Tuesday, December 7, 2010

South Dakota epilogue - The Whistle

This is a bit different from the norm, but ultimately it was the V's that brought us to the point of getting the place in South Dakota, and this is something that touched me while we were there.  I've held this fairly close but people have encouraged me to share it.   I hope you appreciate the detour.

The Whistle

Written for Ron and Barbara Teare,  October 28th, 2010

It was a seemingly innocuous thing, dangling off the extended back of the old rocking chair, its lanyard frayed out at the ends where it had been rough tied into a knot. There was a smudge of dirt embedded into the raised black lettering that said ACME Thunderer. Its pea was dry. It was worn of use and bore the scars of being held in clenched teeth. It hung there, forgotten yet still easily at hand, as if it merely awaited its Master’s return to snatch it up once more and beckon to yet another in a litany of Pointers and Setters reaching across the Prairie.

Worth perhaps a nickel if one tried to sell it at a garage sale, yet somehow it evoked a feeling of pricelessness deep within the subconscious of my mind.  I pondered.  How many dogs had this piece shrilled for? How many days had it hung about the neck of its rightful owner riding the Plains of South Dakota helping to sharpen the instinct and intellect of the dogs to which it spoke?

There are many blessings in life and though I hope I’m not done receiving them I have had a fair share. This particular blessing on my account is also a time of sadness for those who came before me. We were fortunate to have bought an old summer dog camp in Firesteel, South Dakota. It would not have been available but for the ailing health of a previous owner, whom we now regard as a friend. This exchange opened a new chapter in an increasingly long book of dogs. As is often the case in the Prairies, one camp gets passed along to the next set of folks looking to train and tune their dogs for a few months each year on wild Sharptail Grouse, Hungarian Partridge, Pheasants and Prairie chicken. I’m sure our story is not unique – there are a number of dog camps in the region and points north.

As we walked through the old house the first time, we saw the evidence of a passion for dogs and the Field trial game. Aged and sun-faded American Field magazines rested on the side table in the living room and yet more adorned the desk in the bedroom. Dog art depicting Pointers standing game hung silently on the walls. A table lamp was festooned about its ivory colored base with hunting scenes. On the old rocking chair there lay an embroidered throw wearing yet more classic dog and hunt scenes as its decoration. The feeling in the old homestead was palpable. It spoke clearly - dog people live here.

And yet the dog people for whom the old place silently waited to return found instead new visitors. All the items left behind bespoke of the prior tenant and yet felt familial to the new, save the whistle dangling from the old rocker. For some reason, this item seemed personal. It could not belong to me. It has memories of the link between a man and his dogs. It likely traveled many miles around this camp. I wondered…

Did it cast a Pointer quivering with anticipation at one of the nearby trials at Timber Lake or McLaughlin or Grand River? Perhaps it aided a turn or a cast on a run of a dog at the U.S. Chicken Championship a bit south on the Lower Brule at the Madsen Ranch? It could be it was just a day to day workhorse never thought about, just a tool to be used and forgotten. Some inconspicuous daily items occasionally come to hold special significance in their ability to bring back fond memories of good times. This might be one of those things.

Today I boxed up this worn old worthless whistle to send it back to its rightful place. It just doesn’t seem fitting to keep or use another man’s whistle unless expressly desired by its owner. I hope this pressed piece of plastic, cork and string finds its way - linking a man to a dog once more.


  1. Thank you, Ken, for sharing this beautiful piece with all our bird dog friends and more! So very glad for the privilege of passing the camp on to you and Janet.

  2. Wow. Great story. Thanks for sharing! I can't wait to train Xena with the same one I trained my first V, Brandi with. Who knows how many more V dogs will get to hear the same sound!


  3. Ken,

    I can see the chair and the pictures as I read your fine essay. Had a great time sitting in that same chair and looking at the pictures on the wall.

    Never felt I would fell naked going out with the dogs into the hills without my whistle. Now it is like putting on my hiking boots.

    Let's walk a field together soon my friend.


  4. Ken: sorry it's been so long since I checked in, but I haven't written my own blog in a long time either! This is a really touching essay -- especially in a time when we are losing habitat, when we worry about who the next generation of field trialers will be, and when we wondeer when we ourselves will no longer be able to make the trek to our respective summer training spots.

    all best for 2011

  5. Ken: just got my copy of Field Trial Magazine and saw this piece in there. Congratulations!