Where the sun hits the ground greasy mud squishes under my feet. The dogs don’t even notice it, but bound into the woods. Under the trees mounds of snow blanket the ground, so the trail makes for much easier walking.
We’re hunting. The dogs know it, plowing through the brush, ever searching, even though there are no guns. Friends have found woodcock in that same area during the last few days, so we are searching.
The young shorthair, Juno, is covering the most ground and I wonder if she’ll point or bump the birds. The younger wirehair is more methodical, tending to business, tail wagging and happy to be out. A week ago deep snow made covering this same country impossible. Chara, searching for birds in her fourteenth spring, doesn’t wander far from the old roads, but stops often and sniffs the air. It wouldn’t surprise me if she found a woodcock first.
The howling north wind has a bite, so the collar is turned up and earflaps are pulled down. Bright blue sky stretches across the sky, but the sun lacks warmth. Where matted grass covers the ground, the earth feels like cement from the lingering frost. The air smells clean, almost metallic, free of pollen and the soon to come scents of green things.
A series of left turns brings us in a circle. The dogs hunt with determination. Wherever the woodcock are, it isn’t in those old brushy fields or along the edges of the woods. In the shade of ancient white pines an old tote road takes us back to the truck.
The dogs will dream of woodcock tonight, and so will I.