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The bells of fall: certain sounds are simply made for autumn.

FOG FOLDED OVER the earth, a thin coverlet sagging into a depression in one place, rising onto a mound in another. It appeared delicate and lightweight, yet at the same time oddly substantial. The spread of fog was barely above my ankles; just enough to make walking tricky but not enough to slow down my dog and confuse the location of his bell sounding to my front.

Leaf fall was well underway and the cover had opened, which allowed my springer spaniel to range farther out, though it wasn't so open that I could keep him in sight. The bell was necessary, especially in the frost-killed undergrowth that rose brown and bottomless out of the fog. Without the bell lightly tolling his position the dog could have been working a bird a mere 10 yards off and I might not have known it. The bell was my edge for hunting tight-sitting woodcock in a ground fog and hair-trigger grouse any time. Besides, necessary or not, I loved the bell's sound.

From time to time the springer would bounce into sight, and in those moments he looked to be gliding, legless, above the fog rather than running through it. Nevertheless, his liver-and-white body worked in "merry spaniel" style with every inch of it, from flaring nostrils to wind-milling tail, in perpetual motion. And the tinkling of his melodious Swiss bell reflected those movements with a singular, ever-changing rhythm. For me a morning in the autumn, coverts was unthinkable without a dog; and a dog in the coverts was equally unthinkable without a bell. Oh yes, I loved listening to the music of the bell.

But on that morning when the foggy coverlet spilled across the earth, the sound had an added element, a quality enhanced by the ethereal nature of the fog. The bell's light notes seemed to ripple just above the cottony surface; I thought I could feel them, almost see them, spreading from the springer's motion. From a more realistic angle, I knew my imagination was working overtime. The mid-autumn beauty of a fog-blanketed cover had not quite given over to winter starkness; the spaniel patterning through the whiteness, yet at the same time above it; the bell's lilting sound filled the air around me, making it easy to believe that the morning was more than the sum of its parts. And my springer's bell made it so.

Today there are almost as many gadgets available that take the place of a traditional bell as there are gun dog breeds to wear them. Most are at least modestly effective locators and some, thankfully, no longer sound like a garbage truck backing 'up. A few years ago, technology we now take for granted would have been considered impossibly futuristic. lucked, modern top-tier units tell bird hunters where their dogs are and what they are doing, plus a great deal more. But none of them make music like an old-fashioned, sweet-toned Swiss bell.

If there is a device invented by man that is more appropriate around a gun dog's neck than a decent bell attached to a collar, I can't imagine what it would be That said, I'm talking about esthetics, not pure utility. If I ran bigger-going pointing dogs in open country, I'd opt for GPS-based tracking units around their necks--open-throttle dogs fronted by miles of horizon render the best of bells relics of limited use.

Maybe it's me, but bells seem best in the tighter spaces of grouse and woodcock habitat where the action is close and sound isn't swallowed by distance. In such places bells still serve a purpose, not with the practicality of tracking systems, but what they lack in function they return in artistry of sound and sight perfectly matched to the dogs' necks from which they hang.I mean bells with years on them, bells that have been well-used and look it, bells with weather-dulled surfaces bearing their share of dents and dings, each mark a piece of personal history.And they should hang from collars that are equally worn, their heavy-duty leather oily and nameplates tarnished, their time afield traced by a scroll of cuts and gouges and scratches.

For those mornings in bird covers when a layer of fog subdues the earth and special sounds dance over the undulations of its surface, give me an active dog with a bell collar encircling its neck to complete the essential autumn package. Give me an abandoned orchard or a sprawl of young aspens or an alder run for the dog to work and a smooth-sounding, softtoned, bell for me to follow. Oh yes, for such times, in such places, always give me a melodious bell--nothing else will do.
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Title Annotation:Parting Shots
Author:Arnette, Joe
Publication:Gun Dog
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2012
Previous Article:Kennels/trainers.
Next Article:So long, Jim!

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