But, frankly, the
hell with that. Out here in the northern Rockies the sky is big. Cowboys still
gaze coolly upon the dudes from inside their air-conditioned Wagoneers. Out
behind the old prefab the sage still turns blue in the spring. Here and there
tranquilizer-junkie grizzly bears slump in the junipers with hypodermic
projectiles buried in their fundaments. And I felt it was not unreasonable to
think of a fresh start in hunting.
As I say, I had
the dog. Molly. Born in Michigan of an old line of Arkansas hunting
machines—the kind that roar in your ears and run up and down that kennel wire
The breeder had
brought out two armloads of seven-week-old pointers, wrinkling their eyes in
the sunshine and groaning. He put them all in the grass where they began to
wander around and pounce on each other. I had done my homework in gundog books,
and had any number of Nash Buckingham-level prejudices of classical fanaticism.
My opinions were emphatically not based upon the actual slumberous yard dogs of
my own life and experience.
I knew how to
spot a bold, promising pup and how not to take guff from wily Snopesian dog
handlers. But as I surveyed the tumbling fat puppies on the lawn, I began to
notice an isolated nut case: a pup that didn't want to play, that was afraid
and that sat by herself blinking slowly—a dog with absolutely no future on the
concrete runs of a serious kennel.
Snopesian dog handler could not believe his luck when I forked over hard cash
for that one. My brother was with me, and my action inspired him to cough up
for a weirdo himself. We headed for home with the speckled babies in the front
of the car, crawling around the gearshift and crying for their mother. We were
In no time flat I
had my dog dancing to a bird's wing on a fishing rod. I also had a piece of
clothesline, an Acme Thunderer dog whistle and a blank pistol, props for an
outlandish charade that was to last many many years.
In the meantime
another friend, Jim, had also acquired a pointer, a crazed muscle-bound hyena
who once swam over the horizon in Lake Michigan while our wives wept on the
beach. We would hunt our dogs in tandem that first fall on Mister Partridge,
the Einstein of the northern forest.
I drove up to
Jim's and brought Molly into the house. Molly and Jim's dog Missy did their
best to recapture the magic of the tiger scene in Little Black Sambo where
everything turns to butter. They did leg springs off the backs of chairs so
that the chairs would still be doing figure eights in midair long after the
dogs had left the room. They would lie side by side on their backs under the
sofa and pull out all the stuffing. They would try to shatter glass with their
voices when a car pulled into the driveway, micturating all the while on a
couch, a pillow, a doily or anything precious that they could evaluate. Jim
explained that this was how it was with hunting dogs. Jim's wife had a reply
that I sincerely believe will be someday possible to print.
Zero hour. We
roll through the cedar gloom of the northern fastness. The two dogs are looking
out of the window. I have come to think of them as existentialists. Jim and I
feel instinctively that the forest is stiff with birds of the grouse
persuasion. We're bucking along in my Land Rover, whose odometer is giving
100,000 miles a long hard look.
We pull off the
road into a grove of trees and get out of the Rover. Then we run all those
numbers around the car that hunters like to get into: racking open the guns,
ammo belts and canvas coats, last hits on the coffee Thermos and light war-zone
chatter that is pointedly not about hunting.