The ankle-deep snow muffles the sound, our feet fall silently. Up the hill the dog’s muted bells ring. Everything looks different, blanketed by six inches of white, and the usual way is lost among the softwoods. Steeper terrain over dozens of deadfalls finally leads to the old tote road cut into to hill.
To the left leads to favorite country where memories have accumulated over the last decade. Who would have dreamed that Chara, my older wirehair, would still
be hunting the last day of her fifteenth bird season? Colby, younger and with longer legs, is unfazed by the snow. Chara works harder, in a rocking horse motion, but appears to be having the time of her life. How many years have I wondered on the last hunt of the season if it might be the last hunt of her life? What a life she has had.
The trail leads past softwoods and a small cutting to a gurgling brook, which is a likely place to turn around and head back, but the softwoods beyond beckon. Beneath them the snow is less deep and covered with rabbit tracks. Colby hunts further toward the edges while Chara scours the sides of the old way. A deer walked that way earlier and dozens of tiny tracks create a puzzle. Beside the lane a moose has scarred up dozens of maples, probably the same moose that Colby startled in the driveway a couple of months ago. Further up, where the old road forks, the top of a giant wild apple tree had been broken up by a bear. Not a partridge track had been found.
Chara seems fine, but I worry about her. After I clear the snow from her bell, we head back. Downhill is always easier. The dogs hunt just as hard as they did on the way up.
A different path leads back the final stretch to Camp Grouse. Still not a grouse track to be found. The dogs don’t seem to mind, they love the sound of the bells and the rituals of the hunt as much as the kill I think.
I do too.