Written by: James Straka
Ponte Vedra, FL
The early morning woods were still and silent as the sunlight struggled to penetrate the still dense tree canopy. The same sun that rose two hours earlier a few weeks ago, and would have been blazingly hot, now dimly lit the forest floor, muting the kaleidoscope of colors of the mountains of leaves that had dropped off of the tree branches above. The Chocolate Phase Cock Grouse dropped from his secure roost to the forest floor, in search of his morning’s sustenance.
The lower light angle and slower sunrise gave the Old Hunter and his aging English Setter what they needed: sufficient moisture for scenting, and shade for cooling their bodies from the heat of their exertions as they fought their way through the dense undergrowth and wicked greenbriar tangles, all the while the colorful carpet of leaves crunched underfoot. Hearing the approaching threat, the Cock Grouse slowly angled away from the disturbing sounds until reaching the crest of the ridge where he patrolled daily, where he flushed in a thunderous roar of whirring wings.
The Old Dog struggled to detect what he lived for: a wisp of scent from a Ruffed Grouse.
Or a Woodcock.
Still, the heady and intoxicating aromas of the deep forest were a soothing tonic to his canine brain, and for the first time in months, he fairly scoured the woods in search of game. Finally striking a hot scent, the Old Dog went absolutely berserk seeking the hiding place of the bird, but the Old Hunter had heard the grouse flush as he and the Old Dog crested the rise from the creek far below, meaning the that the Old Dog’s gallant efforts were for naught.
Gentle Reader, when October Comes to Call, it is place, not result that matters to the true hunter. Somewhere along the long and winding road, now, in the Old Hunter’s sixty-fifth year, and the Old Dog’s twelfth, with eleven of those years spent together as a completely devoted and indivisible Team, the Old Hunter and the Old Dog both discovered that it wasn’t a bird in the Old Hunter’s Tattered Gamebag that they sought.
Rather, it was the mystical, and time-honored partnership: bound together by complete and unconditional Trust between a Man and his dog; each anticipating and responding to the other’s every move; the Old Dog seeking what the Old Hunter could neither see nor smell; and the irresistible indulgence of the Old Dog’s quest of finding that one bird more.
And the same for the Old Hunter as well.
Pausing to sit and rest for a spell on an old drumming log, the Old Man reflected on how many other memorable events are like that: seeking the best of days afield gone by, yet knowing, that though near, they are untouchable, except in the Theatre of their minds.
The Old Hunter and Old Dog spent three Glorious yet fruitless mornings in the Spectacularly Glowing Fall Northwoods, working seamlessly together on the trip, as yet again, October, had Come to Call.
Who were they to refuse?