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HOME RANGE: Notes on Literature, Nature, Working Dogs, History, Martial Arts, Other Obsessions and Sundry Annoyances by Henry Chappell

A Piece of River

Ran across this little essay the other day - my first piece in Field & Stream. Sheesh, 17 years ago! Brings back some good memories. There used to be a market for little essays like this one.
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Words I Wish I'd Written

To write about gundogs, especially your own, is to risk sentimentality - a risk worth taking. Tarrant pushed it everytime out, and sometimes went over the edge. But not here.

“They are the iced mace of wind thrown by bad-dad winter, off to the north, blowing the redleg mallards off their last haunts. Blowing them south, flying like buckshot. And you’re gripping Pup and whispering “No head up,” and you fit the duck call to your lips. It is cold and you know it will freeze to the skin. But you call. And the lead hen throws her body high, looking down and back, seeing the iced-in blocks pointing bill-up to the slate sky.

“And now they come, shingles rippled loose from some old barn and the wind is driving them crazily toward your decoys and you stand and the old gun barks and the dog launches. He’s breaking ice and standing high in the water, though his feet don’t touch bottom. And you wish you’d never shot. For nothing can live out there. Not even Pup in the prime of his life. Yet he clamps the big bright drake and spins about, throwing water with his whipping tail, and comes for you – the drake covering his face – so he must swim by instinct, for he cannot see.

You’re out of the blind now and running the bank, yelling out. And the retriever comes to shore, not stopping to shake, and heads straight for you. But the black dog turns instantly silver. The water has frozen that fast. And you take the duck and the dog shivers, his teeth chattering, and the pelvic-drive muscles convulse. Then he spins in the tall yellow grass; he runs and rubs the side of his jowls in the mud and stubble.”

Bill Tarrant, “Of Miracles and Memories,” Field & Steam, August 1983

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