There was a time when she didn’t do this.
She didn't whine and whimper and squeal when the shotgun was pulled out of the backroom. She never stood at the front door hopping from one foot to the other in anticipation. She didn’t bolt out the door and jump into the front seat. She didn't intently look out the window as we rolled down those gravel corridors.
She didn't leap out of the truck and prance around as I loaded the shotgun. She wouldn't bolt out of sight at the sound of "Alright, lets go". She didn't return to lope ahead of me at a proper distance after two quick whistles. She never kept her nose to the ground, oblivious to everything but scent, busting through thick cover searching. Left and right, up and down, back and forth and back again, always searching.
She didn't go tense at the scent of bird and speed up with purpose. She never locked in and darted at a located bird, flushing it from the tall grass. She didn't pause and yearn for the shotgun to bark, tracking the bird as it veered off to the right. She never sprinted towards the bird's last known location after watching the bird fall from flight. She wouldn't leap out from the bush, her tail a ceaseless wag and a bird in her muzzle. She never dropped that bird into an outstretched hand, waiting just long enough for recognition before turning and trotting forward. Off to find the next one, over and over, until the day was done.
She didn't sleep in the backseat on the ride home, sore and scratched and tired and dirty and wholly content.
No, it wasn't always like that.
There was a time when I didn't do this.
I never woke at five a.m. on a day off. Never loaded a waxed canvas vest with shells, topo maps, jerky and water bottles. Didn't put a whistle around my neck, a blaze orange cap on my head, and old scuffed boots on my feet. A flask of rye and a pair of leather gloves weren't stuffed into my back pockets. I didn't place a shotgun and a thermos of coffee into the back of a frost covered truck, didn't let a bird dog jump in the front. Never pointed that truck down some dusty gravel road, until it turned into a barely navigable trail through the long golden grass.
I wouldn't step out into the crisp morning air and squint into the rising sun. Never looked out over a valley of yellowing aspens and listened to the rustling leaves. Couldn't envision what the scent of highbush cranberries after the first hard frost of fall would come to mean to me. I didn't walk these woods. Never held a shotgun in my hands and whistle in my teeth while I watched her every move. Didn't flick off the safety as I watched her demeanor change. Never felt my heart stop as a bird flushed out into the air.
I didn't shoulder a gun, swing a barrel and pull a trigger. Never felt that strange mix of elation and guilt as pellets hit flesh. I didn't watch a bird fall and a dog rush towards it. Couldn't imagine the admiration I'd feel as I'd kneel down to pat her on the head with one hand, while she dropped the fallen bird into the other. I never followed her around through the rosehip bushes or slid down gullies or hurdled over deadfall, hoping for a chance to add to the weight in the game bag.
I didn't drive home in the dark, sore and scratched and tired and wind burnt and wholly content.
Its hard to believe there was ever a time when it wasn't like that. Back when we didn't do this. It all seems like blank space now. I'm not sure how we filled our autumns.
Because this is what we do.
We chase birds, she and I.
BLAINE PEETSO lives in Northwestern Alberta where the prairies, the Rockies and the boreal forest converge. He tries his hardest not to let real life get in the way of more important things like fly fishing, bird hunting, skiing, and cycling. In between that he writes, ties flies and blogs at The Borealist.