Collecting Sacred Spaces

I needed a little lighthearted entertainment on a recent evening after a stressful day at work. I scanned the listings and found it: “Peggy Sue Got Married.”

It seemed safe enough. A pleasant ’80s drama starring Kathleen Turner as a woman, buffeted by the recent break up of her marriage, attending her 25-year high school reunion. She passes out from the stress of it, then wakes as her teenage self, back in high school.

It’s one of Turner’s great performances, in a film directed by one of my favorites, Francis Ford Coppola. It’s a departure from his violent “Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” epics.

But this is no movie review. Instead, it’s a reflection on time and space. Shortly after traveling back in time, Peggy Sue finds herself in her teenage bedroom, pondering familiar mementos of her younger self — a shoe, a turntable, an address book.

I tried to recall my teenage bedroom and realized I have no equivalent touchstones, not even that Farah Fawcett poster. I moved about in our five-bedroom house, occupying all of them at one time or another. It foreshadowed the wanderlust of my adult life. I’ve lived in six states, including Montana on three separate occasions.

Unlike Peggy Sue, my mementoes are outdoor spaces. I revisit them by choice.

Here’s the list, in chronological order of discovery.

—The unnamed arroyo behind our family home in Riverside, California. I played boyhood games here. There were quail, though the boy in me hardly noticed. Some years the winter monsoons were so severe an ephemeral stream rose below the saturated hills. It never lasted long.

—Dodger Stadium. Nuff said.

—Deep Creek. This small trout stream in the San Bernardino National Forest is where I learned to fly fish.

—Long Valley in the Eastern Sierra. I put my new skills to work here, catching rainbows running up the Owens River.

—The Big Hole near Wisdom. Fishing. Antelope. Haystacks.

—The Bitterroot River. Where I learned to row.

—The pond beyond the front door of our home in Hamilton. This was where life with the twins began.

—McMillin Mesa in Flagstaff, Arizona. I took long walks here, after school with the twins.

—Parker Canyon, Arizona. The best place on Earth to hunt the best birds on Earth — Montezuma quail.

—Curlew National Grasslands, Idaho. At Curlew my first English setter, Jack, taught me to hunt on those golden plains. 

—The Middle Fork Flathead River. The whitewater of my scariest moments. Screaming Right Rapid was my nemesis. Thanks to the pros from Mountain Photography, one of my favorite photos of the twins and I also depicts Bone Crusher Rapid.

—The North Fork Flathead River. I’ve probably caught more trout here than any other water. Average size: 6 1/2 inches, lol.

—The Sweet Grass Hills. The name. The sharp-tailed grouse. The warmth in your heart the first time you get sight of the Hills as you clear the Rockies, headed toward the plains.

—The Bench, Wyoming. A high spot overlooking the Shoshone River Valley. The panoramic view from the bench includes the Beartooth Plateau, the maw of the canyon where the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River drains the Yellowstone Plateau, Heart Mountain and the Bighorns. If you’re a hunter you might find some chukars there, too.

—The Platte River, Nebraska. Sandhill cranes crowd fields along an 80-mile reach of the river, gorging on waste corn during a stopover on their migration north. We’re talking darken-the sky-concentrations; approximately 400,000, every spring. In the desperation of spring 2020 — when we feared the still unknown horrors of COVID-19 — watching flocks of cranes just overhead, while more flew toward the river like wispy black threads strung to the horizon, was the ultimate therapeutic.

Crane song. It’s medicine enough to cure even the terror of being dumped back in high school, 25 years removed.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.

Return to the Chukar Grounds

I made it back to the chukar grounds last weekend after two seasons away.

There, my puppy, Jade, had her first exposure to gunfire. Before hunting, we stopped out on the chukarless flats and I had my pal, The Curmudgeon, fire off a few rounds as I scratched the youngster behind her ears while whispering sweet nothings. She ignored the sweet nothings, but seemed curious about the boomstick. 

The Curmudgeon fired off a few more rounds. This time I tossed Jade’s chew toys into the wind and she raced after them, nosing her prized possessions. Then she trotted over to The Curmudgeon to see what the fuss was about.

That first gun report can terrify some pups, but Jade was unfazed. It had been that way with my other setters, so it seemed safe to move on to the bird holding slopes. Later, when I put a bird on the ground, she learned that occasionally special things fall from the sky after the boomstick goes off.

On the chukar grounds Jade did her best to keep up with the big dog, following Doll as she zig zagged through the sage. When Doll slowed to more closely inspect scent she’d detected on brush or cheatgrass, Jade did the same. She even followed the big dog out on some of her long casts, but then Jade would notice the space between herself and me, and race back to my side. 

She hunts like that now, running back and forth between the two members of her pack. With time she’ll grow confident enough to venture out on her own, going where bird scent leads her.

When we got back to the truck I played a bit with my pup, tossing a bird out for her to retrieve. Three times Jade brought it back to me, but on the fourth toss it seemed she’d had enough. She sat down next to the bird and started to chew, ending our game. 

That first day the wind howled, heralding a fast-approaching winter storm. We hunted, and moved birds, though gusts pushed scent around like hockey pucks on freshly Zambonied ice. Doll did her darnedest, but it was almost impossible to determine from what direction that scent was blowing. 

Often the coveys flushed wild, sideways to us from the wind.

Most covey flushes were a surprise; the birds taking to the air in tight groups. Those tight coveys fly long and often hit the ground running. A dog’s nose is usually the great equalizer, but not in that wind.

The next day we hunted a bit with no success and then the storm hit. We drove to a new spot and Doll was eager for another round. The puppy, however, barely poked her nose into the wind before it was blasted by blowing ice. 

Jade backed up and returned to her bed, curling into a tight ball. If she’d spoken in that moment before she tucked her nose under her tail, saying “I don’t think so,” in perfectly enunciated English, she couldn’t have been more clear of her intentions. 

Doll and I gave it a last go with the big dog hunting like a champ, despite the maddening conditions. The snow and blowing ice created a kind of visual white noise, like when a television has lost reception. It was hard to make sense of things in that din, but Doll kept working and got birdy, though her body language made clear she was struggling to sort the data gathered by her nose.

She broke up hill, working scent, just as a covey rose like an apparition out of the snow behind us. I fired a pair of shots, but all of the tightly grouped birds flew on, far and untraceable in the storm.

We’ll return, hopefully when the weather gives my dogs a sporting chance.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.