Last week I was a little late getting home from work. Since darkness
would be approaching soon I decided to feed my dogs; feeding them
while there was still light would make the job much easier. This
chore was always the high point of my day, but my weariness after a
hard day at work was threatening to take away some of the enjoyment.
My fifteen-year-old son somehow sensed how tired I was and offered to
help me with the chore. I was glad he offered to help, because as we
walked to where the dogs were staked out, it gave us time to talk
about our day's experiences and share some of our feelings. Normally
we drove the truck down the dirt road to where the dogs were staked
out, but for some reason I felt as if we should walk. As we walked
along I put my arm around my son. This was something he would not
have allowed if we had not been alone. I mean, a father is not
suppose to put his arm around his fifteen year old son is he? Maybe
if he were younger it would be OK. Somehow I got the feeling he
didn't mind it now; was silently pleased that I had put my arm around
his shoulder as we walked. I immediately recognized this time would
be one of those special times, because as we walked along we spoke
with unusual openness and candor that would leave us knowing much
more about each other than we did before. It was times like this that
any good father would value as priceless… and the boy would too. But
that would come later, some time in the future… after the father was
gone, when a young man would think back on things in his past. I
walked slowly trying to savor every minute as we made it to where the
dogs were staked out.

As we got close to the dogs the dust filled the air. The drought we
were experiencing in South Carolina had made the sand turn into a dry
powder The dogs stirred this up as they ran around excitedly
anticipating their daily meal. The dust began to drift in an ever-
increasing circle. I looked in the sky hoping to see a sign of a rain
cloud, but there was none. The dogs were barking now letting me know
they were getting impatient.

When we reached the dogs we both knew exactly what to do. I filled up
a five gallon bucket with dog food and began to feed the dogs while
my son started gathering up the water buckets. As I fed the dogs I
would occasionally look up to watch my son as he went about giving
fresh water to each dog. I laughed to myself as he got to Sue one of
my setters. Sue looked different from the rest of the setters because
she had so many black spots. I would tell people she looked like a
longhaired Dalmatian. She was a daughter of Pinekone Max and came
from the line of Smith Setters. She looked just like Tomoka when she
pointed, and had great style. Her tail would be high and her head
arched up at an angle that made her look like she was trying to smell
the sky. I knew this was my son's favorite dog. Even though he had
told me in the past he was not interested in birddogs, I had
recognized this as one of those things a son sometimes says out of
rebellion. I knew this because I too was young once. I knew that a
young man looked for differences between himself and his father. But
later in life, when he thought about his father, he would only to be
able to remember how much alike they were alike, and wouldn't
remember any of the differences he had conjured up as a youth. So,
when he told me he wasn't interested in birddogs I would laugh, and I
would tell him that to like birddogs was in his blood, that he got it
from me, and there was nothing he could do about it, and that one day
it would come out.Who knows, maybe my interest in dogs would have
developed much later if I had grown up with computer games and DVDs.
I was glad they weren't around back then. They might have cheated me
out of some of the memorable times I had had with the dogs. I watched
him as he bent down and rubbed the setter's head and talked
soothingly to her. He was on his knees now holding the dog close, and
I thought to myself, it wouldn't be long now until he realized the
truth of what I had always told him. The love of dogs and woods had
come honestly to me through my father, but I would learn later what
he had learned long before me. I would learn it was not the
excitement of the hunt that would draw me to the woods so often, but
rather the religious experience I felt while there.You see, I would
learn to see the woods as something like a Holy place, because it was
the only place I knew where a man could go, and no mater which
direction he looked, he would see God.

Just then a new car came down the dirt road that separated my land
from the large track of land beyond. The vehicle stopped, and when
the dust settled a little the driver's door opened and a young man
got out. I recognized him immediately, having first seen him as a
young boy more than 20 years ago.

