Written by: Jared Baugh
The morning had not gone as I had planned for or certainly expected. The sky was clear, leading to a stunning array of colors in orange, red, purple, and blue. All seemed to serpentine across a watercolor sky.
I had watched the artistry unfold with my back against the big cedar, a good twenty feet off the ground. I had hiked in the dark, down the old two track, deep into the Michigan forest. Using October’s full moon glow to navigate the trail to my destination. The ground slowly softening under my boots as I made my way closer to where I’d hung my tree stand. My mind swirling with visions of an image of a warlord buck on patrol. Looking for a bride to claim as his or a young upstart to drive off.
The softening ground meant I was getting closer as the smell of damp earth and moss filled my nostrils. Confirming what the ground under my feet told me. The shadows of the cedars and alders grew thick here and obscured the starry pre-dawn night. Even the full October moon struggled to send even a sliver of light through to help me now.
I had set up on the edge of a swamp hoping to be in the hallway of a mature buck’s bedding area. The area was thick with tangles of wild raisin that seemed to thrive and gave the impression of shelter. A place I figured his Majesty would use to vanish and I could use to my advantage to ambush him.
Having climbed up in the dark, I sat in the still silence. My bow was laid across my lap waiting to be summoned for its sole purpose of felling a giant. As the moon began to fade and seemed to bid me adieu, it gave way to another morning. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at my fruitless efforts. The preparation, the getting up so early, and my hike in seemed to only feed and empower the imps of doubts and annoyance.
As the drone of doubts swirled in my head, I heard a peculiar sound. At first, I questioned myself and what I was hearing. As it made its way towards me growing slightly louder. I had never heard a sound like it from the woods before. It was a pair of bells that was being broadcast in a cadence. As it grew closer, I began to see glimpses of white as a pair of dogs weaved through the thick forest growth in search of some elusive game.
I realized it was a pair of English Setters. I watched mesmerized as they covered the ground so seamlessly. The very same ground I fought through; these two canine ballerinas gracefully danced over it.
Behind them walked an elderly gentleman in his plaid shirt, an orange Stormy Kromer covering what few hairs I’m sure stubbornly clung to his head. An old flannel kept the chill off and a well-worn side by side broken open in the crook of his elbow.
I had been captivated by this odd troupe coming towards me on the edge of the cedar swamp. I failed to realize the bells had stopped ringing. I carefully turned my head and located the dogs both on point. One honoring the other one on point, both frozen in the moment.
I heard the click of the old side by side closing as he began to navigate the new growth. From my perch I watched him slowly maneuver through the new growth. My eyes ferreted between the old hunter and the dogs who in the moment seemed to have even stopped breathing.
He moved so carefully at first, I figured he feared falling. At his age I understood his concern till the ground erupted with a blur of brown catapulted skyward. Wings a blur, the old man started to swing the gun at the bird who left in such a rush. I watched as it executed evasive maneuvers weaving through the new growth like a seasoned fighter pilot.
Soon the elusive bird was nothing but a memory. I realized I hadn’t heard a shot from the old man’s shotgun. I glanced back at the old man and saw him smiling as his quarry had won this encounter.
He broke open his shotgun and continued to carefully navigate the ground toward his still frozen setters. A simple touch from his weathered hand reanimated them as they exploded in movement as quickly as they had stopped before. The two quickly covered the ground and were all but white blurs through the cover, leaving a trail of bell tones as they resumed their hunt.
The old man resumed his walk following the invisible trail of music notes as the bells grew softer. Soon he faded into the forest edge just as his dogs did. Leaving me to ponder at what I had just witnessed. I sat there in awe. Captivated at the choreography, the movement, and fluid teamwork.
It was in that moment I understood why someone would spend a lifetime chasing those little brown birds and I was so grateful I could share a space with them.