|Griggs County, North Dakota|
West of the Sheyenne River things are different. The sloughs and ponds that are everywhere in my friend Galen's county are fewer here. The country has more of an upland feel — it's snowier too, he says — and there are more "No Hunting" signs.
That is not necessarily a problem. North Dakota allows hunting on unposted private land, and even posted land can be negotiated.
In fact, at one point we pulled overwhere a guy tacking up a "no hunting" sign and talked with him, and it was as Galen had suspected — he wanted to keep out deer hunters for some reason, but he had no problem at all with us walking his pastures for sharp-tailed grouse.
But before that encounter, we found a little valley that was open, parked, released the dogs and started walking. I took the high route along some hills like those in the background of the photo. The grouse often hang out on the leeward slopes — and they were there— but so were little copses of wind-stunted trees — some looked like crab apples (!?).
Two or three times grouse flushed on the other side of the trees, making their er-er-er, and I was unable to see them until they gained some altitude, by which time they were rapidly going out of range.
I watched one circle downwind way out over the little valley until it was just a dot against the grass. It sat down somewhere near the little cabin in the photo.
Walking on, I munched rose hips for locavore Vitamin C (It is not only Alberta that is "wild rose country") and marveled at the spread of wormwood onto the prairie. I struggle to grow a little in the herb garden here, and there it is scattered all over the place.
We were were just on the prairie, Mother Earth below, Blue Sky God above — and us, like the fleeing grouse, just dots. Mobility is crucial.
When Fisher the Chessie and I came up to a fence enclosing a pasture with cattle in it, we stopped and walked down toward the truck. We all drove to a spot about half a mile away, putting most of the little valley upwind.
Again we loaded our shotguns, called the dogs, and started a big loop out across the valley floor. Occasionally the wind brought the chug-chug of a tractor where one of the ranch hands, half a mile away, was pulling a manure spreader.
Fisher was off on Galen's side, so I whistled, and he came running, big happy grin, and as he passed through the tall grass, a whitetail doe popped up just behind him — he never sensed her.
I laughed at that and turned to go forward as he passed me, and then a grouse (that same grouse?) flew up on my left, er-er-er-er.
I spun counterclockwise, fired the first barrel wildly as the grouse caught the wind, and as my finger slipped to the second trigger, knew I was right on it, and it fell thump. This is my body, which is given for you.
Off in the distance, the manure spreader drew brown contours on the hillside.