Wet night on the bar­rens with Lit­tle Red

The Compass - - NEWS - BY WIL­LIAM O’FLA­HERTY — Wil­liam O’Fla­herty worked a 40-year ca­reer as a coun­try doc­tor in New­found­land and New Brunswick. He was the coun­try doc­tor in Western Bay, on the north shore of Con­cep­tion Bay, from 1967 to 1989, and was born in the tiny fish­ing

We went — the Ir­ish set­ter and I — into the vast high bar­rens that lie mid­way be­tween Trin­ity and Con­cep­tion bays for a weekend away from civ­i­liza­tion.

That place is an area of track­less wilder­ness, with large ar­eas of windswept high­land, al l of it de­void of trees, ex­cept for a few stunted ones found in iso­lated val­leys. High up there can be found many small ponds, with lit­tle ev­i­dence of wa­ter flow, in or out, their source of wa­ter a mys­tery. That area, I would ven­ture, has changed lit­tle since the end of the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago.

I had brought along a sup­ply of food, matches and sur­vival equip­ment, just in case, and, be­ing as it was early Oc­to­ber, a sleep­ing bag. A tent would have bur­dened me down, and be­sides, the weather fore­cast was for a sunny weekend with clear nights and a full moon.

Blessed re­lief

The first evening I caught some trout of rea­son­able size, keep­ing the males (with the hooked snout on the lower jaw), throw­ing the full bel­lied fe­males back into the wa­ter; it was, af­ter all, the early part of the spawn­ing sea­son.

Lit­tle Red — the set­ter — and I slept that night un­der the open sky with full stom­achs. The dog, dis­dain­ing dog food, pre­ferred thrown pieces of cooked trout or roasted caplin from the fire, and rapidly fell asleep af­ter­wards, know­ing I was close by. It was blessed re­lief for me to be away, for a very short pe­riod, from Western Bay, from the tele­phone and the cars for­ever en­ter­ing into my drive­way.

I heard Canada geese that first night, and watched them fly across the face of the full moon, call­ing in an­swer to one an­other and to the laugh­ter of the loons on the pond a thou­sand yards away, as I slept the sleep of the ex­hausted one, hav­ing trekked 20 miles that day.

The next day dawned with a clear sky and a day of hunt­ing ahead — the par­tridge sea­son.

The Ir­ish set­ter had never been prop­erly trained; set­ter dogs learn from one an­other, and copy the ac­tions of more ex­pe­ri­enced an­i­mals. My red dog had never been out with an­other dog and the hunt­ing was a dis­as­ter; only once did she stand till I could get a shot away and bring down a brace of par­tridge, but she was happy with that, and, I sup­pose, so was I. I told her so.

Sop­ping wet

That late af­ter­noon the sky dark­ened and the wind came in from the north­east, bring­ing in its fog.

I caught a few more trout in the late evening, though the num­ber was less than the day be­fore. I had hoped to bring home a dozen or so in a spe­cial ice pack that I had brought along, but we — the dog and I — ended up cook­ing and eat­ing the works, with me stay­ing up late by the camp­fire, know­ing that there was a long night ahead.

I got into the sleep­ing bag at 8 p.m., when the dark of the night de­scended. The ex­hausted dog had long ago gone to sleep, ly­ing on the moss amongst the gould-berry. One hour later the rain started. It wasn’t heavy rain, just an in­ces­sant, con­stant thing that grad­u­ally crept into my sleep­ing bag, in spite of the the green garbage bags that I had brought along and put in place, which were sup­posed to pro­tect me.

The dog, with no shel­ter at all, soon be­gan to whine, won­der­ing, I’m sure, “What the hell are we do­ing in here in this place in the mid­dle of the night?” She wanted to go home, an im­pos­si­ble task, in the dark­ness, here in this track­less wilder­ness. Hard enough to find your way along, come the dawn, a long time away.

Ly­ing there I counted the min­utes in my mind, and as I sensed the wet seep­ing into my clothes it felt like hours had gone by. In a short time, I told my­self I would be on the way out. Af­ter all, it had to be two o’clock in the morn­ing, for sure.

I knew there was no point in get­ting out of the sleep­ing bag and try­ing to light a fire. Ev­ery­thing was sop­ping wet.

A tired an­i­mal

Think­ing it was 2 a.m., and en­cour­aged by the thought, I looked at my flu­o­res­cent watch di­als, and it showed it was only 11 p.m. I swore a pro­fane oath at the weather god, heard only, thank­fully, by the un­happy set­ter.

To be brief, and to put the night be­hind us, we both sur­vived, the dog and I, and when the dawn came, got up to a sod­den, cold and de­press­ing world and started to walk out to­ward civ­i­liza­tion.

We ar­rived, in the fog, back to the ve­hi­cle parked at the end of the car trail (a short ways in­land from Western Bay), thanks to a small pocket com­pass and my fa­mil­iar­ity with the area. We were soon home, safe and sound.

Some­times the best part of a jour­ney is the re­turn back home. Cer­tainly, no doubt, my Ir­ish set­ter, who slept for 24 hours straight af­ter our weekend in the wilder­ness, would agree.

Wil­liam O’Fla­herty

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.