Two shots stopped us in our tracks.
Henrietta sat, wearing her curious expression.
I was relieved to see she wasn’t afraid.
A jumble of thoughts tumbled…the parking lot was empty, thought we had the marsh to ourselves this morning, deer hunting is closed, must be a pheasant hunter parked in the second lot….and then two chocolate Labrador retrievers appeared on the scene. Henri and I weren’t close enough to see what they were up to, but the hunter’s shouts at Dixie and Mocha made it clear the dogs were most likely pulling feathers, not retrieving as he’d like them to.
A glance at my pup told me we weren’t moving anytime soon. We watched as the hunter walked over and picked up the bird he’d shot. He both praised the dogs for flushing, and admonished them for mauling the feathered.
“Good morning!” I called from gravel road to field.
“Morning,” he replied.
Sensing he wasn’t happy to have an audience, I quelled my inclination to ask him if Henrietta could have a sniff of the pheasant. I gave Henrietta’s cord a sustained tug.
We walked past the hunter’s red pickup in the second lot, through a short stretch of woods where trilliums and Jack-in-the-Pulpit’s are tucked in for their winter nap, and out onto the dike. Filled with memories of Mara, I felt like a traitor for bringing my new love to our old haunt. I chose to kick that feeling aside. Mara wouldn’t want me walking alone, I’m sure.
Camera tricks? Henri wears a halo.
Henri had a splendid time breaking through thin ice on the dike’s reedy edges. We traveled quite a ways out and back so I was surprised to find the hunter had just loaded his dogs and was getting into the truck’s driver’s seat when we arrived back at the lot.
“Still here? This might be an odd question,” I called, “and…please feel free to say no…but, can my dog smell your bird? She’s only a pup and there are high hopes she’ll grow into a splendid pheasant dog.”
In the welcome sunlight, he squinted at us and replied, “I’ve been asked a lot weirder questions. Sure, let her take a look,” he said.
When presented with the kill, Henri had its head in her mouth in a blink. The hunter gently opened her jaws with his hands and pulled the bird free. “You can’t eat the bird,” he told her, presenting its wing to her snout. She sniffed and pulled at the breast feathers with her front teeth. She’s going to be a great bird dog, I thought silently.
My vulnerability in asking elicited an unexpected response.
For thirty minutes or more I tried to suspend all I knew about pheasant hunting and Labrador Retrievers as the hunter shared stories and advice. I nodded and uh-huh’d a lot…..considered how my husband or son might have interacted in a similar conversation. Me? I simply enjoyed the hunter’s excitement about our similar interest. He went so far as to offer to work with Henri in the field should we cross paths again.
Interesting? A connection I might not have risked a year or so ago?
It was fun.
When’s the last time you stepped outside of what you know, listening with fresh ears and mind?