Its that time of year when Maya maybe will maybe won’t take an evening walk, last night she granted the courtesy of parading to the path at the end of our drive before deciding “Meh, I’ll stay in.” We double back and unclip her harness as she skips around the front room before remembering there’s cooking going on.
Rusty’s impatient, trotting back and forth as far as his extendy lead allows, barking all the while. We head back out into the evening Sun, auto pilot kicks in for the hound as he heads toward the usual route, I pause “C’mon mate, this way instead, lets do the park tonight, I’m bored of the estate.” He yips in confused joy, more happy to be out mooching than anything else.
Striding onto the park we make a left, pausing only so he can autograph every other tree before we drop down the bank to the gap between the park and the golf course. It smells of autumn, fresh tractor tyre tracks and countless scattered leaves cover the grass while bare stumps and freshly snapped twigs show the farmer’s been out and flayed this season’s growth back to nothing.
Ears up he yips again, I can almost see the question mark above his head as he noses around the dips and rises in the earth. Another few weeks and this’ll all be boggy – definite welly weather but for now we’re good. He’s nose first in a rut left by the machinery. “C’mon buddy, there’s nothing here.” He snorts loudly in protest but ambles along none the less, nose hovering an inch from the deck. “I know mate, been good a few weeks since we were down here eh? Smell anyone we know?”
I chuckle to myself, if I’m in earshot of others they’d think me mad.
He stops at the large oak, staring up as the leaves sway gently – dappling the light on his retina mimicking movement, no invisible squirrels here. He snorts, recalling there are real squirrels round these parts and gives a half arsed bark to see if any of them are game. Unimpressed by the lack of response he trots forward almost to full stretch on his lead before doubling back with that daft grin of his, making sure he’s not about to get cheated out of a walk.
“Yes mate, c’mon then ya big dafty.”
He trots forward again before spotting the mound that marks the edge of the big field. Straining to pull me faster he stops, his sickle-like tail wagging furiously as he tries to negotiate the brambles piled against the inside edge of the big field, blocking our path.
“C’mon mate you know we can get through that way anymore, not since the farmer blocked it off.”
Another yip seeming to plead “But..”
“C’mon trust me, I know a way.”
The field was once a short cut by employees working in the large factory nearby, but in recent years it’s been left fallow, although the paths cut through were still well worn. We’ve had many an afternoon chasing our noses in there, trailing foxes from a more than leisurely distance and flushing out the odd pheasant, but since the construction work started increased efforts have been made to keep people out. That and since we stumbled on an impromptu shooting lesson the usual access points have been barricaded. Admittedly it’s this has been a real boon for the wildlife, and selfishly I hope it’ll still deter the kids with their stolen scooters and moto-crossers and their penchant for grass fires.
Quizzically he looks over. “Well where are we going then, the park is soooo boring.” I imagine him saying, before replying. “Trust me, mate, I know a way.” Sure enough as we thread our way behind the large hill that makes forms a border to the park there’s a gap in the Hawthorns. “See mate. You comin’?”
He turns immediately and inches forward, pausing to assess the density of nettles and brambles that normally criss-cross these gaps and casually trots through. I swoop under the lowest of the slender boughs, snagging thorns and dried mosses on my top as we step into the field.
“Wait.” I call. “If there’s a shooter here I need to see them.” He pauses. I whistle loudly as my eyes scan the chest high grasses for any movement. I’ve not heard any shots these past few nights and it’s been weeks since we came across any decimated pigeon. I whistle again. Nothing comes back. Good to go.
Instantly he pulls to the centre of the field, eager to dive into the longest of grasses, some taller than me, I call and he heels – no mean feat with a Podenco with nose full of critter scent.
“Rules have changed mate, c’mon, this way.” He barks and makes for the trodden path around the edge. From the bends in the grass whoever made this track was heading the other way, possibly two people looking at the stride lengths and the bisection around some of the taller more robust thistles. We press on, his head bouncing above the grass every other step, as his nose turns toward countless scents which divert off into the thick cover bordering field and park. “C’mon buddy, this way, we’re only doing the edge today.” We make the corner and pause by the gap that’s large enough for a tractor. A few years ago we’d’ve dipped into this next field explored every nook and cranny before heading into the ones after, but seeing as the Farmer did say he’d prefer it if I didn’t go through we continue on our way, plus these two look tended, one a mass of stubble providing cover for feeding pigeons, the other freshly stripped and tilled ready for ploughing.
