An Ode to Boots


“Mark 4 at 12 o’clock,” was Dad’s signal to get ready to shoot.  “Mark 4” meant that there were four ducks flying right toward us.  They were Mallards we were hunting, and they were coming right over head.  I looked up to shoot and the flock veered away and out of range.  They had seen my face.  Any shot over 150 feet was wasted as Mom’s 20 gauge wasn’t effective.  “Keep your head down until the last second so they don’t see your face,” Dad advised.

Old Boots, our Springer Spaniel, had spotted the ducks first.  She would gaze in a certain direction and cock her head or jack up her ears to warn us that something was coming.  The dogs could see a lot further than we could.  The “whining of the dogs” was another indicator that game was on the way.  We were on the big log at Portage about 200 feet from shore and the tide was high as we waited in the freezing cold and loving every minute of it.  The excitement of the hunt, the smell of burnt gunpowder and the rain dripping down our necks was the sign of a good hunt.

If there was no wind and the bay was flat, the ducks would not fly through the isthmus of Maury and Vashon islands until sunset.  We called it “bluebird weather.”  The wind and waves stirred them to fly to shelter on the inside of Quartermaster Harbor, or if the wind was coming out of the South, they would fly from Burton or Dockton to find shelter in Tramp Harbor or Ellisport.  A blowing stormy day made for good hunting.

Boots was very special to us.  Oh yes, we had Labradors, but they just didn’t have the personality of the Spaniel.  She loved people and it didn’t matter if you were a stranger or old family friend, she would always approach you carrying  a stick, an old fallen leaf or maybe just a gum wrapper, signifying that she was a retriever and proud of it.  Her whole hind end would shake with her stump of a tail wagging “like mad” as she offered her “status” as a working dog.  It didn’t matter if you acknowledged her gift or not, but if you reached for it, her head would jerk it away.  Boots willingly gave up her retrieved duck or pheasant when out hunting because that was her training, but her stick or leaf, never!
We had cats and I can’t remember their names except for old “Jump Rope.”  Any cat caught in the front yard was fair game for Boots and the Labs as they took out after them.  Jump Rope got so tired of being chased that she would lie on her side and let old Boots catch her, which consisted of nuzzling the cat, followed by a good de-fleaing.  The dogs were always de-fleaing themselves, which consisted of clacking their teeth together against the skin where the flea was hiding.  The noise of teeth clacking could be heard 10 feet away, where I would lie on the lawn waiting for Boots to finish so she could apply her art to my curly hair, not for fleas, but because it felt good.  The cats put up with the de-fleaing whether they liked it or not.

I don’t see how I could praise her stupidity.  Dad called Boots a “knot head,  because she wouldn’t mind him.”   Boots could put Dad into a rage, like the time she got tired of his missing shots and took off for 2 and a half hours behind Beall’s greenhouses.  She came back with a wounded cock pheasant in her mouth that she had “run-down” and stopped Dad “dead” in his tracks.  Dad was careful that Boots didn’t see him dispose of the pheasant because of the smell from the wound.