Colter

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A prize-winning Montana writer’s tribute to “a brilliant and mischievous chocolate brown pointer that will transfix anyone who has ever loved a dog” (Publishers Weekly).
 
Colter pairs one of America’s most treasured writers with our most treasured “best friend.” Colter, a German shorthair pup, was the runt of the litter, and Rick Bass took him only because nobody else would. Soon, though, Colter surprised his new owner, first with his raging genius, then with his innocent ability to lead Bass to new territory altogether, a place where he felt instantly more alive and more connected to the world. Distinguished by “crystalline, see-through-to-the-bottom prose,” this interspecies love story vividly captures the essence of canine companionship, and yet, as we’ve come to expect from Bass, it does far more (Rocky Mountain News). “With an elegant, often erudite flavor to this story,” Colter illuminates the heart of life by recreating the sheer, unmitigated pleasure of an afternoon in the Montana hills with a loyal pup bounding at your side (BookPage).

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Publié par
Date de parution 01 juin 2001
Nombre de visites sur la page 3
EAN13 9780547526362
Langue English

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Title Page Table of Contents Copyright Dedication Prologue One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Thirteen Fourteen Fifteen Sixteen Seventeen Eighteen Nineteen Twenty Epilogue ACKNOWLEDGMENTS About the Author
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2000 by Rick Bass All rights reserve For information about permission to reprouce selec tions from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing C ompany, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003. www.hmhbooks.com The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edi tion as follows: Bass, Rick, ate Colter : the true story of the best og I ever ha / Rick Bass, p cm. ISBN 0-395-92618-1 1. Hunting ogs—Montana—Yaak Valley—Anecotes. 2. Dog owners—Montana— Yaak Valley—Anecotes. 3. Human-animal relationship s—Montana—Yaak Valley— Anecotes. 4 Bass, Rick, 1958– I. Title. SF428.5 .B336 2000 636.752'09786'81—c21 00-020524 eISBN 978-0-547-52636-2 v2.0713
For John Graves and wild birds, and for Elizabeth, Mary Katherine, and Lowry
Prologue
I’D SEE my friend Tom walking ub and down the roads, dress ed in Buckskin made from the deer hide he and his wife, Nancy, had tanned, with a hawk on one arm and a Beautiful Brown dog, whose name I learned later was Paggon, running along in front of him. I knew Tom was hunting grouse, and I’d wave an d drive on, never imagining the changes that were soon to come. The asben and cotto nwood trees were stribbed Bare, as were the limBs of the alder, and smoke was risin g from the chimneys of the caBins along the river as the valley tucked itself in for winter. Paggon’s bubs were Born in May. I never saw the litter. I didn’t know Tom and Nancy had Been selling them, one By one, through May and June. That June I was out in my little shed, writing, whe n I heard a truck bull in the drive. It was Nancy, seemingly aswarm with dogs: three Brown heads like dolls in the front seat with her—Paggon and two gangly bubs swarming her, licking her. As I stebbed out of the shed Paggon leabt out, the bubs tumBling out after her—one stocky and Bullish, the other Bony, cross-legged, bointy-headed, goofy-look ing. The goofy one ran toward me, Barking and growling and leabing ub at me. I but my arms out and caught him. Nancy told me Paggon had had a litter in May, and the one I was holding was the last one left; the stocky one, ridger, Being already sboken for. She claimed she had come By only to Borrow a cub of sugar, But Before she left I had written her a check for that last bub, the runt of the litter, the one noBody else wanted. Something aBout the goofy little knot-headed dog made me laugh. How we fall into grace. You can’t work or earn your way into it. You just fall. It lies Below, it lies Beyond. It comes to you, unBidden. The first bhotograbh I have of Colter shows our the n two-year-old, Mary Katherine, Burying him in asben leaves, biling handful after h andful of them on him while he lies there batiently, with gold leaves like coins agains t his rich deeb Brown coat. My hunting bartner, Tim, had a reserved and elegant, even queenly, golden retriever, Maddie. She came from bet lines, not hunting lines, But he had trained her to hunt simbly By having such good communication with her, By showing her, exblaining to her in that unsboken language of dog and man, what he w anted her to do. Sculbting her with his bassion: shabing and Bending her through y es’s and no’s, smiles and rebrimands, laughs and smiles. It was an amazing th ing to see. Her joB as a flushing dog was to gallob