Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Hill

     The hill has an odd name. It is named after the same man as the town it is in, but that is all I’m going to tell you. Years ago it was out in the middle of nowhere and I hunted deer there and birds too. A memory sticks of walking out of the woods, after shooting time had passed, and seeing a monster buck ghost across the woods road ahead of me.
     What made the hill special were the old farms. Up on the top there were two, both long abandoned, but marked with sagging homes settling into old stone foundations. In the fields game had trampled paths between the scraggly apple trees and the cedar swamp down below. Old tote roads crisscrossed the upper wooded slopes, and every single one of them seemed to lead exactly where you wanted to go. It was that kind of magical place. In a field halfway down the eastern side stood a box-like camp where an old woman lived by herself during the summers. I wish I could remember her name.
     Somehow, two decades slipped by without visiting that hill, but finally I went back with my young German wirehaired pointer named Chara and my Parker shotgun that had turned a hundred years old that year.
     Unbeknownst to me a horrific ice storm had flattened the trees a few years earlier, obliterating most of the landmarks. Up on the top of the hill two homes had been built near the ancient fallen ones and the old fields there were posted. Travel through what had once been woods was impossible, with trees broken and lying in a tangled mess. The claws of chest high raspberries flourished in the new sunlight.
     We found that little camp in the field halfway down the hill. Someone had been there recently and it looked much like I remembered it. Above the house a pool had been re-dug next to a spring and firewood was stacked on the far side of the porch.
     Where an old footpath came down the hill into the field, I tried to pick my way between the raspberries’ thorns. A fallen maple trunk blocked the way, and then another. And then Chara flushed a grouse.
     She went into overdrive, pushing under or jumping over obstacles and oblivious to the vicious briars. Several more grouse exploded into the sky. I sat on a log and watched, knowing she would be back eventually and was learning a lesson along the way---dogs can’t catch grouse.
     Her tongue looked a foot long when she came back panting. We found that spring fed pool and she stretched right out in the icy water to drink her fill. Sauntering out the old tote road toward the truck, I carried my old Parker shotgun broken open and draped over my shoulder. It had been quite a day.
     And of course a lone grouse dropped out of a busted-off old spruce and flew straight away down the road, offering one of the easiest shots a man could ever hope to see.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


     Georgia is staying at our house while her owners are away. In case you missed the earlier posts, she’s a young German shorthaired pointer who will be two in May and belongs to friends of ours. Georgia is intense, almost constantly in motion, ever hunting, but she is very well mannered, I will give her that.
     I’m lucky and make a living as a cabinetmaker with a shop only a few feet from our home. Most days our two German wirehaired pointers hang out in the shop, and this past week Georgia has been there too. While the wires sleep, Georgia searches for mice.
     On Monday I had to install cabinets at a customer’s summer home out in the middle of nowhere, so I brought the dogs along to let them poke around the yard and swim in the pond. In the afternoon I didn’t see Georgia around, so I peeked into the backyard. There she was, munching down a rabbit that she had just caught. By the time I got it away from her the hind end was devoured.
     The next day was unusually warm, so I had the big doors to my shop open. My wirehairs stretched out in the sun and slept. I found Georgia underneath my truck with her head stuck inside a box of dog biscuits, which had been almost full earlier in the day.
    We left her in the house this morning, and when I went inside for lunch the placemats on the dining table were either on the floor or askew. Somebody had obviously been table surfing. No damage was done
     I love Georgia’s constant inquisitiveness and that drive to hunt. Last fall her abilities in the field were outstanding, especially considering how little formal hunting training she had. How many young dogs do you know that can handle ruffed grouse on a regular basis?
     Her motions are measured, as if she wants to make certain that she can run all day. And she’s a real sweetie, always comes when called and wants to give you a lick when she arrives. In the woods she keeps track of her handler and never seems to tire. She’s just pretty to look at and a joy to watch. 
     But the best thing about Georgia is that she makes my wirehairs appear so well mannered.

Snow in April

          Up north there is a winter storm warning in place, with three to six inches of wet frozen slop predicted. I worry about the woodcock. Many must have arrived up there by now and probably many are sitting on nests. Let’s hope they survive the snow.
          The ruffed grouse, being larger birds and maybe nesting a tad later, usually aren’t bothered by a late snow. But an April snow can raise havoc with the local woodcock population. The last time one blanketed the land it took two or three years for the woodcock population to recover.
          So I worry.