Memories of a trusted friend
Cyrus, the last of my Brittany bird dog line – grandson of Rufus and son of Holly’s Bear – has joined them in that place of memory, where the mornings are forever frosty and the meadows are rich with quail.
One month and two days short of his 14th year, his strong heart failed.
Never in those years did he go to his bed hungry. Not once did he endure a bitter winter night, shivering for lack of shelter. Sadly, that’s more than can be said of a great many children in this world.
But while I feel no guilt, I do have one serious regret.
Cyrus was a bold and capable hunter, qualities learned by patterning on his sire and grandsire. No bird-concealing cover was so tangled or thorny as to prevent entry.
And his keen nose never betrayed him.
I remember a hunt in Kansas some years ago with friends.
The field was rank with knee-high native grass, hard even for a man to force a way through. For long minutes I could not even see the dog.
Then one of the hunters called out, “I’ve found Cyrus! He’s on point!” I made my way to where the others were stomping in the grass around him, with no result.
“Looks like it’s a false point,” one of them said. “Maybe it’s a place where one roosted.”
“No,” I said. “He knows his business.”
“Well there’s no bird there,” said the doubter. And to the other fellows: “Let’s go on.”
But I trusted my dog, who still was frozen on point. So I stepped in again, so close in front of him I nearly brushed his nose. From practically under my foot a rooster pheasant burst up with a noisy cackle. And like the others, I was almost too startled to lift my shotgun.
There were other good moments, but none better than that.
So what’s my regret? Only that my own legs wore out while his still were sound. Arthritis, and a back injury on a Colorado ski mountain, ended my days of tromping from daybreak to dusk through the bird fields. And that cost Cyrus the last four or five good years of his hunting career.
But he still enjoyed life. He had a friend, Buddy the beagle.
And on the occasional times when we took them both to the farm, they romped together in a glorious celebration of freedom from walls and fences.
The main room of my cabin is filled with memories and relics.
Covering the walls are the photographs of friends, some of them now gone, who passed good times with me there. My wife and our daughters also are pictured – the girls holding wonderful fish caught in the farm lake and in Alaska.
Empty dog collars hang there, too – empty of all except memories. And Cyrus’ collar is among them now.
But I have something more. A few years ago a videographer friend recorded several minutes of him racing through autumn sunlight across a grassy field and bounding into my arms.
When I put that in the DVD player I can have him again, as he was that morning, forever in his prime, safe from savage time.