Ellensburg in January
Dad showed up at Mom-mom’s house in the morning wearing outdoor clothes. Mongo knows outdoor clothes versus go-to-work clothes. If Dad is wearing go-to-work clothes, Mongo won’t even get up from his rug to bed when Dad heads to the door. But if Dad is wearing outside clothes when he heads out, it is best not to stand between Mongo and the door.
This morning Dad headed out the door and Mongo almost toppled Dad as he sprinted out the open door through Dad’s legs. They raced up the stairs and over to the truck. Dad loaded Mongo up on the ramp into the back of the truck, and together they drove out of the neighborhood.
It was rainy in Seattle as they headed up to the pass. It was slushy as they cleared Snoqualmie, and the windshield was being pelted with a mixture of rain and snow.
As they crested the pass, the weather improved. Dad drove through Ellensburg and out to the ranch. He left Mr. M in the truck and went in to talk to the owners. Alice was a sweet as ever, and showed Dad which field they would be hunting. Dad came back out and they drove down the dirt roads to the fields. Mongo had to stay low in the bed of the truck to keep from being jostled. Finally the truck stopped. Dad let Mongo out. They waited for the guide to come out on her 4-wheeler. Dad put on his boots and vest, and readied his shotgun. Mongo raced around the parking area sniffing everything. He was electrified with anticipation. Hunting birds was what he was bred to do and it came to him instinctively.
The young lady showed up and gave them the “Ok” to head into the field. It was cold and the rain from the night before was frozen the ground. It made the ground a little uneven, but it was not hard to walk on.
Suddenly Mongo bolted up the hill. Dad knew this was a bad thing. He started yelling and running after Mongo, but his heavy boots, vest full of shells, and the shotgun cradled in his arms all conspired to slow him down. Mongo crested the hill before Dad had even reached the mid-point. Dad know it was hopelss now. He watched as Mongo flushed a bird well over a hundred yards from where Dad stood. Dad stopped running and just yelled. Dad had learned many choice words in his many years the stream of invective rivaled that from Ralphie’s father in A Christmas Story, and might even have made Grandpa, the old Navy Masterchief, blush. But Mongo still did not return. Dad gave up on yelling and finally raised the shotgun and fired into the air.
Mongo knew that sound and came running to see what Dad was shooting at. Dad grabbed his collar, and Mongo was subjected to a second stream of invective, until Dad was out of breath. Mongo looked up at Dad with sad eyes. He was no longer electric.
Dad ended the scolding with. “Now HEEL!” Mongo stayed right by Dad’s side till they got to the top of the hill. Dad looked Mongo in the eye again before telling him, “Now huntemup!” Dad still did not sound pleased.
This time Mongo did exactly what he was supposed to do and orbited in a circle about 20 yards away from Dad. Hey moved slowly through the field, working as a team as they looked for pheasants. Finally Mongo drew up in front of a sage brush on top of the mesa and held perfectly still. Dad maneuvered into position, taking into account the direction of the wind and of the sun. “MONGO!” shouted Dad, and Mongo plunged into the sagebrush to flush the pheasant. The bird erupted form the scrub and burst into the air. Dad drew a bead and fired. The bird did not drop. Dad continued to track the bird, and fired again. The bird fell into the sage, and Mongo was on him in a flash. Mongo quickly brought the bird back to Dad, and they were on the move again.
They bagged another bird as they walked along the top of the mesa. Sometimes Mongo followed Dad, sometimes Dad followed Mongo. They wove their way to the other side of field, where Dad could now see the truck. He and Mongo were walking on a path, side by side. Suddenly, they parted ways. Mongo followed his nose right, Dad saw something to his left. Dad saw a bird running into the brush. Mongo was following the same bird’s trail backwards to where it had been hiding.
Dad is an honest hunter, and shooting a bird on the ground is not very sportsman like. So he started running after it. Mongo was still making tracks heading the wrong way.
Dad still was wearing big boots, a vest filled with lead shot, and carrying a double barreled shotgun, but now the ice on the ground had melted. So to add to Dad’s misery, the mud covering he field was trying to suck his shoes off his feet with every step. Dad thundered on. The bird easily gained ground on him. Dad looked back to see Mongo heading the other way
“Mongo! You knucklehead! Come HERE!” But it was too late. The bird had put too much distance between he and Dad for Dad to get a good shot, and at that moment the bird decided to fly. Dad just stopped and watched it leave. Finally Mongo lost the scent and turned around. He quickly loped up to Dad.
Dad was just standing there watching the bird fly off in to the distance. He looked down and said, “C’mere, you knucklehead” as he affectionately, rubbed Mongo’s ears. “You don’t even know what you missed, do you?” Dad patted Mongo’s head and turned to continue the hunt.
As they walked, the ground continued to melt. So Dad and Mongo sloshed their way across the field this time. Again, Mongo came to attention by a sage bush. Dad maneuvered for the shot. “Mongo”, he shouted, and Mongo plunged into the bush. The bird burst into the sky. Dad dropped it with one shell, and Mongo quickly brought it back.
Dad stood for a minute and then pulled his pedometer out of his pocket. He saw they had walked about seven miles. He looked back at the snowcapped hills to the north, and then turned south and started walking towards the truck. Mongo trotted at his side.
Dad finally got a good look at Mongo when they got to the truck. Dad bent down to pick him up. Mongo was mud brown from the middle of his chest down to his toes. Dad gingerly picked him up and put him in the bed of the truck. Then Dad looked at his own feet. They were two big balls of mud. Dad changed shoes in the cab and then tip-toed to the bed to drop off the muddy boots with Mongo, trying not to get his clean shoes full of mud. He stopped for a moment and looked at his muddy buddy in the back of the truck. He knew he could not bring Mongo back to Mom-mom’s like that. Dad started the truck and then waited a moment to make a phone call.
“Hello, is the dog groomers? Great, do you have space for a drop-in this afternoon? Excellent! Yep, he’s a lab, and he just needs a bath and toe-nail clipping. Oh, he weighs about 90 pounds. That’s great! Thanks! I’ll see you at 3:00!”
Dad dropped off Mongo with the two nice young ladies. From the looks on their faces, they clearly had not been expecting to see anywhere near that much dirt on one dog. “So, when will he be ready?” Dad asked.
“About two hours…” replied one of the slightly stunned women.
“OK, see you then”, and Dad headed into town for lunch. Afterwards, as he waited in line at the ice cream shop, Dad saw what happens to dogs that don’t get out much before they grow old. They get very cranky and bark incessantly inside the car.
Two hours later, Dad drove back out to the groomers. As he pulled up, he could see Mongo had worked his magic on the two young ladies. Through the window he could see Mongo sitting on a bench like Marc Anthony, with one groomer gently brushing his back and the other feeding him treats. Dad walked over to the door.
“He’s so adorable!” they chimed as Dad walked into the shop. “We would keep him forever!”
Dad laughed. He looked at Mongo and said, ”You are quite the charmer.” He paid the ladies and left them a nice tip and headed outside. As he bent down to left Mongo into the truck, he sniffed and said, “Wow, you even smell better.” Mongo wagged his tail as Dad lifted him into the truck, and then they headed back to Seattle.