As this November brings the first lasting snow with real cold in sub-zero temperatures that seem to pull the heat out of you, I find myself early to reflect on the fall hunting season.
While there are still many open hunting seasons and, according to the calendar on my wall, fall runs from September 22 to December 21, this recent cold spell is more like January than November.
Some say Alaska has two seasons: winter and July 4th. Perhaps it is because their lifespan is shorter than ours that the seasons of bird dogs seem to have less to do with a calendar year than their whole life taking into account human stresses and conditions. And, the seasons of a bird dog’s life weigh more heavily in fall’s favor when they are able to live their best lives.
Although, based on their varying states of rest around a wood-burning stove, our six English setters and two Labradors make it seem like a day off isn’t too binding.
This fall, Rigby enjoyed the spring of his life and uplifted us with his joy for all that is new and possible.
Five of our English setters, all born to the same litter and aged seven, are still in the summer of their lives. They are energetic and walk down stairs or run large fields with abandon. We’ve gotten to know each of their quirks by now, and if they still have something to learn, they may need to unlearn two more things first.
Winchester, at age 11, is in the fall of his life. We have a painting of him in his prime staring at us in our living room. It reminds us, in case we will never forget, how fascinated we were to watch it cover a mountain valley, its green carpet animated with crowberry blossoms leading to vast moraines worn out by water dripping from a heavenly plateau, full of promise.
Cheyenne, our oldest dog, is a chocolate Labrador with white fur around his muzzle and between his pads. She is no longer interested in running or jumping, but watches the room as well as she can see it and enjoys the sound of our voices when we are close enough to hear.
As if she embodied the calm of winter, she lays in her favorite corner bed and sees the rest of the house as disturbing her privacy. When Steve hands out dog treats, she looks up. After the other dogs line up and sit down for their treats, Colt and Rigby getting back in line for a chance within seconds, Steve walks over and gives Cheyenne his treat in bed.
Watching dogs sleep and listening to them snore in the middle of the morning, I see winter as a state of mind and an invitation to reflect. I reflect on the so-called “winter of our discontent,” which is often misunderstood to mean unhappy times when the real meaning of the sentence written by William Shakespeare was that unhappy times are in the past.
Rigby jumps onto the couch and drops his 100-pound body next to mine. He chews a wood of an affable nature that looks like an old friend sitting next to you to show his support and solidarity without needing a word.
This summer he met a woman on a track who knelt down to greet him, and it surprised Steve and I when Rigby walked away. “He’s just still a puppy,” Steve said.
“You’re a COVID baby then,” she said, scratching her ears, which made Rigby’s tail wag. She then told us about a friend’s “COVID puppy” who was not properly socialized.
I hadn’t thought about it until then, but it seemed to me that Rigby hadn’t met as many people as our other dogs when they were puppies. Instead, we spent most of his first summer on lesser-known trails where he picked up his favorite toy that we had always packed with us and ran through quiet flower fields.
It was like one of those enchanted young lives spent on an island far from civilization with the kind of family who build elaborate niches in the trees, have picnics in the mountains, and spend days full of discovery with the occasional visit. of an ordinary child outside of Never Land.
Steve and I haven’t seriously hunted big game this year or been out of state. Unlike in previous years, we didn’t fly to remote camps or leave the dogs for long periods with their favorite “aunt” to watch over them.
Perhaps because of this prolonged isolation from the outside world, Rigby has developed a stronger bond with us than other dogs. Maybe that is his nature, but when I reflect on the past decades of living and hunting with dogs, I can’t think of another year so focused on getting away from it all just for the peace of mind in good company. .
Rigby brought extra pleasure to the places we had seen before and was able to show him for the first time. He encountered rabbits and black bears on trails in June, slipped on snowbanks on top of a mountain in July, ate wild blueberries in August, recovered his first ducks and ptarmigan in September and his first goose and many mallards in October.
Despite this there is a lot to lament and cry, I will remember this year and fall as Rigby’s first hunting season – the spring of his life when everything was new. The winter of our discontent was “made glorious summer” – the often forgotten words that follow the phrase in Shakespeare’s play – by the good humor of a Labrador.
As real winter approaches, a time that can offer rest and consideration for what is still possible, I look forward to the seasons in Rigby’s life and his daily joy that makes everything else just right. weather report.