I love it as much as you do when a plan comes together. But when it crumbles to dust and there is a positive outcome, it’s like winning the lottery after forgetting you bought a ticket.
The temperature was unseasonably warm for spring on the high desert. Warm enough that Manny might savor a restorative dip during our training session. Off we motored to the BLM ponds a few miles from home.
Only when we left the pavement and were jouncing our way pondward did I conduct an inventory of gear and found us without an e-collarl. Oh well, going “unplugged” wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. It might even be an opportunity.
As we crested the rise, I gazed on two dry depressions and one muddy puddle. Adding insult to injury, some yahoo had crosshatched the dried mud with ATV tracks. What was left of the plan was deteriorating by the minute.
No “duck search” today; even the pair of mallards I saw was wading instead of paddling in the thin sheen of water covering a quarter-acre of mud. But hey, I used to play jazz, I could improvise.
Out of the truck we bounded – he for sheer joy, me to forestall any more screw-ups if possible. That’s when the lemons started their magical transformation into lemonade. I maneuvered Manny behind a berm, moved him birdward, then signaled him to the top facing the low spot where the remaining water had pooled. He screeched to a halt at the sight of the ducks. Without his electronic reminder, I thought it best to give him the “whoa” hand signal before I rushed the mallards into flight.
He stood, stock-still. Craned his neck as the ducks streaked over him, but his oversized paws may as well have been super-glued to the hot desert sand. Once the ducks were out of sight I heeled him away, then sent him on.
At least I’d remembered pigeons, so as Manny streaked the far horizon to the north, with more than a little trepidation I tossed one into the brush to the west. I whistled him in the general direction of the scent cone and he cat-danced to a point at 30 yards. Tail up and quivering, front foot rising as if lifted by angels, this was the moment of truth.
I tapped his flank, stroked his back and started for the bird, cocking the hammer on my blank pistol as I glanced apprehensively at an intent, focused dog. Bird up! Bang! And bang again, just for good measure.
No chase, no stutter-step, no hop. Bulging eyes tracked that pigeon all the way back to the loft, it seemed, but all other body parts remained still.
Remember the first time you believed you might actually get “there,” however you define “there?” I relished it, breathed deeply to let the feeling sink in and Manny to settle. I returned, stroked his back again, offered praise and got a tail wag acknowledgment, heeled him away and counted my blessings.
Sometimes, I love it when a plan falls apart, too.