Something catches his nose as I notice the trail has become two.
Memories of discovering the foxes den in the old overgrown willow cause me to stop. Neither of these is a human track. Hmmm, might be that the foxes have escaped the excavators and time-delayed scarers this year. I flash back to the day the man asked me not to walk through the fallow fields anymore, what was it he said? Something about ground nesting birds, not damaging their environment – seemingly oblivious to the gas and sewer lines passing across the same fields not a hundred yards from where we stood, serving the latest corporate white elephant. I remember how my mentally well-rehearsed counter of how the dogs were always on lead and aside from the pheasant I’d noticed at least one pair of ground nesting owls faded accompanied with platitudes about litter picking and keeping an eye out for trouble became a meagre “Ok mate, no worries.” All the same technically we’re trespassing, sure there are no signs saying “private keep out” and no defined fences per se, I’m mindful all the same, see also; don’t take the piss.
Guy was sound enough about it, could’ve gotten really pissy in all fairness, and we still share an occasional wave and a hello if I’m out down lane end with the hounds.
I remember the afternoon earlier this year, late spring I’d spotted an open gate from the new main road after the electric board had been in and done their bit. We’d walked over a lot of the dogs old stomping ground, they’d loved it until nearing the park the reports of gunfire reached our ears. To their annoyance I made sure we skirted the field margins heading home and clocked him and a “guest”, fortunately I was in a light coloured top so easily visible from a distance, I’d also lifted one of the day glow leads high to show the dogs were under control. He turned with his guest toward the gap where I was stood now.
An “honours even” moment passed unspoken. I was where I shouldn’t be although he hadn’t closed the gate preventing access, moreso his guests shotgun wasn’t carried “broken” so presumably loaded. As I looked at the overhead powerlines he knew I knew the company paying him a retainer for impacting his land with their kit would’ve had a clause in their agreement about discharging a shotgun under or near to their apparatus – any interruption in supply to the factory would have massive consequences. We tipped our caps in recognition of each other as they slunk back into the presumably “agreed” shooting fields, we navigated brambles and the fallen fence back to the park. Since then the fence remains broken and neglected and the path accessible but piles of dead fall and brambles block the more obvious access points.
I snap to from my daydream as Rusty tries again to sniff the edge of the field we’re avoiding, 30 or more pigeon make for the sky as I whistle again, just in case there’s a loaded 10 bore somewhere nearby, my eyes catch the two trails again, almost parallel as they snake toward the briar 80 yards ahead. I imagine a fox smelling us later that evening and hope it doesn’t deter them, I wonder if they’re still using the twisted willow in the next but one field as a den or if the noise from the scarers and the construction work has forced them to move on. I think to myself “don’t worry, I’m not after you or your cubs, I only shoot paper targets Mumma fox.” I smile as Rusty heads toward the hedge, maybe 50 yards ahead now and I pause. A young Vixen has seen us and has frozen mid clamber through the old hawthorn. I stop immediately. She sees’ the dog and then me, checks her forward path and turns back, her gaze wholly on me. The daft old sod Rusty hasn’t picked up her scent so we have time. I nod her way, whistle again – refocussing the dog to me and point the line of our altered course. She maintains her composure long enough to see us turn away from her before disappearing completely. Ten paces downwind Rusty picks up her scent, attempting to chew through the metal chain fixing harness to lead. “Too late mate, c’mon this way.”
He looks confused.
“C’mon, this way – we’re not getting through there are we?” He follows on, nose down weaving in and out of the thistles and dried stalks until we hit a patch so dense that we’ll both be slashed to ribbons, we abort and turn again. Suddenly he remembers there’s another field beyond they way we’re headed but clearly hasn’t remembered it’s thick with nettles. We turn back as I’m trying to find the old path along the edge again until we hit the other side of the mound and I see first hand the tangle of interwoven thorns and brambles that have prevented us all year.
“Aah well mate, like I said, rules have changed I guess. C’mon.” He bounds happily to the gaps in the hedge before dragging me uphill back onto the park which confuses him even more as we’ve done almost the whole field yet we’re not even hallway round the park, he ponders his options as if I’m about to entertain a game of “which way now mate” before deciding to trot back home using the shortest route.
We get back, “take his bra off” and he ambles inside, greeted by Maya who starts pouncing on the nearest squeaky toy in excitement, an excitement which quickly dissipates into a huff as she smells the Big Field on Rusty, climbs on her bed and gives me stink eye for the rest of the evening.