The trees are enormous there, standing with limbs stretched upward and outward, like the arms on the capital letter Y, reaching up and out until they trees touch somewhere near the heavens, as if holding hands in celebration. They are giant silver maples, their leaves always golden or gone when I have visited, standing on the shores of the winding river, where bronze or golden ferns and yellow grass create an intricate carpet over the ground.
It’s always been a tough place to find, with a long walk down the railroad tracks and then through an old leaning wire fence. Down at the bottom of a steep bank, this plateau juts out into the course of the river, pushing the meandering water across the valley toward the highway to the south. Alders cling to the edge of where the banking levels out, and a tire or barrel or somebody’s dock may be sitting almost anywhere, washed there by the previous spring’s runoff and floods.
Nearly two decades had passed since my last visit; a different white dog accompanied me then, but the same shotgun was in my hands and the place still looked much as it did. The tannin stained water still crept along beneath the steep banks and the left the same sandbars sticking out on the inside of the river’s bends. Directly under the tree’s spreading crowns knee-high grass covered the ground as it always had and golden ferns hid the lower spots. Muskrat holes tunneled everywhere and washed up silvery logs lined the banks.
The young German wirehaired pointer, Chara, hunted as if she’d been there before, quartering to the river’s edge and then back toward the alders where the land climbed upward. Dutifully I followed, my mind drifting between wonder and melancholy. Twice I called the wirehair by the name of my long dead Brittany spaniel Zach, but both times catching myself and then smiling. The magic was still there, the bond with a hunting dog, the anticipation, the magic.
Each time caused me to laugh, and I explained to Chara that it was a compliment. She appeared to not hear, or chose to ignore my remarks, there was just too much ground to hunt and she was all business.
The river turned us to left along its shore, through grass and weeds waist high, to where the giant silver maples gave way to less grand trees mixed with occasional fir. We searched the low spots and then the higher ground, trying to cover it all, not wanting to miss a thing. Finally the river backed further to our left, turning us into a stand of spruce and back toward the railroad tracks and the long trek back to the truck.I had been skunked there before, back during the days when Zac went everywhere with me, and I knew the woodcock would be back. Chara and I would be back too.