In November 2001, I got invited along to hunt pheasant in Kansas for the first time. The 9/11 terrorist attacks had just occurred, and there was a general foul mood running undercurrent in opposition to our otherwise hopeful outlook for the hunting.
There were six of us (my uncle Jim, his oldest and my cousin David, David's son Tyler, and two others) wedged in Uncle's motorhome. As a rule, I like my space. So, regardless of the quality of the company, and when it comes to travelling companions there are none better, I was well outside the proverbial comfort zone. Also, just 2 weeks prior to the trip, I had quit smoking as a prelude to conditioning for a 6-minute mile and joining the Combat Engineers and hopefully going to shoot bad guys in the desert.
I remember the hunting was pretty bleak that year. In terms of the number of birds, that is. Still yet, I recall "missing" a lot (or what I would say is a lot) of makeable shots on birds...which I have since come to attribute to the Walmart/Federal shot shells I bought (another long story). So, combining all those things, I was kinda fighting off a general grumpiness.
Toward the end of the week, I could say that I had enjoyed the trip, and knew I would love to come again, but was already looking forward to going home. About the same time, though, that I was wishing aloud to David, "You know, I'd really like to have a bird dog...", one of the fellers in the extended group (there were about 16-18 of us total) who had lassooed one of the local free-range two-legged wildlife, was learning about a dog that she had inherited from a former boyfriend who had departed the scene. The gal in this story already had 5 other dogs that lived inside her house, and she couldn't keep another, and was simulatneously wishing someone would give #6 dog a better home.
"Sight, unseen!" I said, when I heard the situation. I didn't ask what breed, or age, or temperment, or experience. I had to pass a sort-of phone interview with Julie, the owner, to make her comfortable that I'd give the dog a good home, and to agree not to change her name. But, so far as I was concerned, the deal was done.
I really had zero expectations. It could've been a half-lame Setter, or a timid Viszla, and I wouldn't have cared. I was already like a kid on Christmas morning, when they walked her into the Forsberg's barn. I can still say that I've never been more impressed with the regal elegance of an animal. Love at first sight.
We took her to the field that afternoon, and although we didn't get her on any birds right away, we got to see how naturally well she quartered and responded to shot. Getting her home to North Carolina was an exercise in political schmoozing, as she was none-too-welcome in the camper, and had to ride out back in a crate on the extend-o-platform. I'm pretty sure my previous surliness had rubbed off on Uncle...maybe on everyone else, too.
Many times since, we've returned to Kansas where she enjoys quite a reputation, and has yet to meet another dog with her talent. She'll be 11 this year, and she still hunts hard, although it does take her a bit longer these days to recover and recharge. She may retire after next season.
Nothing can give a man's life more meaning or something to live up to than the love of a great dog.
Thanks, Julie...wherever you are.