Graceful Mountain Fliers

I picked her up today
After a weekend behind
Bars, her tail wagging and
Brown eyes piercing.
“Have you heard of
Chillon?” I asked my youngest
Son while we drove up the
Mountain in a light rain
And mist.
“She was in Chillon, but
Never mind,” I dropped it.
There was an Admin.
Day off of some sort today
For the children. Two still
Had practice. I took the third
In pursuit of small game birds.
We noted hunters glassing
Distant fields from one open
Section near where my rear
Dérailleur once exploded for
No apparent reason, about
6800 feet up. How does one
Point that out to his son? I
Started to, but dropped it as well.
Red, yellow and green. The
Terrain is finding its autumn
Demise at last. We actually
Followed another truck at one
Point, a blue American make.
He turned around though
In one of our old favorite
stretches. We went on,
Uncertain what the fellow’s
Plan was? I had new tires and
Brakes. Both meant slightly
Less stress. We carried up to
Not far below where I knew there
Was a gate. He’d been there
Before as well. A bird, a Mountain
Grouse, was in the road below
The gate. I stopped and got out.
“This will not be very sporting,”
I grumbled while getting out,
Looking down at the old gal
Which I forced to remain in the
Vehicle with my son. “Please
Flush,” I said to myself walking
Towards the distant bird, knowing
The two observers were behind
Me glaring above the center crack
In the windshield. I put one in
The chamber and continued walking
Up the otherwise barren double
Track. The Blue flushed. Down
The mountain as they always do.
Pure grace. I was relieved. I’ve never been
A “road hunter.” I returned to the
Vehicle. Dog and son both looking
At me, “Why are you happy?”
“As I said, that would not be
Very sporting. There will be more.”
I turned the truck around below the
Gate and parked. You’ve never seen
Such a happy old dog, white chin and
All. Exploding out of the back seat
Into Montana’s cool damp alpine.
We hiked around a few radio
Antennas and through scree
Pockets. The berries are now
Gone. Working our way down
A ridge, we looked upon the distant
Ski slopes carved below Carlton.
“Do you know what that is?”
I said while looking into an
Indifferent youthful expression.
“Snowbowl?”
“No, you look at that every
Morning from the breakfast
Table. Lolo.”
“I didn’t know there was a ski
Hill there?” said one who was
Perplexed. “There’s not,” I
Fueled the confusion.
We let it go after getting
Out the compass and talking
A bit about what direction he
Was facing – South – the Bitter
Root. I pulled out a GPS as well
And explained the flag, a mark,
For the truck. We chatted about
Nat. Geo. maps and how I used
To love their Topo software – past
Days. “You mean objective?” He
Inquired looking up from the camo
Waterfowl jacket’s hood. “Same deal
To some extent, mark, flag, objective…
They’re all the same. Look,”
He took the device and noted the letters
Trk not too far from our directional
Arrow. “We’re not very far from the
Car, are we?”
“Nope, I put that mark in last season,”
Looking into the Ponderosas, I replied.
“Objective? Video Games!” I quietly
ruminated with an empty expression.
We started walking again. The dog’s
Tongue was hanging out, though it
Was an hour and a half before dusk,
Slightly drizzling and cold. A slight
Breeze was evident given the occasional
Rubbing noises in the surrounding Larch.
Walking up three large birds flew off of
Forest’s floor, up from purple and red
Shale and yellow shrubs. They surprised
All three of us with their loud beating wings.
Too far off, which I realized at the moment,
But I fired at one hoping for the distant grey
Wings to fold for the anxious and excited dog.
Not to be. We continued back up towards
The road. Two more large birds flew from
Their dark, thick perches high in the trees
Above – Perhaps part of the same group, I
Thought to myself. Dogs have a way of
Humiliating their masters and her blank
Stare said it all. “Let’s slow down and look
Into the trees more carefully,” I lightly
Whispered. “I’ve always thought that a
Strange place for a barbed wire fence,”
I quipped, looking at the same strand of barbed
Wire I’ve observed for the past quarter century.
Not much left of it, two or three rusted,
Tangled strands running down the mountain
To nowhere. The perfect place to trip
If one’s not paying attention. We crossed
The road and began climbing above.
“Your mother used to hunt here. Can
You imagine that?” I said, glancing now
Towards Missoula and Hwy 90.
He was expressionless, other than
“Really?” It was coming down pretty
Steadily now.  My boots and khakis were
Wet from the moisture and undergrowth.
We now hunted off the peak
Walking west, I following the dog and
The boy with the hood on following
His father. The area’s Ponderosa were
Less dense, giving us better visibility.
Retrievers struggle with grouse in the
Upper stands. Friends with pointers say
Their dogs will point birds in high branches
But I’ve never witnessed such a thing.
Dogs become pretty keen, though.
A single grouse flushed above us, just
To my left. I watched the bird fly down
The mountain to our south, mocking
Me. I grumbled, continuing on eyes
Open knowing there were probably
Others. My son was silent the whole
Episode, probably thinking “We blew
Another one and it’s time for dinner.”
Gestures and expressions tell the tale.
Two more large birds launched from
Grey branches in the distance ahead
Of us. Both flew down in the direction
Of the road. I shot at the first, saw feathers
And heard a slight thud. I followed thru
Shucking another into the chamber
Attempting to get a bead on the second,
Firing again into a patch of green pine
Along the second bird’s high flight pattern.
The dog ran down through the shale,
Berry patches and high grass, winding
And retrieving the first bird. “Fetch…Here!”
Rang out my son’s young voice from behind
Me. The dog brought the large, beautiful
Quarry to its master as she’s done thru many
Autumns. A magical experience each time.
“Put it in the large pocket,” I said pointing
To the back of my orange vest. “Just don’t
Make me gut it!” Someone said grinning.
Now, both of us wet, small beads rolling
Off of the barrel, we dropped back down
To the road, as one reenters the mundane,
Civilization. Our gait slow and worn from
All of the ups and downs, I, looking up
Into the distance, noted a lone bird on
The uphill edge. It lifted as the dog
Approached. Two feet above and directly
Between the double track, it set its wings,
As only graceful birds will do, and glided
For forty yards straight up the center
Of the road. Run as she could, the
Exhausted dog could not reach the grouse,
Though remaining directly in its line.
The two of us simply watched it all unfold,
Like the end of a delightful dream.
Animals behaving in their given state
And environment. The bird lifted and
Disappeared into the far darkness below the
Two lines, morphed into the mountain’s
Evening shadow. I was pleased.
Driving out right at dark we flushed two
Smaller birds, maybe Ruffed Grouse that
Were in barren Huck patches. I noted
One vehicle parked along a distant ridge.
Probably an archery hunter, I thought
To myself. There were a few Whitetail
And Mule Deer does along the bouncy
Ride across the upper section, but we noted
Very little elk sign during the evening’s trek.
I turned on the headlamps and the radio,
A segment on Katrina. My son’s face again
Glued to his device, headphones on. I
Turned off the radio, the defrost and
windshield wipers going all the while.

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