I'm back today from a weekend with friends Gregg and Soo Barrow of Covenant Kennel, in Montgomery, Texas, and the writer Henry Chappell down from Plano. Gregg surprised us with a guided half-day squirrel hunt on Saturday, an unexpected gift that gave the three of us (plus Cate and Rina) a lovely spot to walk in the woods, talk dogs and get acquainted.
I've known Gregg since Rina was a pup, but it was my first chance to meet Henry, the author of numerous good books and articles on dogs, hunting and rural life. Querencia readers will be familiar with Henry's blog, Home Range. And I wrote up a short review of his novel The Callings, here. We've been swapping books and emails for a year and trying to schedule a free weekend to meet.
Henry's association with Steve goes back to the Vermont Wildbranch Writing Workshop, which Steve once taught. The Workshop was founded by Annie Proux and dedicated, as Steve has described it, "to the idea that nature writing, outdoor writing -- writing 'with trees in it,' to use the phrase of the editor who first rejected A River Runs Through It -- is not a minor subgenre but a stream of literature with subjects and attitudes that are vital, even essential, to a healthy understanding of our world."
Henry's writing falls squarely in that category, and he credits Steve's encouragement and instruction with launching his career.
After a relaxing evening at Gregg's place, walking our dogs and beers around the pond, we set out early Saturday for the Moody Ranch.
Set in the hill country just north of Navasota, the Moody place covers 6,000 acres of hardwood creek bottom, floodplain and rolling pasture. It's a well-maintained hunting ranch and lodge, providing its clients a range of packages, including wild hog and duck hunts. Although the staff squirrel expert had recently moved upcountry, Edward (a moonlighting Houston fireman) guided us capably through several miles of gorgeous old oaks in a stringer along a creek bed.
Our dogs, acquainted the night before, set off like old friends and got to work.
Here's a little glen in the woods where we found the remains of a wood duck, caught likely by a fox or bobcat, judging from the crude clumps of pulled breast feathers. Both predators are common on the property.
Although the weather was perfect (cool, damp, overcast) and the woods made right, it was half an hour or so before the dogs got excited.
A little further on, a ground-feeding grey squirrel flushed almost at our feet and barely beat the gamut of dogs to the nearest tree.
At the risk of sensationalizing the last exciting moments of a squirrel's life, you can find a short video here, complete with confused hunters yelling, dogs yodelling, squirrels suddenly timbering in twos and threes and many shots fired. Or you can just view the result, Edward holding Henry's next squirrel stew in raw form.
Many thanks to Gregg and Soo for their astounding hospitality, both in setting up this hunt and hosting our visit. Henry will agree that neither of us is accustomed to such catering on a hunting trip. ...Soo, yes, another cup would be great. Oh, and some more sausage?