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Posts Tagged ‘Buddy’

Yep, right about here.

Yep, right about here.

Having one leg longer than the other is said to help you when chukar hunting. You’re often side-hilling a steep incline, the ground covered with loose rock. You’ve burned lungs and legs getting there, because the devil birds run up the hill, then fly down again. So you must as well.

The covey scrambled up a gully after watering in the trickle of creek at the bottom of the draw. We hadn’t seen enough to take a pass on this bunch, so up I went.

When the birds blew like a party popper at midnight, I was still trying to find a place for my left foot. As they scattered  above me, I spun on my right foot (conveniently perched on a round-bottomed rock) and pointed toward the lead bird, with hope propelling my gun mount.

As you probably guessed, recoil, rock and gravity combined. But as I went ass-over-teakettle I saw the bird stutter, spin, tower up, then drop straight down. By the time I scraped the gravel off my face, Buddy was back with the trophy, gently dropping it at my feet.

That was my best shot – the most memorable, to date at least. What was yours? Or your strangest, luckiest, funniest outcome … you do have one, don’t you?

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Intense. Loyal. You're the man.

Intense. Loyal. You’re the man.

Well, you are ten years old, at least chronologically.

Your muzzle is grayer, your gait slower. At times, there’s a hitch in your getalong. Luckily, you can’t say the same about me because you can’t talk.

Based on your behavior, I’d consider you a mere puppy – levitating, bouncing, hopping, barely containing your squeals of delight. You are effervescent, hoping it’s time for birds, a hell-bent streak through the desert, or maybe just coffee on the couch.

But there’s also anxiety in your world. You worry about my leaving, or who’s going to hunt first. There is concern in your eyes when the door opens and you’re not invited to race outside, or when you’re outside, not allowed in. Thank goodness for Penny the Corgi, your apprentice. She calms you with an ear lick, doleful eyes aimed your way. Or she pulls on your lip, mouths your elbow, yips in invitation to – what? Puppy mojo washes over you, magically stealing back the years that have taken their toll.

I hope that my touch, my soothing words, calm you too.

At night, we exchange moans lying on the couch together, fluently communicating in the secret language of the tired, old and sore. We share stone bruises and scratches, painkillers and sometimes, dinner. But in the morning, you are ready for action so I will be too.

Your grand nephew Manny now looks to you with kind eyes, finally secure in his own skin and ready to be a member of the pack. You might even hunt together this fall.

You sleep deeply, chasing rabbits with muted howls. I stir in the night, wishing I was following. In the morning we’ll foray into the desert, intent on following our dreams.

What do you want for your birthday, Buddy? If you wished for a whole bag of food, rawhide bones, or a fluffier bed I’d rush out today, credit card in hand. Luckily, we agree that the perfect birthday gift is a long drive, lunch in a small town café, camp where the only light is from stars, and waking to a glorious day in the field full of finds and flushes.

I promise a season-full this fall. Happy birthday.

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Here I am trying to explain to Buddy why not finding any birds is okay, once in a while.

Here I am trying to explain to Buddy why not finding any birds is okay, once in a while.

My Little League team lost every game one season. I know a bit about being skunked. So when not a single primer burns, no feather clouds drift with the breeze … well, that’s when you dig deep for something – anything – to justify your trip.

And that’s before the spouse greets you at the door with a snarky “You went all that way and didn’t shoot anything?”

That’s your cue to tote up the balance sheet, hoping for um, balance. Sometimes it’s easy. Other times, you gotta get creative, gin up a rationale out of the irrational.

Or do you?

I’m a firm believer in the “less is more” philosophy when there’s nothing in the ice chest. Maybe you too. We can focus on the other things, often as (or more) important than obtaining free-range protein.

Pro’s: the dog still got some exercise; it was a beautiful spot; I still got some exercise; the birds will be there “for seed;” I found an owl skull; time spent with new (or old) friends; no ammo was harmed in the making of the hunt (cha-ching!); it wasn’t raining; no birds to clean; I can cross that spot off the list; no gun to clean … well, you get the idea.

Con’s: no birds to clean.

Yep, it’s a pretty short “con” list. Or am I missing something?

When nothing flies, the adrenaline stays firmly in its glandular garage, and the game bag is empty, what do you put on your mental balance sheet?

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In his younger days.

In his younger days.

Unlike your grand nephew, you didn’t throw up on the way home from your breeder – a strike in your favor I should have appreciated more at the time. It seems like for your entire nine years of life, you’ve been thinking of your human pack’s needs as much as your own, concerned with how we feel, what we need, and how you can help.

I’m glad to have shared much of your life with the Upland Nation. Your television pack extends to the four corners of the earth. Your many fans have watched you grow from gangly pup to noble dog, elegantly covering ground like a pronghorn.

