Articles

I WAS A BIRD DOG

Quite simple really. Bob mistook a cow for a partridge while he ate his luncheon popsicle. Goes to show, though, that city fellows better stay on the porch with the Sunday papers

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN June 15 1952
Articles

I WAS A BIRD DOG

Quite simple really. Bob mistook a cow for a partridge while he ate his luncheon popsicle. Goes to show, though, that city fellows better stay on the porch with the Sunday papers

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN June 15 1952

I WAS A BIRD DOG

Quite simple really. Bob mistook a cow for a partridge while he ate his luncheon popsicle. Goes to show, though, that city fellows better stay on the porch with the Sunday papers

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN

CIRCUMSTANCES combine in strange unexpected ways to shape our lives. In my case, it took a combination of my friend Scott Young, a popsicle, a partridge—or, rather, what I thought was a partridge—to break me of the habit of not speaking up at the right time. What resulted also explains why it took the inhabitants of the village of Omemee, Ont., where I’d moved with my family, quite a while to get around to calling on me.

I never was much for the outdoor life as a youth and as I grew older I veered sharply toward a life of lying flat on my back beneath the Sunday papers, where I missed practically everything that was going on outdoors. Whenever I did come in contact with the sporting world, as when someone asked me, for instance, who I thought would win the Grey Cup, I put up a bold front, muttering gruffly, “It’s anybody’s game”; or, sometimes, when I wasn’t sure whether it was a game or a race, “It’s anybody’s guess.”

I probably could have kept this up indefinitely if I hadn’t moved to Omemee right in the middle of the partridge season and become a bird dog.

Instead of admitting frankly that the closest I’d ever come to partridge was the bedtime stories of Thornton W. Burgess I met all remarks about partridge shooting with the statement that I didn t have my gun with me, implying that I had a whole arsenal coming by train, and, as a result, suddenly found myself sitting in a car with fellow writer Scott Young on my way to the woods, Scott having generously offered to let me use his gun on every other partridge.

Scott explained that he usually had his dog Skippy with him, but that today Skippy had been off somewhere with the boys. I made the mistake of saying that I’d be glad to help any way I could.

“I tell you wrhat we’ll do then,” Scott said. “I’ll head up that hill. You go in there and follow along parallel to the road.”

I looked to see where he had pointed and turned back to him, ready to join in a good laugh. But he wasn’t even smiling. I looked again. It was the sort of place where you might throw an old pop bottle, or perhaps a body. It was not a place to go in unless you were being followed by bloodhounds. But on the other side of the road, where Scott was going, there was a herd of cows, and there’s something about walking through a herd of silent cows (if they are cows) pretending they’re just lucky that I don’t pick up a stick and whack

them that leaves me shaking for a week. I headed for the bush.

We’d arranged a system of whistles. I was to whistle once just to let Scott know where I was so that he wouldn’t shoot me, which struck me as a sound idea; twice if I saw a partridge. I climbed over a snake fence, disappeared momentarily down a ditch, reappeared covered with burs, faced a solid wall of small trees, pried two of them apart and found myself in a dense grove of dead cedars.

I started looking for partridge. I wasn’t quite sure how you looked for them, but imagined that you did it much the same way you’d look for anything else, like a fountain pen, or a quarter, and that, in view of the position of the branches, it was done in about the same position. I took my glasses oil' so that they wouldn’t get whipped from my face and, whistling at intervals like a toy locomotive in a Christmas display, started off like a man who has had a safe dropped on him.

Perhaps I should explain here how it happened that I had a popsicle in my pocket. On the rare occasions in the past when I’d become involved with the sort of people who go in for hunting and fishing I’d discovered that they usually ate a quick breakfast before dawn and forgot about food until eight in the evening. This time I had asked Scott to stop while I got some cigarettes and while I was in the tobacco stand I cased it quickly for something to eat. The selection wasn’t very good and it ended with me passing up bubble gum and black balls and, in desperation, taking a popsicle, raspberry flavor. I felt too silly about the whole thing to bring Scott one too, and just slipped it into my pocket in a wax-paper bag. It was while I was sneaking my first lick, crouched there on all fours amid the cedars, that things began to happen.

It’s really hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t wear glasses how you can mistake a cow for a partridge. But anyone with eyes like mine knows that there’s a strong psychological factor in vision. What you see has a lot to do with what you expect to see. I know I’ve waved traffic to a halt for two blocks while I ran to the rescue of what I thought was a hit-and-run victim and found myself walking sheepishly back to the curb with an empty coal sack that had fallen off a truck, while three lanes of motorists honked at me and a few drivers jeered. In the same way a cow’s foot, moving and rustling stealthily when the rest of the cow is camouflaged by trees, shadows and myopic mirages, looked pretty gamy.

I got pretty excited. I froze, raised my nose and pointed. I almost tried wagging my tail until I remembered the signal. I whistled twice, felt much better and began softly humming Shrimp Boats, and waiting for the explosion of Scott’s gun, and licking my popsicle out of pure nervous reflex.

I hadn’t discerned that I’d been approaching a clearing. I certainly hadn’t noticed the farmer who, I realized later, must have been standing there peering at me in some alarm from between the trees. The first I knew of him his nerves finally cracked and he called to the cow, “GIT out of there.”

I screamed, sprang, whistled twice in mid-air and crashed headlong through a dead cedar into a patch of brambles. I poked my head up over the brambles and saw the whole situation with one horrified glance, while the farmer watched me, pale beneath his sunburn.

“Thought that was a partridge,” I said, pointing to the cow.

The farmer backed off, holding a pitchfork toward me.

“Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?” I said.

“Yep,” the farmer said, still backing off.

“I guess you farmers could use a bit of rain, though,” I said, coming out from the brambles, my pants making ripping sounds. I held out my popsicle, laughed and said, “Picked this up for lunch.”

-Just then Scott arrived, his gun over his arm, and said to me “You got away from me,” and I saw the farmer turn and head for his house, and the phone.

We didn’t get any partridge and we went home pretty soon after that.

Scott has never mentioned the incident. The next time he went partridge shooting he took Skippy.

For weeks after I noticed local people driving past my house slowly on Sunday afternoons, looking up, saying a few words and driving on. But they’re coming around a bit now, after seeing me doing such reassuring things as getting a haircut, buying fuses, taking my children for a walk. But it will take a while before the incident is entirely forgotten.

Just the other day when I was buying some cigarettes I overheard someone whisper, as if referring to a well-known event, “There’s the city fella Jeff’s brother came across that day down in his lower sixth.” it