Yoga for Duckhunters

from the studio to the tidal flats

Month: December 2016

going out



Going out with the dogs means any number of things. It can just be a walk around the yard or even the path behind the house. It means going outside of ourselves as much as the house. Going out also means going in – into the woods, into the hills. Hugo knows the difference between climbing a mountain and seeing his reflection and an obligatory run along a gravel road on Sunday. He’ll go on either trip, but I can tell when he ignites. What is it that makes us know we’ve done enough in a day for it to count?

Hugo jumped into the cab of the truck while the other puppies barked and howled. It sounded like the cries of the damned might sound. The slight of being left behind was such a hell. But Hugo was quiet and sitting tight in the back seat. I looked back at him, and his eyes were brighter than I’d ever seen them. He was less than a year old, the timidest dog in the litter, and he’d never gone on a trip in which he was the one dog. He’d never been hunting, and it wasn’t hunting season yet. I’d never seen him so excited. His look out the window was more intense than when he watched birds in the yard. The other pups – his littermates – didn’t know any more than he did what it was we were doing, just that we were going out.

The wind had picked up by the time we reached the base of the mountains. It would be worse above tree line. We had travelled a long way just to turn around. “Let’s take him out to the rock,” I said, pointing to a ridge of rocks fronting the ocean. We could give him a chance to run through the woods where the wind wouldn’t be so bad. It wasn’t much of an adventure, but it was the best we could offer. When I opened the truck door, the wind slammed it shut. Hugo resisted the leash, and I fought him, the wind, and the door. There was no chance the day would be anything but a bust. Only, he didn’t know that.

Hugo leapt out of the vehicle just as a gust of wind pushed me against the truck. His body was ridged and faced toward the wind. It lighted him up, and he charged toward the woods. “Look at him,” I said. I was unable to hold him. His tiny body pulled with all he had, and his nose was high in the air. I gave in and ran with him through the woods. He delighted in everything he saw, bucking and running from one bush to another. When we broke out of the woods and met the bare rocks along the ocean, the force of the wind hit us again. Hugo faced it with his chest wide open and head high. The wind blew his ears and lips back, but he was un-phased.

I laughed at first, watching him take in the wind and the newness despite the comedic look of his lips flapped back past his gums. I sat next to him and could feel the pent up days and weeks he’d spent in the yard or short walks flood out of him as the wind rocked both of us. This was where he wanted to be – I knew it because he faced it. He faced it the way I faced newness without fear but with the desire humans feel when we know what we are capable of and just want the chance. When we have the chance, we take it. He took the full force of the wind into his chest and body. He seemed to want it all. I felt it hit us both, everything we wanted.

This was the Hugo I hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was building up in him as his body grew from a puppy to a dog. Maybe the light was always there, and he just hadn’t opened his eyes or I hadn’t opened mine. He’d never been in his element. His element was wind. We sat together in the open, my hand in the fur of his back. His body quaked, and he held himself on the edge of the rock as the wind off the water blasted us in a cold force of waves. We were alive. If any creature had what it took to be great – at life or hunting, I thought. It was Hugo. Because his intensity was unshakable. Because his eyes were wide open.

It may not seem like much. We walked from a parking lot to the cliffs and let the wind rake us for minutes, not hours. It wasn’t our first hunt or first bird, but it was a day where something happens like falling in love. There’s a moment of openness and connection. We go through so many automations and domestications in life, building up our habits and defenses. To go out doesn’t mean to go further in. It means exactly to go out – to meet that wildness that is also within us. When that happens, we step into the light, the wind, the waves. It’s not a place or an occasion we go out toward but a stepping out of whatever holds us back or holds us down.


release point


The danger of an avalanche existed somewhere high up on the mountain, and it was our reason for not taking the dogs. Days passed with each window of opportunity shut out by the prediction of snow or danger whether it came or not. And down low, where we were predictably safe, a wrestling sense of affliction from lack of risk kept me staring at the ceiling.

Without a way to spend our energy, we opened our eyes to the winter darkness, gasping for air and spiritually freaking out as if we were unable to dig ourselves out of the suffocating weight. Not from an actual piling of once-individual snowflakes descending en masse but from an avalanche set off from within the confines of the house.

The torturous sound of ten bird dogs scampering about the floors without occupation, two pots of black coffee on raw nerves, and a ticking clock that circled the same 12 hours as it had every day of my life. Except on this day, it jarred at 3:48 p.m. (sunset) and, the slide into another early night was unbearable.

The coming of night in mid-afternoon is not the worst of an Alaska winter. A person can still be happy or sad with five hours and 57 minutes of daylight. The avalanche conditions or sunlight charts do not hold my fate so long as I take an extra serving of natural berry flavored vitamin D supplement and soak in the blue light emitted by electronics and energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs.

These were my tiring thoughts, anyway.

It doesn’t matter if the setters are pacing the house like caged badgers,  their claws making the chaotic sound of seven cross-beat clocks, and the urge to restore tranquility comes in a desire to smash the face of the clocks with immutable fury and without harming the dear creatures making the noise. And, they must feel the same because any sudden sound from outside sends them into a fit of barking.

I laid on the couch “like a patient etherized upon a table.” The sight of the dogs all sitting politely in a row and staring at me made me laugh at myself and the situation. I momentarily forgot the snow blowing by the window in gusts and how the fractured slope of my sanity had descended with soundless expression down a chute of narrow thinking. Right then, I stopped asking the overwhelming question of whether to dare to disturb the universe or the mountain and pet the dogs.