Monday, April 26, 2010

Lonely Roads and Field Trials

The middle of Kansas is a pretty good haul from my house, but on Saturday I decided to forego domestic responsibility, fishing and turkey hunting to go watch the Jayhawk Retriever Club's spring field trial in Kingman, Kansas. I hadn't been to a field trial in a while, but Bill Burks, the breeder of my late male Lewey, would be running Lewey's dam Dinah as well as his littermate, Judy, and I wanted to watch them compete against the black dogs.

I had trained once or twice with Bill when Lewey was younger and had watched both his dogs compete at the American Chesapeake Club field trial specialty in 2007, but hadn't spoken with Bill since, at least until I called to tell him Lewey had died. I originally bought Lewey from Bill with the intention of getting into field trials, and then - as it so often does -  life sort of got in the way of those plans. I've always regretted that and have carried around some guilt that whatever potential Lewey may have had as a trial dog was ultimately wasted by my having owned him.

So it was with a degree of ambivalence that I decided to go. I love watching field trials and I really wanted to see Bill's dogs, but going would no doubt also be a little reminder of my personal failings. But, I figured, that was just my cross to bear and it might even do me some good.

So I loaded up and hit the road, heading north on those wonderful and forgotten little plains state highways that never quit receding into the horizon no matter how far or fast you drive. Up into that wild, lonely, starkly beautiful and largely unpeopled border country along the state line. But there are reminders, if you care to notice them, that it wasn't always so lonely, so remote. Right below the Kansas border I stopped, as is my tradition, at a little roadside rest area from another era, back before the primacy of the interstates.

I discovered this little rest area years ago on one of my many random explorations of blank areas on the road atlas. It sits on what must be one of the least-traveled state highways I know of, a windswept ribbon of asphalt that originates in nowhere, transects a helluva lot of nothing, and has its terminus at the junction of empty and lost. My kind of road, and my kind of rest stop. Not much in the way of amenities (I once found a prairie rattler curled up under the picnic table) but it's got a helluva view...

 I don't doubt that a few local teenagers have consummated their love on that table, but I'm guessing the last time it hosted an actual picnic was some time prior to the launch of Sputnik 1. If you poked around, you'd notice -  mixed in amonst the buffalo grass, soapweed and sage - clumps of iris gone wild. At some point this little roadside stop was a homestead. The home, its occupants and their dreams are long gone. All that's left are the irises, the wind and the occasional - very occasional - traveler. I sat at this rest stop one spring day on a storm chase, waiting for the weather to pop. For the better part of two hours I ate my lunch, read a book, listened to the weather radio, watched the sky, poked around the rocks and waited. In all that time not one car passed by on the road. It's lonely country...

But  I had a trial to watch, so I snapped a few pics and hit the road. Eventually I made it to Kingman, met up with Bill and watched some of the trial. I had a good time...

Bill and Dinah waiting to run in the amateur

Bill sending Dinah on a blind in the open...

Judy in the holding blind at the amateur. About 20 pounds lighter, a couple inches shorter, but in every other way the spitting image of Lewey. I might have teared up just a little, but holding a camera to your face helps hide that.

And Bill getting ready to send Judy on a mark in the first series of the amateur.

Unfortunately Judy went out in that series, but Dinah went on to Jam the amateur. Rain forced me to leave early, but I'm glad I went. I didn't know how I'd feel, because I still miss Lewey terribly. But it was nice to see a little bit of him this weekend.


  1. Sounds like a good Saturday to me. Don't beat yourself up over the lack of field trialing, either. Lewey got to do what he loved and he got to do it with you, and that's pretty much all that matters to a dog. They don't give a crap about ribbons and trophies.

    Love that first photo, by the way. Amazing palette of colors. The bigness of the prairies always makes me stop and stare.

  2. The nearest place like tat to me is probably Mongolia, but there is a picnic table in the park.............