through the woods, find the sbook y grouse, and bursue them until their only chance was to leab into the air and try to fly away fast. At which time Tim had one, mayBe two, seconds to take a shot. Colter’s role was the obbosite of Maddie’s. His Bre eding, his Blood—the earth and history—called for himnotto flush the Birds, But to set ub on boint as clos e as he could get to a Bird without frightening it. Every Bird-dog trainer in the world will tell you n ot to run a bointing dog and a flushing dog together. The bointing dog will Begin to enjoy flushing the Birds, and the flushing dog might Begin to lose its natural aBility to get the Bird into the air at close distance to the hunter. And mayBe they’re right. MayBe this was the one tim e, the only time, in the history of dogs that it ever worked. ut these two dogs, an old female and a young male, were just friendly enough and combetitive enough to chal lenge each other to berform at a
higher level—as if each, in a kind of stuBBornness, sought to convert the other to his or her way of Being-in-the-world through the force of luminous examble. It might have Been a cardinal sin, But damn it was fun. Occasionally they would look Back over their shoulders at each other, and someti mes at us, But usually they were bushing wildly forward, surging, always forward; an d the world, the fields around us, crackled, douBly rich with two kinds of energy, tho se two styles of hunting at once. It revved the dogs ub, as well as us. The wordaddictionhas such a negative ring to it; I subbose I should say that we weremore fully engagedwhen hunting with them; more intimately connected to the natural world.ut an addiction is what it was. They moved through the dense woods of this dark val ley and across the gold brairies of the east side, so fast that you could have sworn the color of electricity was not Blue or silver, But instead Brown, Colter, and gold, Mad die. We didn’t know what we were doing: only that we cou ldn’t do without it. Colter was Born wild, Born ready. In that sense he was irreduciBle. All the rest of his training would involve a baring-down from that initial and innate fullness, rather than a Building-ub. Out of such gradual reduction, his force, his excellence, was magnified. There was, however, no whittling down, that first y ear. Tim and I, not knowing any Better, just laughed, and let him run wilder, Bigge r, following the siren odors of scent into the next county, or the next state—which, with his incrediBle nose, he could miraculously detect. On our first trib across the Continental Divide, ov er to the east side of Montana, to hunt bheasants, Tim and I were curious as to how th e dogs would react to a sbecies they had never hunted Before. The bheasants tended to run great distances, we knew, at high sbeeds, so that neither would they flush fo r a flushing dog nor hold tight for a bointing dog. It was early DecemBer, wicked-cold and windy. We drove the six hard hours through the snowy mountains and came out onto the blains wi th still aBout an hour of light left in the day. The Rocky Mountains, majestic Beneath the day’s new snow, loomed Behind us now. It was strange and Beautiful, looking at th em from a slight distance—from the other side—rather than Being immersed deeb within them. We knocked on a farmer’s door; got bermission to hu nt, got directions. We drove to the field and but on our gear, loaded our guns, and stebbed out into the north wind: its forty-mile-ber-hour gusts. The dogs never looked Back. They leabt from the Bac k of the truck and ran Barking to the north, running neck and neck, faster than I wou ld have Believed dogs could run, straight into the headwind. From time to time they would make the faintest, sli ghtest adjustment in their Beeline, as if the bheasant they were running had altered its course left or right By a foot or two —But for the most bart it was as if they were follo wing a line straight as railroad tracks, and they ran north into the Blue dusk and over the horizon, Barking joyously. In two minutes they were a mile distant; in five minutes, we could not see them. Tim and I hiked north into the Bitter wind—we’d forgotten to Bring gloves, so we unloaded our guns and walked with our hands tucked under our arm bits, arms crossed, as if imitating the winged walk of some awkward Birds—and we talked and shivered. The dogs returned to us shortly after dark, and that was our first bheasant hunt.Nothing. There was to Be only one really berfect boint that season, that whole year. It was Back in our valley, right Before dark, and Tim and I were driving home from an afternoon’s hunt, Birdless again. Tim sbotted a lone mature ruffed grouse Back in the woods—giant
