November is deer season in Maine. Puck and I stay home most of the month and leave the woods to the people in orange with the anxious trigger fingers. But we’re not bitter about it. We know the best part of the bird season is on its way.
December is our favorite time to hunt grouse. As the trees tuck themselves in for the long nights and cold weeks ahead, the grouse concentrate on the shorter and shorter list of foods available to them. So when you find some food, you find plenty of birds.
Puck and I are even more alone in the woods this time of year, but we’re also more together. With the leaves down, I see more of her. I can be impressed with her leaps, wonder at what she pauses to smell, and see her turn to find me as a blow on my whistle. We have hundreds of acres all to ourselves. And the clanging of a bell, the whirl of a flush, and the rhythm of our steps to keep us company.
My local dog park is close by. Garage to gate takes less than a ten minutes. My Engish Pointer Puck always knows when we’re heading there. She’s up and scratching in her crate way before I turn onto the dirt road that leads to the parking area. How does she know where we’re going? Scent? This dog park used to be a dump, so maybe that’s it.
Once I park and check for coming cars, I let Puck tumble out of my truck. She shoots right towards the path we always walk. When she was young, I would have called her back, whoad her, and made her wait to be released. But now that she’s nine, I just let her go.
This path loops around the dump’s old trash heap. The heap is capped with a multicultural crowd of grass, weeds, and ambitious vines. Streams leak out here and there and the rusty red water stains her legs with brick-colored socks.
I walk. Puck runs. She stays ahead 40 yards, 60 yards, and then surges to 120 and finally out past where I can see her. But if I pause for minute, say to take a closer look at a singing warbler, she comes back to find me.
“Hunt” is the only song Puck knows, and wherever she’s always looking for birds. We’ve never found a grouse or woodcock at the dog park, but Puck always hits this ground hard, like there could be one up ahead. I watch here I’m in awe of how perfectly aligned she is with her job and realize I’m seeing a period put on a sentence that English Pointer breeders have been writing for over a hundred years ago. Or maybe it’s a comma, a place where the breed pauses, realize how far it has come, and then continues on again.
Puck leaps logs like a show horse – head high, paws tucked – and then puts equines to shame with her nimble landing. Watching her, I can see the shine of pure joy. In body and spirit, she has no doubt and there’s no questioning. She is intent and purpose, confidence and innocence. There’s no conflict or compromise, ego or vanity. It’s a purity I admire– and envy.