Friday, September 9, 2011

Of a book, a bird dog and a last hunt

I was not disappointed that it was a quiet night with no air traffic from either inbound or outbound Canada geese.

And for once I was content that my only hunting partners were my two Labrador retrievers, Blackberry (Berry for short) and Millie, whom I now call “Mildred” when she does something she ought not to do.

Tonight, though, neither dog seriously misbehaved. When I opened the door to the hunting blind they were free to wrestle on the wet, weedy grass.

Oblivious to my intentions, Berry and Millie were happy to frolic though every now and then they broke free and looked out at the five goose decoys bobbing on the pond’s surface. Just in case they missed a live goose that might have snuck in when they were thus otherwise occupied.

And so with the two dogs busy with the important work of play, and the call lanyard with its three calls placed properly in case of need, I settled back with my 30-year-old edition of “The Best of Cory Ford.”

Largely known now only to those sports old enough to remember when he was “Field and Stream” magazine’s premier essayist, Ford penned the ever-popular “Lower 40” column for the printed edition of the publication.

Reading helps me occupy my mind when I wait for ducks or geese to filter by the blind just as I use the method while awaiting a deer to show up while on stand.

But on this hunting trip the reason for the Ford reading was different. Instead of starting from the book’s middle or the front I turned to its last short story posting: “The Road To Tinkhamtown.”

It is often referred to as the finest example of outdoor literature ever written. I am not one to disagree.

A quick summation is that the story concerns an aged hunter who is on his deathbed. There, his mind wanders back to when he and his long-since-dead English setter, Shad, found the grown-over remains of a ghost town called Tinkhamtown.

Amongst the forgotten community's rotting fields and moldering building foundations the hunter and his dog encountered a steady diet of ruffed grouse to hunt.

It was a special place for the old gent, and now as he lay dying his mind drifted back to Tinkhamtown.

Only not just in his mind. In some quasi-spiritual sense he was returning to the place and time he favored most of all in his life. Sort of like that “Twilight Zone” episode called “Last Stop, Willoughby.”

I have yet to read this story - and I’ve read it much over the past three decades - without tearing up.

The book was opened to page 257 again because that is where I always crack it when I’m about to follow a particular ritual. Each time one of my gun dogs passes away I follow a set path, groved in the firmament of personal history.

I make my way to my own special place that the dog and I shared. In this case it was a familiar farm pond where Jenny Lynn and I spent many mornings, afternoons and evenings together, generally hunting geese but also trying to shoot an occasional duck or a mourning dove.

Last season was Jenny’s final round of visits to the pond. We also had to wait when the weather was fair enough so that it would not trip into play the old girl’s aches and pains. And they were many of those in her final days.

Jenny Lynn always enjoyed the adventures. Even those times when I had to help her down out of the SUV or lift her back up again into the vehicle.

She would position herself in front of the blind, sitting between it and the farm pond. Her eyes had mellowed severely and were no longer sharp.

But Jenny was still eager for the retrieve. Whenever luck prevailed and I felled a goose she would be ready to ease into the water and make a fetch. She was always bested by a long country mile since Berry was faster and more assure of paw.

I’d have to chuckle that when Berry made landfall she would be met by Jenny Lynn who would help carry the goose the rest of the way.

Our last dove hunt also was at the pond, or close enough to it that I depended on steel shot to kill the birds. Berry found nearly all of the downed doves. Nearly all but not all.

Jenny Lynn found some that had tumbled into the waist-high ragweed. Not many birds but enough to satisfy her. My heart ached as much as it busted with pride.

I knew those were her last birds. And they were.

Jenny Lynn died in January. On her 13th birthday to be exact.

She was cremated and I paid to have her remains returned to me. Just as I had for Rebel and for Miss Daisy. And I’ll do someday for Berry and eventually for the half-as-old Millie.

Jenny Lynn’s ashes reside in a metal can, all decorated proper-like with printed doggy paw marks.
ome of those ashes were removed from the container. They went into a pair of shotshells where the pellets were supposed to go. Loaded each with primers, Red Dot gunpowder and Double-A wads, the red-colored Winchester shotshells would help fulfill a mission reserved for all of my bird dogs.

And so I read “Road To Tinkhamptown,” finishing with eyes moistened by salty tears.
Loading the Browning over-under with the two shotshells I fired each barrel out over the pond. It was bringing Jenny Lynn home.

Next, I blew a dog whistle, two sharp notes shouted out so that the pond, the woods and everything living there would know that here went a good dog; the best dog an old man/boy could ever hope to own.

I’m growing creaky as I age, some joints fused or not as nimble as they were 13 years ago when Jenny Lynn and I began our journey together. I treasure those thoughts, and on cold nights they return to stroke my memory of the truly fine days we had together.

And now I’m at the pond again, with another long-time hunting chum and a brand-new hunting buddy. We’ll build some favored memories of our own, too. Of this I am certain.

Yet just as assuredly some day I will again open Ford’s book to page 257, read the script, fire two special shotshells and blow the dog whistle.

Yes, Jenny, I see you. You’ll forever own a piece of my heart

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, my friend, there is no work in the genre that equals Tinkhamtown.