds of hunts, run thousands of miles in pursuit of birds. She is as excited right now as she was the very first time she smelled a chukar. The only problem is she’s a lot less capable.
Last night, as I tucked Madison’s brothers into bed, she asked me to come into her room so we could talk some more about the upcoming hunt. Madison is a planner; she wanted to know the details up front.
“How will we find the birds?”
“I know some places where birds hang out. Once we get close Misty will point and hold the birds. We’ll walk up until they fly and then, with a little luck, I will shoot one or two. Misty will bring them back to us.”
“What if she can’t find them?”
“Then you can go help her. Your mother was retrieving doves for me when she was five years old. You will be even better.”
“Is Misty still strong enough to hunt with us?”
“Of course,” I scoffed, though I was secretly worried.
Twelve seasons is a lot for a hunting dog, especially a big running English pointer, but if any dog can handle it, Misty can. She doesn’t cover much extra ground any more, but that’s OK…I’ll be hunting with an eight-year-old girl. They’ll be a good fit.
We depart Madison’s home in Kuna, Idaho and head west. We’re going to hunt the Oregon side of Brownlee Reservoir on the Snake River. Although the ground is bare and frozen in the Boise Valley, once we cross into Oregon it’s a different story. The hillside where I want to hunt is blanketed with 12 inches of snow and from the rimrocks above chukars call. Madison is drawn by the calls; she plows through the snow with little difficulty. It’s a different story for Misty. She can no longer clear the snow with her bounding leaps. After a few hundred yards she is plodding in my tracks and by the time we are halfway up the hill she is spent. She leans shivering against my leg whenever I stop. I have misread her capabilities badly. After all these years I’ve come to believe Misty could do anything, rise to any occasion, that she would finally die in a heap on her last beautiful point. But the end is rarely as noble or as beautiful in real life as it is in our dreams.
We walk back down to the rig, where I lift Misty into her box. She whimpers with pain.
Madison and I head back up the hill with Sadie, a fresh and much younger dog. We go a different direction, hoping the chukars will still be there when we arrive. The hill is steep, the snow deep. It takes us 40 minutes to reach the rimrocks, where Sadie immediately gets excited, or birdy. She goes on point three times, but she is pointing residual scents; the birds are gone. We track them in the snow and find two delicate impressions of wings where birds launched into flight. Other tracks continue and we slog after them. On the back side of the hill we see three wild horses standing near seven mule deer. A merlin streaks by. Then fog descends and snow begins and we are suddenly in severe whiteout conditions. Everything disappears.
We wait around a while, playing in the snow and hoping the sky will clear, but Madison’s feet are getting cold, so we head back down the hill. We are laughing and rolling snowballs down the mountainside. Visibility is 20 yards. At one point I hear laughter and look back to see Madison sliding headfirst down the hill. Rimrocks unseen are dangerous nonetheless, and I speak sharply to her about the need to be more careful.
Finally, we get to the vehicle, having taken longer to come downhill than we did to go up. As we change out of our wet clothes, we hear chukars calling again from the rimrocks we just left. They have returned to gloat.
Madison’s eyes glint. “We’ll get them next time,” she says, and I think to myself that although endings are rarely beautiful, beginnings often are.