SI Vault
Thomas McGuane
December 04, 1972
Oh, the grandeur of a day afield: sun sparkling, snow whirling in the passes above, but the air still warm with butterflies fluttering, and the dog running and running—and running
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December 04, 1972

Gundog Molly, Folly And Me

Oh, the grandeur of a day afield: sun sparkling, snow whirling in the passes above, but the air still warm with butterflies fluttering, and the dog running and running—and running

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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 like orangutans.

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.

The wily 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 moved.

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.

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