“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
― Albert Einstein
Have you ever had a moment while out fly fishing or bird hunting that you wish you would have captured in a photograph? Maybe it was a sunrise or sunset, maybe it was a gigantic trout, or maybe it was a special moment with a bird dog or hunting companion. With our smart phones and Go Pros, it seems that failing to record such moments happens less than it used to, but—like it or not—it still happens. So what if you got a second chance to capture a fleeting moment? Would you take it?
Misty was a bona fide grouse dog. Although she bumped her share in her youthful enthusiasm, she later learned to stick them with unbelievable intensity. This thrilled me to the core every single time during our seven years together.
During the late summer and early fall of 2016, Misty had some of her most memorable points. One morning before the season started, we hiked up into the Outhouse and about a hundred yards up the draw, Misty struck a stellar point on a blue grouse right along the creek. Since I couldn’t yet hunt, I took a photo. I’m so glad to have that photo to remember her. After that, I always wanted to get a clear picture of her pointing a ruffed grouse.
Once the season starts, it gets harder to put down the gun and take photos, but fortunately, during the fall of 2016, I had the good sense–on numerous occasions–to get the photo first and shoot later. After all, a grouse in hand only lasts a moment, whereas a photo lasts a lifetime (and maybe longer if you write about it).
On one Saturday morning in September of 2016, Misty and I walked Grouseketeer Ridge primarily in search of blues. In the last few years, however, we have started to see more ruffed grouse along the road’s edges as the young forest growth reclaims the road. On this particular morning, we had just taken the left fork across the ridge and about thirty yards up the road, Misty locked up on point on a ruffed grouse in the middle of the road. It was the prettiest, most intense point I had ever seen. I thought about taking a photo, but wanted to take the bird so much that I passed up on the chance to capture the moment in a picture. Of course, when I walked past Misty to flush the bird, it unexpectedly flew to my left uphill and totally burned my biscuits. So, I didn’t get the photo or the bird. Honestly, the thing that stung the most was not having that picture. Nobody would believe me if I told them that Misty pointed a ruffie in the wide-open middle of the road. That just doesn’t happen very often.
The following week I hunted Huns with my friend, Josh, and his friend Lee. We hunted hard and found a few Huns. Misty even pointed a rooster pheasant before that season opened. When we finished with the Hun cover, I offered to take them up to Grouseketeer Ridge to find a few forest grouse. We didn’t find a bunch of birds up on the ridge that day, but as we approached the last switchback before the road cuts through the gap to the other side, about a hundred yards from where Misty pointed the ruffie the week before, lo and behold, there again was a ruffed grouse smack in the middle of the road! Misty crept catlike toward the bird and struck a point exactly like the one she had the week before (on maybe exactly the same bird). I felt like I was given a second chance.
I like to say that my Momma didn’t raise no dummy, so I pulled out the camera and snapped numerous photos of this mesmerizing point while Josh readied for the shot. I then noticed that another grouse was hunkered down two feet to the right of the other, so I put the camera away and mounted the shotgun, thinking Josh would take the prominent one in the road and I would take the other when it flushed. As we approached, however, the better-hidden grouse to the right flushed first quartering left to right. Josh and I both shot in quick succession, Josh first and then me a split-second later. Of course, with all the lead in the air the bird dropped. The other grouse then flushed uphill and Josh missed it. I let Josh claim the fallen bird (although he ended up sending it home with me anyways. Thanks a lot Josh!). No matter. With those photos, I had what mattered.
Sometimes moments like those come and go and we don’t think much about them. But, as I’ve reflected on this experience, the specialness of the moment was not lost on me. After all, what are the odds that this would happen two times in as many weeks? Misty was in her seventh hunting season and she was in the prime of her hunting career. I could not have known that this would be her last hunting season. Some may say this was nothing but a mere coincidence, but I’m not so sure. In my book, Heaven on Earth: Stories of Fly Fishing, Fun & Faith, I wrote: “Everything is a miracle!” I still believe that. Call it what you will, I choose to believe that this was a tender mercy.