We are walking through the cornfield we didn’t think looked promising—and it isn’t—when I realize it, at least a little bit. He says to me, “I think I’m going to start carrying my gun this way,” he shows me, the muzzle pointed to the ground, “so I can get it up to my shoulder faster.” No, I say after a second, when something has clicked. You don’t want to raise the gun up through the dog, just in case. I show him what my Dad showed me—how to hold the gun angled across your body but not tight to you, and further away when you’re approaching the dog, behind the point. He does it a few times, that motion I recognize, although we are both still slow, a little jerky in our motion. But we’re learning, putting hours in.
Today it is just he and I, walking the island in the late afternoon, seeing what there is to see. I am fairly certain we’d have to get really lucky to actually see the kind of bird we’re hoping to, but it’s a beautiful enough day, and the walking fine, that I don’t mind. We’re enjoying the journey, remember, and anyway, the real reason we all go is for the walk, isn’t it? To match your long stride to the person by your side, to watch the joyous loops of your dog, and then, finally, maybe to see a pheasant lined up with the bead at the end of a barrel. Mostly, the heat of the day around us and the pleasantness of the other’s company, is enough. Cedar, my bird dog, sure is gonna hunt, but right now he is primarily the feared predator of many a field mouse, and only a few winged beasts.
The day is hot around us—the sun high enough that each mighty ray cuts through the thin, cool quality of early autumn. I am sweating before long, hot underneath my best, the pockets heavy with shells, gently beating out a rhythm against my leg as we move through ankle high fields. Darren is crackling with energy, high on the headiness of being outside like this, and he keeps up a constant dialogue to Cedar, an endless stream of “come on buddy, hunt ‘em up, let’s go C” while I walk and listen to the tweety birds sing their outrage at the bounding, spotted beast bursting through the grass, and I admire—in this setting—the industriousness of the blackberry vine.
Eventually Darren’s enthusiasm wanes and we settle into a rhythm—our legs stretching, loosening, settling into the task at hand. We see a swath of uncut grass off towards our right and go to investigate, maybe something hides in the cover. I can feel myself sharpen, and focus, as Cedar bobs and weaves in front of us. Except for the occasional directional cure we are quiet, working. He trusts us, I hope, but then I know, too—it is there in his eyes every time he circles back to check in, the faith that we are still following, that we trust him.
And we do—I can see how he will be, smart and strong and bold, but eager to please, too, a good partner. He may be mostly mouse hunting right now, heavy paws pouncing through the fields, or running full stock after the flitting shadows of birds, sure that this is the one he’ll finally catch. He’ll learn, I know. He freezes up when the other dogs point, a deep well of respect lies beneath whatever other urge rules his young heart, and it’s a beautiful sight to see the two of them, or three of them, or sometimes four, pointing with every fiber of their beings—the bird is right there. It will take time, and a lot of good bird smells followed by successful shots, but soon—someday—I will see my good dog point on his own and be dead sure as to what’s on the other side.
In the end, all we see are long blue skies overhead, blackberries past their prime, a hundred small birds flitting through the mullet and one lone dove, who flies out of sight. Darren takes Cedar through some tall, thick bush-heavy field while I watch from the side, a stand of cottonwood trees creaking their melancholy song at my back. The glow of Darren’s hunter orange hat gets smaller and smaller while they move through the thick of it, and I lose sight of Cedar, until he comes up with an ingenious solution to his height challenge—a four foot vertical leap every few steps that propels him up like a jack-in-the-box, ears flying straight up like a rabbit, for a few seconds of flight. The whole effect is wildly hysterical, and the cottonwoods start to sound like they’re laughing with me.
For now—maybe for always—this is enough. Walking back through the cornfield I am left feeling fuller than when I started, more sure of every step. We’re all still learning, but I’ll be damned if we aren’t making good progress.