Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Transcendental Coulee

Jon and I surveyed the massive coulee outside the driver's side window, and came to a stop.  Without even discussing it out loud, we both understood that we'd have to hunt it.  That's how it goes sometimes.  After hunting with someone enough, you tend to anticipate your buddy's thoughts and ideas long before either of you ever need to say a word.  Perhaps it's a latent trait that still manifests itself after thousands of years of man combining his strengths for a successful hunt.

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.

All of these thoughts were swimming in my head when Dottie began getting birdy, and finally came to a stop at the edge of a drainage, just below the rim of a cut wheat field.  I picked up my pace, and made the wise decision to circle around the brushy draw to afford myself a shot.  I was almost there when the covey of huns exploded.  Most flew straight down the drainage, protected by brush and into the safety of the main coulee.  But one trailer bird gave me a dream shot, and I didn't squander it.

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.


  1. Beautiful pictures and beautifully written post, as usual. Oh, and thanks for the desktop background.

  2. You found what we all seek when we go out with our dogs. A brilliant, if not beatific, moment. Good stuff!