At any rate, it was the first hunt after saying goodbye to JD, his father, and his seriously injured lab, Ruby. Earlier that morning, we had bid farewell to Allan, an outdoor writer friend whom I had invited up from Helena who had the misfortune of choosing to join us for the worst 24 hours any hunter could imagine.
Now, it was just me and Jon and our seven dogs... and one gargantuan coulee. I don't recall if it was a conscious decision or fate of the rotation, but we put down our two veteran dogs -- Jon's Sage, a beautiful five-year-old English Setter, and Dottie, my nine-year-old pointer.
We each set out with our dog -- I took the right side of the coulee, Jon the left. In retrospect, we could have easily hunted each high-low side up and back, but for some reason, we didn't. No matter. Over the first several hundred yards, I could feel the stress and anxiety of the last 24 hours start to leave me. Prior to that time, there was a part of me that simply wanted to pack up and head home to the safety and comfort of my family. I'm glad I fought that urge.
And then I noticed it. The colors had become brighter, more vivid. All of my senses were heightened and alive. I saw Dottie, and noticed she was sharing the same elation that I was feeling. I picked up the beautiful bird, felt its warm, limp heft in my hand, and realized that I was experiencing something profound.
Sometimes, we need to experience death or near-death to appreciate and understand how blessed and sacred life is. And I'm convinced that my experience on that coulee was God's undeniable way of letting me know that he was with me. All I had to do was look around -- in literally any direction -- and there was irrefutable proof that his hand was in everything. And I knew I was right where I needed to be.
Dottie and I continued our walk, and I let the Montana wind dry the tears on my smiling face. The feeling of rapture faded, just as it had come on. We didn't find any more birds in that coulee, but that was beside the point. I had faced serious injury or death the day before. I had taken a life moments before in the form of that lone hun. And I emerged -- feeling thankful, relieved, humble -- and very much alive.
I had been to hell and back in Montana. But for a few brief minutes, I found heaven.