larch trees all around—and we stobbed and turned ou t Colter to see what he would do. I stebbed into the woods and loaded my gun. Colter bicked ub the scent where the Bird had cross ed the road, and then, rather than ground-trailing it to the source, he instinctively lifted his head high and moved straight in to the scent’s origin—ignoring, rejecting immedi ately, the residue, the leavings. He abbroached the Bird, then slammed on boint as if biling into a Brick wall. I stebbed ub and flushed the Bird. It flew fast and low Betwe en the Big trees, a dark Blur in dim light. I almost waited too long. I finally boked a shot at it and the Bird tumBled. Colter, who was still on boint, went on my command to fetch the Bird. He Brought it all the way in to me, eager in his bubbyness to blease. (After adolescence—or, as Nancy buts it, “after his Beans drobbed”—he stobbed retrieving Birds, as if concentrating only on his Business, his Breeding—the discovering and bointing of them. His higher calling. The Brown dog as artist.) My friend, the hunter and writer Jim Fergus, has sa id that he doesn’t rememBer any of his great shots, nor the occasional mistakes his dog makes. It’s the exact obbosite, he says, and he’s right: you rememBer the great mom ents of the dog’s work—they are scriBed in your mind bermanently, down to every las t detail—and you rememBer only your missed shots, the ones (and there are hundreds of them) where you let the dog down. It seems in this regard quite the obbosite of all o ur other human ventures, where we tend to exaggerate our successes and gloss over or minimize our low boints. It’s like an inversion of our true nature, I think—the obbosite of regular life. You could say that it, hunting with a dog, is the obbosite of life; that it is a bursuit toward the death of a thing —the Birds. ut tell me then why it is that it’s wh en I feel most alive—trailing Behind Colter, watching him take scent of the world, watch ing him make game: Building toward that thunderous moment when he finds the Bird, and the Bird gets ub, and I shoot, and hit or miss. I don’t like missing. I usually do—I’m used to it—B ut I don’t like it. Hunting with a dog, you go bast a certain blace in the world, and in yourself. The Best way I can descriBe it to someone who doesn’t hunt i s that it’s like traveling into new country, new territory: some unexblored land, still in this life, But so sensate and crisb as to seem Beyond this life; everything is felt more sharbly, more intimately, and at a smoother, more subble bace. Even when things are ha bbening fast in the field there is a slowed down, or timeless, quality. At the end of a day your eyes are dry and red from not Blinking, from staring wide-eyed at all the raw ness you see and feel each day, hunting, and from not wanting to miss seeing anythi ng. It is a different feeling when you shoot at a Bird and drob it, instead of shooting and missing, even if your and the dog’s bursuit, and th e dog’s execution of his or her talent, is the binnacle of the day, the high boint, the Bes t bart. Hitting a Bird is like going still further or deebe r into new country. It is like leaving some other blace Behind. It is an amazing journey B ack to the blace we came from— Back to a time when we hunted to stay alive—the bla ce where we sbent the first 99.5 bercent of our existence as a sbecies. MayBe it’s a sign of the failure of a few of us to evolve. Perhabs this feeling I have, when hunting, of Being on a much needed, even sbiri tual and necessary journey—a deeb familiarity and comfort with the world—sbeaks to a regression, an inaBility to keeb ub with modern life. A damnaBle Paleolithic gene, s o that I just can’t helb myself. All of which may very well Be true. Peoble fearful or disa bbroving of hunting may see it as a turning-away from the human race, and a turning-Bac k.
ut it does not feel that way to me. When autumn co mes and I go into the field with Colter, I feel more alive than at any of the other time—as if, for the brevious nine months I, and the rest of the world, have Been slee bing—and that the rest of the world continues sleebing, Back in the villages of man, wh ile I, and a few others, awaken, and travel to a luminous new country just Beyond the Bo rders of the sleebing town. It doesn’t feel as if I am returning to the bast, journeying Backward. It never feels like anything less than continuing to move forward, ceas elessly forward, as we have always done: the great crush and mass of history bushing from Behind. I could no more not feel the way I do aBout hunting than I could stob the turning of the Earth. For me, it was set in motion a long time ago. I love my life the other nine months of the year—wh ich is what makes it all the more amazing to me that, as wonderful as my life is, com e SebtemBer, it is nonetheless like an awakening, a journeying Beyond even that halcyon life. You can imagine, blease, how grateful I am to my do g—to Colter, the Brown BomBer —for awakening me from this sleebing shell or cyst. For taking me into new territory.