Each time they pass over, there is a soft rush of air--the noise of a thousand small displacements of sky beneath wings. Barely, they whistle. It is not so light yet that Orion's belt has melted into the dark, I see it--hard line of rocks above us, glittering in the pale blue of morning, revealed by a small patch in drifty gray clouds. Hello, hello. The field is not gray, like the world is at the start of so many days, but deep blues and greens, a renaissance dream.
Fall is in the air, now, deep into September as we are--but winter is not yet on its way, so the coolness of the morning is a promise of colder days to come, rather than the full brunt of the cold season. I am not nervous. Cedar is anxious, soft whining and jingling tags at our feet--he's feeding off the energy of the other dogs, waiting in line off to our right. We are all waiting for first light, or what the ODFW guidelines tell us is first light for this week, a whole ten minutes later than last week! my Dad notes with impatience. My Uncle looks it up while we're still in the trucks, dark night still thick around us then, my hands tucked into my armpits while we're so still and the window's open next to me.
Hank is inconsolable down the line, while we're waiting. He's a very vocal dog, a yipper and a talker, voicing his discontent at not being able to run full tilt across these fields as soon as he sees them. I can't blame him. If I knew I was about to go be set loose to do the thing I was built to, I would be raring to go too. But then again, maybe I am--we feed off their energy, and that of the environment, which, of course, brings me back to the birds.
Several Vs cut the sky, long strings of dark pearls up there, whinging their way through the morning, creating a soft silence with their presence--it's not quite a noise, but not really, but enough movement to register very faintly in the eardrums, just enough to look up, and just enough to make the silence comfortable instead of the maddening quiet that comes with the real absence of noise. Silence is so rarely silence, did you know? At first it is just them, those small birds, black against a blue that is so blue it might be black, and then the sand pipers come--my Dad says to us, later, that the sounds they make are like pteradachtyls overhead, a prehistoric squawking that belies the smallnes sof the bird, the spindliness of their legs.
then the geese come, even from so far a distance they are big their long graceful necks bobbing gently with each mighty stroke. Birds are very strong, you know, all those tendons and bones snapping to attention at teh slightest provocation, to suddenly pull the weight of so much air underneath them.
The more I find myself in the position of predator, the more I admire my prey.
It must be Michael and my Uncle who start us moving forward because it isn't Darren and I on the far end of the field, and I don't see my Dad check the time-but all of a sudden, together, we start moving forward. Slowly, as the humans, and suddenly, as the dogs--they burst forth with a surge of anticipation realized. They are always too fast at the start, even Dex, who knows better--that the day is long, and the country we cover so big--but it must feel so good to use every particle of their purposeful, lean bodies exactly the way they're supposed to, it's not hard to imagine the desire to let loose a little, revel in the joy. I feel the same way too--not that I was born to hunt the way they are, but that I am tapping into a singular mindset out here, that is so hard to know amid concrete and ceilings.
Here I know confident purpose, I see my place in the order of things. I am the hunter, the bird mine for the taking--if I am smart, and strong, and sure--and the dog my partner in this, we, a team. The world reflects it, the knowing of this, dawn light racing over the fields, setting fire to to cornstalks and the drooping heads of millet with golden light. Here and now is enough. I think of nothing else.
The first pheasant rises out of the cornfield and surprises us. Today is sudden, we are surprised. I take a shot, Darren takes a shot--the bird flies, a big rooster gleaming over a field that's made dull in comparison.
It isn't too long before Dexter locks up on the next point, stock still while the world seems to revolve around him. Cedar is close behind--he doesn't quite know why yet, but he shows some respect, as all good bird dogs should, and locks up too. We approach, quickly, quietly, and then it rises, another rooster. My Dad shoots first, I am half a heartbeat later. The bird is warm and heavy in my hand as I tuck it into the vest, eyes still clear with a different kind of light than the golden bath around us.
A pause, a space of two or three heartbeats, I know that's all I need to take, to let the roar in my ears to shake out, let the blood drain out of my own throat, to honor the life of a bird that won't ever taste sky again. It is an unconscious action, but important to me, a ritual of sorts. I don't want the edge to every go away, the recognition of power that I hold in the comfortable weight of my Verona. I am still clear and single-minded, my focus sharp, but I have to acknowledge it, because even here, as a predator, I am always human. My humanity can't know bounds, and so I pause. I find it, in the midst of all this--first light and the onset of day, bright flashes of orange in long rows of corn, my Dad showing me his favorite feathers on a pheasant--even in the simplicity of this, a prayer of sorts, to the God that weaves through us all, me, my dog and the bird. Then we keep walking, further into the light, chasing the next point.