Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Expeditions

An old pin-on compass.
Making a list…matches, lunch, dog biscuits, water, GPS, compass…the list goes on. It’s going to be an all-day affair, hiking into new bird country far from anywhere. Images on Google Earth hint of new coverts. It used to be the dreaming was done over topographic maps and mixed with a good imagination. Google Earth works better.
The two younger shorthairs, Georgia and Juno, will accompany me. Hard hunting the previous two days will keep the older wirehairs sleeping and content at the camp. It will just be the three of us, so there will be no worries about boring someone if there aren’t the birds we’re hoping for.
The woods seems bigger when I’m there with just the dogs and miles from the pavement. Damp leaves silence our steps as we follow a straight old logging road through maples and birch and up a small rise. With the tall straight maples and hills in the distance it definitely feels like New England.
An old pasture, abandoned decades ago, opens up in front of us. The empty blue sky between the rounded hills to the east and west indicates the direction to go. One sixty-two on the compass, remember that for when the trees hide the hills.
Georgia.
On the far side, beyond towering poplars, the land dips down until it enters softwoods and flattens out. Georgia dashes along where the two forests meet and then she turns to stone.
Hurrying over, a grouse flushes far ahead.
Calling them in, the girls lead into the softwoods. We hunt to the east, finding the edge where the softwoods and hardwoods meet, and then work toward the south again. Juno bumps a grouse, and then a second one rumbles away. An almost imperceptible old logging road angles ahead and to the right, barely kept open by frequently traveling moose. We follow to another opening.
The ground is wet and the grass thick, almost waist high. We work back into the woods to circumnavigate on firmer ground. Where another logging road comes down the hill a yellow sign with a black arrow marks the turn of a snowmobile trail. Near a cluster of young firs the dogs get birdy.
Georgia freezes. Juno copies. Stepping around the trees to the right the bird flushes to the left.
The snowmobile trail heads the right direction, so we follow under dark softwood trees where it feels like a tunnel. Soon a third opening exposes the blue sky. The ground is firmer, so we step out into the sunshine.
An ancient apple tree.
A tall white pine over a small knoll looks familiar. Beneath the tree is a little stone-lined cellar hole. I’ve been there before, hiking in from a rough logging road to the south. Two young wild apples stand near high-bush cranberries where the forest meets the ancient field. It is grouse country.
An ancient stone wall.
We follow the old road through hardwoods to a familiar wood bridge that’s maintained by a snowmobile club. Under us a stream hisses into the valley and it looks like woodcock country. Georgia and Juno stop in the rushing water to drink. From there it is only a couple of miles to where I had parked years earlier to walk in there from the south. Slipping off my gunning vest, I fish a sandwich from a pocket and settle against a log to share lunch with my girls.
We’ll follow the stream down to where it meets the softwoods and then hunt the edge back, but first I’ll let the sun warm my face.
My adventures used to be ten days long, sometimes even ten months long, but now aren’t even ten hours long, yet I seem to appreciate them more than ever. And at the end of the day, a hot shower and ice cubes for the scotch make them seem so civilized.



Woodcock country....


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

His Road to Tinkhamtown

     An old friend is in dire straits, at that point in life where he doesn’t know where he is or recognize the people around him. Most of the time he just sleeps.
     The last time I visited, his only smile came when I mentioned that us bird hunters had to stick together. Other than that he mostly stared ahead, his eyesight weak or non-existent. When he started a sentence it would be lost before finished. The tall lanky man that used to stride through the woods so easily had almost become unrecognizable.
     He used to ask how the birds were, which always meant ruffed grouse, and then asked about the woodcock too. Talk would turn to weather, as it always does in New England, and then to guns and dogs, you know, the important things in life. Not that many years ago he would accompany me on hunts.
     Now it is hard to tell what dreams play out while he sleeps. I like to think he’s reliving the good times, dreaming of friends and family and the German shorthairs that have been in his life. Which of his old Ithacas is he carrying? It’s number eights in his pocket, you can bet on that.
     So I’ll stop to visit on my trip north, chat with his wife, talk about the good times, and remind ourselves what great memories he accumulated.