A soft, warm breeze emanated across the field and over the dark waters of the small mountain lake. The sky promised much sought after rain; pregnant cumulonimbus clouds garnering up their courage to compete against an Aztec sun.
It was not a quiet afternoon, at least not at this point in time. The mid-September day with its heat and associated humidity bore much more of a semblance to Faulkner, and much less so to Frost. The primeval woods were filled with the sounds of four-wheelers belching acrid blue oil-smoke and barking Labrador retrievers, of men guffawing to each other over stories well told - the very songs of our lives. I sat on a make-shift bench; a stump seemingly placed by nature in that particular location and perfect for me to discover. Meanwhile, my watering eyes were squinting upward to a sky that mocked me for not remembering the sunglasses I had left back in the truck. I cradled the borrowed Benelli across my lap and began using all of my engineering skills in an effort to ascertain how to load it. Some say (and with authority) that it is a fool’s game to hunt birds with a borrowed weapon, especially one you have never proven against your own shoulder. But our current state of travel in the aftermath of 9-11 makes this more and more the only option available for those of us who visit far away fields and valleys in pursuit of prey.
The yelps of one or more of the dogs announced the arrival of the first bird; a brown speck interspersed with vivid color now screeching across the lake, and as luck would have her say on the matter, in my general direction. I stood and shouldered the 12-gauge, squinting against the sunlight and picked out the bird against the camouflage of the horizon. The first shot was high, and I had time for only a few intemperate thoughts about sunglasses as I pumped the next shell into the chamber and corrected my aim. The next round was true and I was rewarded with an explosion of feathers as the bird dropped into the lake in front of me. 'Jeebies’ the Lab was airborne over the deep water before I could lower the gun, a high-dive plunge from the four-foot bluff that is a rare thing of beauty and proves even harder to describe to those who have never witnessed it. He retrieved the bird and swam to a point where he could vacate the lake, whining as he dropped the bird at my feet.
“Good boy, Jeebs” I caressed his neck and ears. “That’s a really good boy!” He wagged his tail in acknowledgment that scratches to his ears and the cheerful comments sufficed as paid in full for his job well-done. Then he ambled back over to the edge of the barren field in anticipation of his next call for duty. I had met him earlier in the day for the first time, but as with most dogs, we shared an instant bond. There was nothing magical associated with our new friendship, I mean, had I fallen into the water I seriously doubt he would have dove right in after me to save my life. He might have. Yet you can feel those sorts of things with dogs, an almost accidental kinship, if you are a dog person. I am so inclined.
They live only in the moment and for the moment, do dogs. If you want to express a quadratic equation or discuss the laws of thermodynamics, forget it. It’s not their bag. If you want to voice your opinion on social relationships or politics, well, that won’t work with them either. They could care less for our silly little nuances as well as the other frivolous things we seem to try and wrap our utmost significance around. Drop a bird in front of them, however, and a well trained Lab knows exactly what he or she should do. Call it their niche in life, or calling, but they know it and never doubt themselves in the process. We frail human beings could stand to learn a thing or two from a dog. We worry or fret over the little things, and can completely lose our minds over the bigger things we face in life. Our mortgages, careers, our mutual funds and 401k plans, even the Saints… In doing so we often forget what we are here for and what our purpose is meant to be in life. I think Jeebies helped me remember, and for that I owe him much more than a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears.
Ah, Shannon, you say, it is because you were in the woods and had time to reflect on life. No, I was actually worried about my aim failing as I am now older, or not bringing home enough birds to brag about or treat my family with. I was worried about snakes and hornet nests, the possibilities of alligators (slim), or wrenching a knee while crossing the rugged terrain. The forest served only to replace my mundane, daily fears with new ones I seldom encounter. The dog reminded me that I simply must live life and ‘do what I do’ when those fears accost me. And what I do best is depend on the One who is bigger than I. In Him I find peace and rest. In Him I find the strength to face those things in life that I can’t help but fear the most.
And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Luke 12:25-27