By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
There’s something about Hugo that is ancient and spirited at the same time. He even has an old, sagging right eye with white lashes and a young, daring left eye with brown lashes. When he stares out the truck window, he hunts the ravens flying down the road and the songbirds bursting from the bushes. He is hitchhiking across the Alaska roadways even before daylight because he believes there’s a chance in every moment. While my mind drifts and describes the things I see, he goes to them directly with eyes, nose and body, until he is pressed against the windshield as a grouse flies low across the highway.
“Spruce grouse,” my partner says.
He’s driving and more aware of the road and its travelers than I am. If a dog could talk, he might be the same kind of conversationalist as my partner. Especially a pointing dog, I imagine. They would tend to point things out. As a backseat passenger, Winchester might be the kid who reads signs along the highway. His black-and-white coloring and stylish repose give him the smart looks of a dog that might read. He might peer up through his bifocals and say, “Spruce grouse.”
While the younger, more enthusiastic Hugo would vault over my seat just the way he did, slamming into the windshield. “Spruce grouse!” he’d yell, like it was Bigfoot in the flesh or a woman in a red dress. He’d walk smack into a light pole just to have a look.
Steady to wing and shot Hugo was not. His pointing technique was to pin his quarry into the ground. “It counts,” he seemed to think.
“He’s road hunting,” I said. “We’ve never had a dog that hunted the road before.”
“He’ll settle down,” my partner said.
But I hoped he wouldn’t. As much as I love Winchester’s car coolness, Hugo’s erring madness attracted me like a light. He would fight his target in the darkness, throwing punches until nothing moved, and I would watch, knowing he needed some training.
“We’re not going to be able to mount that bird,” I’d say of Hugo’s mangled quarry.
Every dog is his own dog, but Hugo was my dog. He was young and after everything at once. My partner has more experience and keeps a pace that saunters style and cowboy sensibility. His dog, Winchester, was born with a slow and powerful grace that suited his owner. Even though they are “our” dogs, I always felt a bit of awe watching Winchester point and my partner shoot. My shots are sometimes from the hip, and my excitement can cause the world to narrow into a single sense. I remember sneaking up on a duck pond with a party of four hunters. We’d conferenced and decided how to approach. As I crept from clump of grass to clump of grass a drake pintail came into view. He saw me and watched as I disappeared and reappeared within 30 yards. I looked back to see my hunting party 75 yards behind me. They looked confused at my departure from the plan.
Just then, the pintail burst from the water in photographic detail. I stood like Hugo in the middle of a birdbath with songbirds in the air all around. I didn’t take a shot, but I loved it. I ruined it for all, but I loved it.
Hugo turned his gaze from the road and licked me upside the head. Yes, he’s my dog. It may take us awhile to get things right, and we’ll make some mistakes along the way. It’s fun from the moment we start. And we start first. We start on the road, going everywhere fast.
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on her book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.