CHAPTER 39 – Field and Dreams
It's the hour when the sun is high and your heels are blistered. The sky is cold, the trees providing no shelter as you continue to walk and search the horizon. Your legs ache and your vision is focusing, not on the task at hand, but on some hoped-for mirage in which the chair and a cold beer will magically appear. You're tired and cold, wishing only for the heat of a small fire to warm you from the inside out.
But someone else wants to go on. Those big brown eyes that look up at you are saying that it's pheasant season and they are not done hunting yet.
Actually, Barkley was not a hunting dog, he was just tagging along. His hunting skills are limited to socks and stray underwear. But we were out with friends on a good stretch of private land, as they hunted a few game birds for the freezer. He minds enough to keep back with me and not get in the way. Still, I hoped Barkley would pick up some pointers here, but the only pointer he tried to pick up was a little female who quickly rebuffed his interest.
We watched those dogs skirt and track, making J hook maneuvers that would make a fighter pilot proud even if he were a beginner. Barkley though, did do the occasional point, if only on a twig. Yes. Point. He did it first at about six months of age, pointing at a Baby Ruth wrapper on the ground. Then it was a ball cap dropped by someone, then a pigeon. I called the lady I got him from. She said, "
don't point, that's just a puppy thing." Tell that to Barkley. He points
at birds, bacon and if company is over, to that pair of underwear I
accidentally dropped on the floor while putting laundry away.
Today, we were mostly out for a hike and the company of friends, the birds today being secondary. "What do you think, Barkley? A couple more miles?" He looked as if he genuinely understands my intent until there is that sound, the tiny whoosh of air being displaced by winged creatures with a brain the size of a pea and a breast that calls out for succor or bacon. Birds! Dogs! More Birds! Woof Woof Woof! “No Barkley, you’re scaring off all of the birds, come back here!!”
My friends took it in good stride; this was just an outing, not a serious hunt. We'd walked for what seemed like ten miles, while the others fanned out up ahead with their dogs, leaving us junior birdmen to trail behind, watching for brass, looking out for wake turbulence. It's nice, being just a tiny group, the single monotony of our goal, striding forward, chests heaving, moving fast, the world suddenly coming to a stop with a small sign from a retriever.
It's that glorious moment in time where the motion of a wasted world of daily activities, of cell phones, meetings, and doing chores, comes down to that one moment of freedom and decision. That moment when the world accelerates and then just suddenly stops, there on the precipice, there in that space between a retriever, hunter and bird. A moment in a hunter's life, that evocative quality of living, in which the forward motion toward the game stops, but then loops back, toward you. A loop that completes the circle of predator and prey, waiting only for the curl of a dog's body, the curl of your finger, to close that circuit, and release it all with one sharp sound that breaks the line of containment.
Barkley is learning, and he for once, stood at attention when a bird was sensed, almost motionlessly, only the subtle tremble in his eyes, the despair of ever being released from the hold that's been placed on him, a responsibility he picked up willingly, if only for you. Yet, as much as he's trying, he might run on back to you, caught up at the moment, trying to please, it's a learning curve for both of you, but that free and loving heart is heavenly to see.
We may not get a bird today for our dinner table; Barkley is not trained for this, but we forgive each other, even as we make mistakes and learn. It is a bond between him and me. For me, it is not a substitute for something lacking in my life, but an outlet for the warmth I harbor in my soul, seeking a place for the waters of my emotion to go when all else is damned up. He's my confidant; he's my fashion critic (jeans and t-shirt again? Well, if you insist), he's a soft-hearted Kleenex if I cry.
He's given me renewed hope in the capacity of the heart, as his ability to love is boundless. He'll stay on alert, face aching with a grimacing growl, keeping predators at bay while I'm at work. He's been the soft nuzzle of concern on my neck after a coughing fit during a bad winter cold, and he welcomes the friends that I shoot with into the house while keeping those that wish to harm at bay.
Now, he was getting older, grey abundantly showing up in that black hair. Yet still, when woken by my soft snore from the office bed he'll move away from the heater, to my side as swift, as strong as ever, even as he slows. He looks at me with brown eyes more humorous and honest than anyone I know, soft paw on my arm, content simply to be by my side because I'm there. Like the rest of my friends, his needs are simple, his demands of me only warmth, faithfulness and time to go out and play.
He's taught me that money doesn't matter; he's as happy with a stick as an expensive toy; satisfied with a sleeping bag in a tent with me more than a luxurious pillow top mattress. Life is simple; someone to love and something cold to drink, well loved toys to play with and a safe place to sleep.
I know he will love the life that awaits us, one with less loneliness and more adventures, going where we go, with an open heart and a bigger family. For today, I think I will just give my four-legged best friend a little more time outdoors, maybe a bird for dinner if we're lucky. That's all we need, some open sky and something in the distance to seek, a bird or perhaps a dream. Perhaps, that's all any of us really need.
I give him one last little pat as we get up and move out toward a fading sun. His muscles rippling like silk under my hands, yet more precious than anything man-made. He races ahead, legs leaving the ground all at once, an outstretched leap toward his future, as if he had lost contact with the earth.