Turning the Corner

By ROB BREEDING for the Flathead Beacon

The signs of change are in the air. Yesterday I wore fleece to work. And the other night when my students had to work late in the lab, I fixed them a pot of soup.

It’s snowing in the mountains – cold and raining down here. Fall has arrived.

I’ve grown a bit weary with the endless summer of 2013. It got hot and stayed that way far too long. I’m all for warm summer evenings, especially if they are spent floating until dusk on a trout stream. But there was a surplus of days in the 90s this year, and those days lingered well into September out here on the plains.

I didn’t realize until just the other day that — despite October being just a week away — I still hadn’t gotten my first whiff of wood smoke. I haven’t bothered to pull in for the night the pots of herbs I grow in a sunny spot. The first frost? Didn’t that used to always roll in by Sept. 15?

Surprisingly it wasn’t until the weather cooled that my young setter had her first bout of heat exhaustion. We’ve been running out on the bench for more than a month, but when it was hot, the dogs didn’t go too hard. I’d let them out of the truck and there’d be a burst of activity, followed by a return to the water bowl, before we set out on jaunts that rarely lasted more than 15 or 20 minutes. Despite the heat the dogs coped just fine.

But once the weather cooled our runs turned serious. Fifteen minutes became 30 or more, and the dogs started ranging wide as I like them to do when we’re hunting. Well, Doll got a little carried away with herself and came limping back to the truck looking as bad as I’ve ever seen her. She was frothing at the mouth and a little wobbly. She looked a lot like the professor after he’s downed a few too many warm beers after a day on the river.

I filled the water bowl, but she wasn’t interested. Thinking she might have overheated, I poured what was left of the water jug over her back and ears. It was cooler, much cooler than our recent runs, so I was skeptical over heating was the problem.

Then her hind legs went stiff and she had a hard time even keeping herself off the ground. That’s when I got worried. There are rattlers in this country, and though we’ve never seen any out on the bench, I know they’re there. There weren’t any signs of a bite, but loaded her up and started hustling back to the vet’s office in town.

It was a weekend but I got Doc on the phone. Cell phones: they are a wonderful thing. I don’t know how we managed without them. I could tell Doc was skeptical of my snake bite concerns, and it turned out his skepticism was warranted. By the time we made it to the office Doll looked better, though still panting heavily. Her temperature was 104. But things were clearly on the mend as she even tried playing with the office cat.

We haven’t been hunting yet. We’ve been waiting for the drop in temperatures that finally arrived this week. Now that it has cooled the dogs will be fit to run all day, or at least most of it. Doll, the young knucklehead, hasn’t learned to pace herself. She still sets off at a blistering pace, then slows considerably after lunch.

Jack, the old hand, outgrew his puppy-like excitement years ago. Now it’s a question of how much he has left in the tank. There have been a couple of times this calendar year when I pretty much expected to lose him to the medical problems that have sapped him of most of his youthful vigor (and certainly the good looks that made him such a flashy dog in the field). But the old guy just doesn’t seem to want to be dead yet. It looks like he’s got another hunting season in him.

We’ll just have to take our time.