Ex­is­ten­tial grouse

Edmonton Sun - - TRAVEL - with Neil Waugh

I’ve been ruffie hunt­ing for enough decades now to know where the grouse are in fall.

Find the red clover and you will find the grouse.

Add to the mix some high ground and aspen woods, a seg­re­ga­tion be­tween the tall tim­ber and open coun­try — like oil roads, log­ging trails or pas­ture edges — and you’re in grouse coun­try.

Some years are bet­ter than oth­ers be­cause Al­berta grouse pop­u­la­tions peak and crash like no oth­ers.

But if you find the magic combo of as­pens, edge and clover, it should be easy peasy.

Just let the dog have her head, keep your eye on the trail and wait for the car­diac-ar­rest­ing “burr” of a ruffed grouse flush.

Then it snows as it has done a lot this grouse sea­son.

And my whole cocka­mamie the­ory gets thrown out the win­dow.

You be­gin to ques­tion, does bonasa um­bel­lus re­ally ex­ist?

Jean Paul Sartre, the great ex­is­ten­tial­ist philoso­pher spoke darkly about the “ab­sur­dity of the hu­man con­di­tion.”

“Ev­ery ex­ist­ing thing is born with­out rea­son and pro­longs it­self out of weak­ness,” he once wrote. “And dies by chance.” So no mat­ter how much you’ve got stashed away in RRSPS, there is no grand plan.

“Man is con­demned to be free,” he added. “Be­cause once thrown into the world he is re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­thing he does.”

So I guess it was my own darned fault that I parked the rig by the oil road gate — lead­ing to an old shut-in gas well that has prob­a­bly changed hands a half-dozen times since I be­gan com­ing here — in a pub­lic hunt­ing area not too far from town.

The truck ther­mome­ter had been flirt­ing with 0 C on the drive out and the well road was cov­ered in a sloppy snow mix.

I dropped two Im­pe­rial grouse loads into the over/ un­der Ruger and started out — my fox red Lab Penny lead­ing the way.

The lux­u­ri­ant mats of clover that cover the road edges at this time of year, tempt­ing the birds of the for­est to stuff their crops to bursting with the stuff, is now buried some­where un­der the snow cover. Was it ever re­ally there?

We passed a bank of sec­ond-growth poplars which has of­ten been good for a bird. Not a sniff from the dog.

Then a fence line where the woods drop down to a beaver slough. The dog more times than not gets birdy here. Noth­ing.

For no other rea­son than to cut the bore­dom, I be­gan to re-process mem­o­rable flushes from my past.

The cor­ner at the Texas gate, the mound by the well, the fence post with the gum boot, the gully.

We headed west along the al­ley­way that the graz­ing as­so­ci­a­tion cow­boys use for mov­ing stock to the roundup cor­rals.

The high­side by the beaver pond, the wild rose patch, the point above the lit­tle lake, the woods right, then the woods left, all have pro­duced a bird pre­vi­ously.

The in­ter­sec­tion with the cut­line that leads to a pipe­line right-of-way.

Next the aspen grove which may well be the best in the woods dur­ing the glo­ri­ous fall full-fo­liage week­end.

It once pro­duced a three bird flush.

But not on this day.

No use push­ing the dog too hard. Penny’s hips aren’t what they used to be and she now takes a big glu­cosamine pill each morn­ing with her kib­ble.

Three Canada geese flew over. I prob­a­bly could have tried a shot. But I didn’t.

We be­gan re­trac­ing our steps down the al­ley­way.

There were a few ducks on the sloughs. But the ponds were ice-crusted and any chance of a re­trieval would be min­i­mal and maybe dan­ger­ous for the dog too. Pass.

The over­cast sucked up the day­light like a sponge.

The trek back to the truck was as un­event­ful as the hunt out.

Not only was I con­demned to be free, I was des­tined to be bird­less.

To the point where I be­gan to ques­tion:

Do these ex­is­ten­tial grouse ac­tu­ally, you know, ex­ist?

NEIL Waugh pho­tos/ed­mon­ton sun

Neil and Penny pur­sue grouse in snowy con­di­tions.

Prime ruffed grouse coun­try.

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