Winging It

Bird dog and trainer

This upland season is fast approaching.

The preparations of the past few seasons manifested in paper and piles. Maps stretched over more maps to cross-check terrain and access. Gear overflowing tables to neutral corners for ranking to make the pack or inevitable re-packs. The planning and gear goat rope is something to while away the weeks, a distraction from a sluggish calendar. Maybe all that preparation pays dividends afield. The hours of thought poured into a hunt resulting in success by someone’s metric.

But this year is different.

The sides of a stage unseen by spectators are referred to as wings. In 19th century theater understudy actors would wait in the wings during performances in case of an emergency; making one question the safety of those old venues or maybe the sobriety of the audience. These understudies rarely knew the lines of the main actor and would be forced to improvise, winging it.

The stage is set for this upland season and I find myself in the wings transfixed by the view, awaiting the shove to improv. There’s still plenty of opportunity to learn the upcoming scenes but I have no desire to drone on lines already written.

The civilized spring and summer months are now driving me wild, to be wild. There have been too many people and too much order. A bitter, divisive society over-consuming oxygen unable to acknowledge any virtue let alone imagine the wonders of hidden birds in wild places. It’s suffocating.

It’s why I keep staring at that upland stage. I sense if I dare move or look away the surrounding shit storm of negativity, geopolitical turmoil and divisive ideology threatens to somehow taint even this most sacred pursuit. So I stare.

The addition of Ida, the new chocolate Lab puppy, has also had an impact on the usual off-season iterations. There’s no pre-game ritual for a puppy. Ida, eyes wide open, just does. Right, wrong, half-wild — not a whole lot of thought or planning go into the actions of this little Lab. Just let it fly and react to the outcome. Bite the setter’s tail and see what she does. Bite it again just to be sure.

Watching and training this pup over the months has been a bright spot in the dull summer sun. It’s been a reminder of the joy of seeing with new eyes. The recklessness is infectious and offers too obvious a remedy for all the current dilemmas.

I head into this season willfully unprepared. The coming performance will be cringeworthy or brilliant; I expect nothing mediocre. We won’t be stumbling through, we’ll be winging it to unexplored places where opportunity and peril fraternize. The perpetual cast of upland birds will be stellar. And the dogs and I will play our cameo in the drama of wild places that’s gone on for millenniums.

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