As the young man reached out for my hand my mind went back in time to
the first time I had seen him. His father was a very wealthy man by
any mans standards, and had just bought the huge tract of land that
bordered mine. He was overseeing the building of a cabin on his land
near a large pond. The cabin was to be used to entertain friends and
business acquaintances. The dirt road that went to the cabin passed
by where I kept my dogs. I was in a dog pen that day with a female
pointer I owned that had a litter of puppies when the man stopped his
car and got out to talk. He had his two sons with him that day, and
the oldest was the boy I had just greeted. While I talked to the man
I let his two sons in the pen to play with the puppies. I can still
remember how excited they were when I let them in the pen. The pups
had just turned eight weeks old and I ended up giving the boys one
that day as a present. When I told them to pick one out I can
remember how long it took them to decide on one. I remember them
putting the squirming little pup in the car that day and wondered if
it did any damage to their new car. When they left they were as
excited as any two little boys I had ever seen. When I got back to
the house and told my wife about giving the boys the pup, she ask me
how I let a rich man get away without making him pay for it. I knew
she was just joking, because I somehow felt she knew why I had given
the boys the pup; how I had probably remembered my own excitement
when I got my first birddog pups as a young boy, and couldn't stand
to see someone cheated out of such an experience. I had hoped that
the boys would grow up with the pup and have many fond memories of
spending time in the woods with the dog, but fate would not have it.
Within a few months a tragedy would take the boys mother and father.
The boys would go to be raised by their grandparents. I got a call
from the family asking if I wanted the dog back, since the boys would
not be able to keep it when they went to stay with their
grandparents. I was told an uncle was interested in the dog and I
told them to give it to him, hoping that the boys might still be able
to spend some time with it. It was a very sad affair.




As I thought back on it, I couldn't help but remember the mother of
the pups.She was the best hunting dog I had ever owned, and she was
almost solid white. She was a granddaughter of Riggins White Knight
and also had Warhoop Jake in her pedigree. There were other famous
dogs in her pedigree, but these are the only two I now remember. I
guess not being able to remember is what is to be expected when one
gets older. What I do remember, and what I will never forget though,
is how she hunted. What she wanted to do more than anything, and what
she did well, was find birds for me when we hunted. When I think of
her I always remember a bloody mouth and a bloody tail that was held
high when she pointed. She never hesitated to go into the briars if
that is where the birds were. Many times the only way I found her on
point was to see her tail, the end always crimson in color, sticking
up above the cover. Another thing I remember is that when I hunted
with friends she would always be in front of the other dogs when we
found them on point. I never caught her trying to steal a point, but
there were a few times I was suspicious. She had such good qualities
I always wondered if maybe she could have become a champion if she
had fallen into other hands. She certainly had the qualities; she was
an all day dog and had the nose, the speed, the heart and the
endurance. She also had the range, but this was tempered as she
learned to hunt for me. For what she wanted more than anything was to
get a bird in her mouth. What she soon learned was that we were a
team, and she had a certain range she had to respect if we were to be
successful. Yes, we had made a good team then with me being young and
strong and able to walk many miles in rough country, and her a great
dog, eager to hunt for me and complement my enthusiasm and passion.


Another thing I can remember about her is how she taught me that
lesson that you hear about in every birddog training book, a lesson
that every bird hunter learns in his lifetime if he hunts long
enough. And that lesson is " Always give the dog the benefit of the
doubt.' Yes it was this granddaughter of " White Knight" that taught
it to me, and I learned it well. I had gotten off work a little
early and there were still a few hours before dark, just enough time
to find a couple of coveys if we hunted hard and were lucky. Before
an hour was up she had pinned a covey in knee-high cover just on the
edge of a large soybean field. The birds were feeding late. Bad
weather was on the way and they wanted to have a craw full of beans
before they went to roost. As luck would have it the birds got up
wild as I walked in to flush, but I was able to knock one down even
though it was a long shot, perhaps one I should have held back. The
bird fell and my dog went to fetch. She had always been a good
retriever, and had never refused to bring back a bird. I continued to
walk as she went after the bird. The bird was still alive but could
only fly for a few feet and I watched as she made several attempts to
get it firmly in her mouth, the bird flying off several times until
she finally got it. During the time she was trying to get the bird, I
continued to walk up the hill. I watched as she turned to change
directions to bring the bird back to where I had walked.

She was coming to me now, and I can still remember the bird was still
able to occasionally flap his wings even with her firm grip. When she
had gone about half the distance that separated us she froze into one
of the prettiest points I had ever seen her make. I called her
several times but she wouldn't move. Finally I decided to go back to
her to show her how foolish she had been to point, she wasn't even
close to where the birds had gotten up. It was too close for another
covey to be found, and I had already fired several times. Surely if
there had been any birds there they would have flushed.