You’ve slowed since your last birthday, content with shorter runs, even walking on lead with your alpha female human, almost prancing alongside your Corgi packmate. That Corgi has become more than a walking partner, though. She keeps you on your toes, if only in self-defense. Her yips aren’t just puppy joy, she adores you. She loves your size (a challenge to a short dog), your floppy ears (yum), and most of all your tolerance of her pushy inquisitiveness. You are a tolerant stoic, the good example the rest of us should emulate but seldom do.

Even Manny has mellowed in his long-term project to become the alpha dog, perhaps in deference to your advancing age. I see you both sharing a field again some day, maybe just in my mind.

Until then, you will still get the first “up” on hunts. You’ve earned it, putting up with my so-called training and dismal shooting. You will also have the best spot on the bed in the morning – after I’m up but your alpha female isn’t (you both deserve the extra rest).

And when you’d rather watch from the driver’s seat as Manny and I blunder through the puckerbrush, know that he will be carrying more than your DNA into the field, he will be carrying on your legacy.

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Three years old today.

Three years old today.

Manny, thank you. You have taught me so much in three short years: patience, introspection, tolerance. And you have learned much of the same.

We’ve been through a lot together. Some not so fun, a bit most distressing, but much of it incredible: hunts in a dozen states with good friends new and familiar, physical and mental challenges, new birds and crazy weather. Your puppy-like unfettered enthusiasm still astounds me, so I guess what they say is true – wirehairs do take longer to mature (and I’m grateful for it).

In many ways, you keep your great-uncle Buddy young, too. He’s still rightfully wary of you, jockeying for the alpha post in the pack, but your joie de vivre infects him as much as it does me. As you grow into the lead dog and your uncle slows, I trust you will show deference to the wisdom and tolerance he’s shown you for 36 long, trying months.

We have a long way to go but every day you take two steps forward and I seldom take more than one back. Your hard-headedness is an attribute at times (so German!) but once in a while there is a glimmer of softness in your look, your actions, your demeanor. Your mistress sees more of that than I do, but that’s her job – pointing out the positives in a life full of challenges.

Live up to her hopes, and mine. Be a good boy. Happy birthday.

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A while back – now, it counts for real.

We are making progress. Manny and Buddy – a team again – are getting steadier by the day. Our past three days:

1. Flanking the whoa table, with Rick Smith’s waist-rope “point of contact,” the guys were attentive and still when the pigeon was fluttered, flapped and waved in front of them. Not too close, but closer than usual. Ditto when brought downwind of a launcher. They stood side-by-side (actually, Buddy gets first position, Manny learns manners).

2. Retrieves are also more than simple fetching drills now. Each honors their bracemate, learning patience and more manners.

3. Next day, the rope was simply draped over their flanks, a tap reinforced the point of contact but no waist wrap. Birds – flap – steady again. And earnest, purposeful “duck search” on dry land for the little guy afterward with a soft-mouthed retrieve after a momentary point upon discovery of the pigeon.

4. Today, no rope, no table. Dogs loose in the yard, I showed the pigeon and they froze. Big waves, major flaps, up-close- and-personal distance. Like statues.

Now, I’ve probably jinxed it.

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The promise of puppyhood ... eight years ago.

Well Buddy, you are officially a “senior dog,” turning eight years old today. You are slowing a bit in your step … especially after our long runs. Mornings are less friendly, joints stiffer. For us both. As I finish my first coffee with you alongside, I see us both limber up, ready for the day.

I envy your ability to curl up and hibernate for hours, checking on me periodically through a single half-opened eyelid. But I envy so many things about you: your tolerance of my training goofs, the stoic mid-distance stare that asks questions of everyone and everything … and especially your patience with your grand-nephew Manny. I think he’s responsible for most of the scars, scratches and scrapes you’ve endured the past two years!

Buddy, you deserved to be a NAVHDA Utility Dog, and I’m sorry we never got to that test. You have all it takes, raw natural ability and the discipline. Through Manny, you will receive your due.

As you age the contrast between you and your nephew becomes an open book. You: methodical and disciplined, thorough and always ready to comply. You are a four-legged Boy Scout. Him: wild-eyed and coming-off-the-rails sometimes, earnest and eager the next moment. He is the young Marlon Brando without a motorcycle. I have come to appreciate those differences, each of you in turn bringing to the fore what I love most about the other.

When you circle twice then lie down, sighing, I know you are at peace, at least for a while. Still vigilant, guardian of our household, and steadfast companion to your humans and your nephew while you rest mind and body. It is a well-deserved rest.

I promise to give you longer breaks between hunts as your nephew grows stronger, but I also promise to let you roam the fields questing for the sweet scent of birds as long as you are able. When you are ready to rest, Manny will spell you. But he will never replace you in the hearts of me and the friends who have hunted with us.

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