The sagebrush is singing a golden song today as we creep towards the chukar, urging Cedar along. I am aching deep in my chest, a hollow feeling—I want so badly for him to find this bird, to lock up when he hits the scent—but the lessens while I listen to the sweet hymn that rises as we walk, each step stirring up the quiet harmonies of a world grateful for the bright mid-winter light. He is excited, looking back at all of us, a crowd for what we hope will be his first point. His little spotted body quivers in anticipation of something he doesn’t understand yet, his wee snout tests the air. We walk him out a little farther, bring him a little closer to where we think the bird is. Mt. Hood looms over us, a deep, resonating bass line to the many melodies weaving their way through the valley floor—and then, the music stops. Cedar smells it, suddenly, his head whipping to the left. He is confident, sucking down scent in ways that we cannot imagine, as he heads for the bird in the bush. The whole world goes still, waiting—until he freezes, drops his shoulder, locks his body with unerring tenacity at that chukar, and what feels like all of creation erupts back into joyful noise. My bird dog’s gonna hunt.
Later, on the drive home, my Dad will say it gave him chills, and I’ll admit that I teared up, and my Uncle will even go so far as to say that it was pretty cool. I am proud to have witnessed that moment, when my puppy—that little life that I have been responsible for nurturing—found his place amid the grand order of things. He was born knowing bird, hardwired for one smell, and it was on this golden-song day that he was celebrated for it.
We cheer as he holds his point—good boy, good boy, Cedar!—and then I creep up behind him, forcing the bird to flush. The sudden burst of energy, all those feathers in motion, surprise him and he startles, looking back at us for affirmation. That’s such a good boy, Cedar. Such a good boy. We are ebullient, the sky cheers too, we are all so happy to be here and witnessing this soul-stirring moment.
One puppy’s success does not define the rest of the bird-hunting day for the three big shorthairs waiting in the truck (we couldn’t let them steal his thunder), so we keep moving. The big dogs are rambunctious and rowdy, they know what’s out there and what’s to come. They are eagerly anticipating that smell—that most satisfying of all stinks in the world—and they are none too patient in the car. We release the hounds, Darren takes Cedar further away from the guns, and the rest of us head up the road to see what else we can find.
We are walking towards Mt. Hood now, a little chaotic as a group—I walk next to my Dad, Michael out to our right, and my Uncle to the left. The dogs are running wild, free of the truck and eager to burn some of that excess energy that built up while Cedar was discovering his reason to be. A small price to pay. We fan out over the sagebrush, get lost in the rippling shades of sun that the light breeze is turning the grass to, and watch the dogs. I am always too eager, they say—I want my gun (the Verona, you know her) on my shoulder while I’m creeping up behind the dog. Patience, then action, that’s the key. Remi is holding a stiff point, and I move slow, getting conflicting directions from my Dad and Uncle. Then the bird flushes and instincts take over, a magnificent rooster hanging—suspended for a heartbeat—against the backdrop of Mt. Hood rising up to meet the sky, Mt. Jefferson and Adams close behind, and then the drop when my aim is true.
Hank brings the bird back, beady black eye now shut, feathers no less shiny for death. The gentle weight of the bird settles into Michael’s vest, one scaly foot still lightly clawing the tan of the canvas. The dogs nose the back of the vest as if to ensure the bird is really there—that it all worked as it should—then they move on, a job still out there to do.
All day—from sun-up to sundown, it is surreally beautiful, a privilege to be where we are. Do you know that feeling, to look around and see people you love in a place you feel lucky to be in, doing a job you feel proud of, connected to a universe larger than yourself—do you know that feeling? All day—even when it’s a cluster and the dogs are chasing a pheasant through seven-foot tall reeds and no one can get a shot off, even when we hit the dirt so Michael can shoot over us, even when Remi gets heat-sick—I feel so content.
And all day I go back to that little puppy, how proud I am of him, and how excited I am for us to learn and grow up a little (maybe a lot) together. He points again and again, incorrigible when it comes to smell, he comes back with a face full of feathers from a different fallen bird, he whines whenever the big dogs get too far away. By the end of the day he’s out with us, fine with the noise of the guns. His velvet ears fly above the sagebrush—sometimes the only visible part of him—as he bounds through, still too small to even get close to seeing over it. Everything in this light is magic, the camaraderie palpable and the pride overwhelming, all of us a part of one timeless tune.
Darren and Michael a shot they shouldn’t have and go off in hot pursuit of the bird, unwilling to admit defeat. Or unwilling to endure the taunting that’s sure to follow a performance like that, which they might still deserve. All three big dogs follow them, afraid to be left out, while my Dad and I sit on a rise over the creek, watching their progress. Cedar takes one look and instead seeks the shade my back is making, one quick sniff to the wind and then he flops to the ground, asleep before he can catch himself.
Little legs fluttering, even in his dreams he is chasing birds, and I know we’re about to have a thousand more days like these—or close. The view may be different, the company might change, but there are a few things I know for sure—my dog and I will chase golden song days and the rush of bird flights, together, a team.