As I walked back to her I held my shotgun loosely in one hand. When
I got to within about twenty feet of her a covey exploded into the
air and flew back over her head. I never paid much attention to what
she did after the flush, but that day she just stood there staring at
me with a look that said, " Did you think I would lie to you boss"?
I was so surprised when the birds got up I didn't even shoot, and we
were only able to get a few singles before darkness caught up with
us. I think it took a long time for me to regain her trust after
that. I had never before that day or ever since seen two coveys so
close together, and how she smelled that covey with that bird in her
mouth I will never know. But one thing I do know, I learned " the
lesson" that day, and I have ever since given the dog the benefit of
the doubt. Later in my life I would witness many field trials lost
because a pro trainer in all his infinite wisdom had not quite
learned "the lesson" as well as I had learned it that day.

" How are you doing Sir, I just stopped to see if you had any birddog
puppies for sale"?, the young man said as he walked up and shook my
hand.
I looked at the young man now I had met so long ago. He was well
dressed and had grown into a very handsome young man that displayed
courtesy and respect uncommon to many young men born into such
wealth. He was a tribute to his grandparents who had raised him well.
He had grown into a young man any father would have been proud to
call son.
"Not now, but I plan to breed one of my females soon I answered. I
will let you have the pick of the litter, is that fair enough." Which
dog do you think I should breed"? I asked.He looked around at all the
dogs staked out and said, " I think the one your son is petting is
the prettiest. What is her name?"
"Sue, I answered, and she is the one I will breed then. I think we
should probably have some pups in say three or four more months.
Check back by in about three months and maybe I will have some good
news for you". I was glad he had picked the spotted female, because I
had always thought she would have some nice pups. Her endurance and
style would go a long way in making some nice pups. " In the mean
time you can look at those pups in that dog house over there. Our
yard dog had some puppies and they just opened their eyes about a
week ago", I said.

I watched as he walked excitedly to the doghouse where the puppies
were. I continued to feed the dogs because the light was beginning to
dim as night slowly approached. I continued to watch the young man as
he got down on his knees in the dusty sand, not caring about getting
his clothes dirty. He pulled a puppy from the doghouse, and then
traded it for another. As I watched him out of the corner of my eye,
I saw him look around to see if anybody was looking. I then watched
as he pressed the little pups face next to his and held it there.
Suddenly, I didn't see the young man anymore. Instead it was the
little boy that had been in my dog pen so many years ago. In a few
moments as I watched he turned into the young man again, and I was
awed by the magic I had just seen. Somehow I felt even though he had
be born into such great wealth, his life would have been much richer
if he had grown up with the pup I had given him so long ago.
Occasionally I would look back as he held the small pup in his hands.
After a time he slowly placed the pup back in the dog house and got
to his feet.

" I appreciate you letting me look at your puppies Sir, and I will
stop again to see if you have gotten a chance to breed your dog. You
have some very pretty dogs." Having said that, the young man got in
his car and drove away. I watched as his car disappeared over a hill.
As I lost sight of his taillights only a cloud of dust was left to
prove a car had just passed.

I finished feeding the dogs and sat down on an old dog box. I watched
my son. He was through watering the dogs and again he was on his
knees with his arms around Sue, the spotted setter. Sitting on the
dog box I had time for reflection and many thoughts passed through my
mind. As I looked at my dogs I thought about what a great gift God
had given man when he gave him the dog. Sometimes I think he gave man
dogs to teach man how to live, how to gain character by learning
qualities best learned from dogs - unconditional love, devotion,
trust, and most important of all, how to forgive. I also thought
about the magic I had just seen. I wondered if it was God's magic
that an older man like me, no matter how he might have been hardened
by war or life's experiences, when he was kneeling down looking at a
litter of puppies and having picked one up, and after looking around
to see that no one was looking, pressed the puppies face to his and
maybe smelled the sweet breath of the puppy, and then with all the
innocence that comes with the age, for just a few moments, just like
the young man I had seen that night, the old man too, for just a few
moments, would turn into a little boy.

And it being near Christmas it was only natural that I would think of
all the gifts that had been given me, my children, all of us having
good health, being born in a free country, good friends, the ability
to make a decent living, the dogs, all these blessings that went far
beyond what I deserved. And even though I was not wealthy by any
means, I still felt as if I were a rich man.


" Dad maybe we should go now. I still have some homework to do", said
my son. It was dark now, but the full moon shining down on Carolina
still made it possible to see the dogs.They were all quiet now and
occasionally they would look in our direction. I looked up in the sky
to see it there were any clouds, but the sky was clear. I looked at
the moonlight as it shined through the tops of the Carolina pines.
The moonlight made it look as if someone had sprinkled diamonds in
their tops. Yes, I felt like I was a very rich man. I put my arm
around my son and slowly we walked back home.