I follow the dog. She noses into the cold wind and I center on her, tugging on my gloves and pulling my hat low.
Beneath my boots are the tracks of hunter and quarry.
Following this thoroughfare across the high county, we are proceeded by an eon of prey and pursuers. In a skiff of clean snow dusted onto the black rock of the high desert the clawed print of Canis familiaris are stamped atop three-toed Alectoris chukar. Other evidence of pursuit – recent and archaic – is worn away by wind and time.
As hunters, we are followers. For the hunted, movement is hard-wired into their DNA. In this place, winter is a lean time where even mild years demand the lives of the weak. The ungulates must move or die. Our primitive ancestors journeyed not because of pre-disposition to migrate, but to follow the megafauna, the elk, the bison and the caribou. Along the way humans developed not only the instinct to hunt, but the need to chase. Dog came with us.
Perhaps my drive to move and seek – to conquer these low hills of tectonic drift and rocks formed at the dawn of time – is born of ancient hunters chasing the migration. Maybe genetics and a long timeline can explain why I follow my white english setter into these wintry hills looking for birds.
A light snow pelts my face. The wind bites at exposed flesh and pulls my words unheard into the expanse. I scramble over rocks and scree and the flat tops and shallow ridges, pausing a moment to take in the view before following the dog down once more. I do not believe the setter considers these questions. Her concerns are prey and pack. Me, somewhere behind; and chukar, somewhere ahead.
Ancient hunters gave us this irrational lust to follow that drives me across the miles searching not for food, but for fulfillment. They forged our partnership with wolf – who became dog – hence the familiaris. But dog is not a tame wolf. Dog is a high functioning volunteer, choosing to pack with humans. Dog hunts with us not because he must, but because he can.
The setter doesn’t balk at snow or the sweltering heat. Dog doesn’t have to be home in time for dinner. The setter doesn’t check the weather before heading into chukar country. Dog is always game.
Below the snow, beneath the cheat grass, deep down in the detritus that fills the pores of the black basalt, lie the tracks of quarry and dog and ancient man. Then as now, man and dog chase together.
The weather is bad, but there are birds ahead and dog is game. And so I follow.