On a long, slow walk with nowhere in mind

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An old man and a young pup both lost in their own worlds

By Chad Love

By the time you read these words in the spring, quail hunting will be but a memory. As I write these words, however, sitting here on a log in a lovely, lonely spot known only to me, it is still quail season in Oklahoma on a sunny and beautiful February afternoon.

I am not, however, hunting: I do not carry a gun, there are no quail in my vest, and there won’t be for the remainder of the season. No more hunting for me this year. I’ve done enough. Truth be told what I need right now in these waning days is not more killing, but more reminders of living. And nothing reminds me more of living than a long walk in a lonely place with the company of a dog.

There’s nothing else to break the silence between an old man and a young pup both lost in their own worlds; the old man’s thoughts oscillating wildly between old memory and new future, the young dog’s actions oscillating wildly between the reckless puppy abandon of what she still is and the laser-focused bird finder of what she’s gradually becoming.

I walk, she runs, I think, she acts. We both soak in the silence and the sky and the sun and the promised whisper of coming life that pulses just underneath the winter-stiffened rustling of dormant prairie grass. With every step I can feel the tug of spring, of change and birth and the passage from one seasonal and personal chapter to the next. And I welcome it. Such pages are meant to be read, lived, mulled over, learned from, and then turned.

Next fall I will of course experience this same stirring in reverse. Autumn is both destination and reflection on what has been, while spring is daydream of what will be. And as summer drains away, those ancient sirens will call me back to the field, as they always have, but for now I tire of pursuit. And I believe, as I always have, that at this point in the season any quail that’s survived this long deserves its survival, has earned it, and damn sure doesn’t need me trying to kill it for my own selfish reasons.

Heresy? Possibly, and judge me if you must, but perhaps it takes the passage of much time, and the observance of both death and life, to make you realize there is something just as inherent and primal to be derived from watching something live free and unpursued, as there is in hunting it.

And that is why I rarely ever hunt this deep in the season, preferring these rambling, unarmed peregrinations of the legs and the soul. I would like to say that I am an incredibly deep and complex human being, and that I am wrestling with great philosophical conundrums and pondering the mysteries of life on these long walks of mine, but that’s not true. I’m just an ordinary person of no great intellect or insight, wrestling with the same questions and issues that everyone else does.

Perhaps my walks are a coping mechanism for life, which — unless you are very charmed — does tend to be tough sometimes. By your own actions or the actions of others, your heart will be battered, your trust will be violated, your hopes will be crushed, and what you give so fervently and so honestly will be used, thrown away, and never given back to you. That’s just life.

But so is the feeling of warm sun on your face, and the excitement of the new, the delicious mystery of the possible, and the regeneration of what touches your soul. I once told someone close to me that there was something necessary about them for me. I feel the same way about these deathless late-season walks. There is something necessary about them, something redemptive in the deliberateness of not taking a life, which, in the end, makes me a more appreciative hunter.

Ultimately, I’m not sure if we’re meant to figure any of it out. Metaphysically speaking, we are all walking toward or away from something, and I suppose I’m doing the same on these restless walks. But to where, and from what, I cannot say, and probably never will. Can any of us? Maybe that’s the eternal question we all must face.


This story originally appeared in the spring issue of Quail Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to read more great upland content, become a member today!

Chad is editor of the Quail Forever Journal.