Young Dog and a Barn Owl

Click here to hear the audio version of this essay 4:50 seconds

The Dalles Mountain Ranch is now a public park located high above the Columbia River in Washington state. In the 1860s it was an active cattle ranch encompassing more than 3000 acres. Large herds of cattle created black spots across the golden rolling landscape as far as the eye could see. Since 1993 the land has been in state hands, and a serious native grassland restoration program has been underway. We wanted to check the progress of the grasses and give the dogs an opportunity for some new ground under their feet.


Cowboy and Gypsy raced ahead bounding between hardy bunches of fescue up the gradual hill. We followed slowly pointing out flower husks and commenting on types of plants. Gypsy was out of sight, and Cowboy ran back down the hill; I stretched out my palm; he hit it full force with his nose and turned and zoomed back up the hill. He was flying and bouncing up and down as he jumped over clumps of grasses reminding me of the dip up, dip down of the northern flicker in flight. Gypsy was being a bit more circumspect; she stalked and hunted for game birds.

The hilltop presented a view of endless other hills, treeless carpets covered with yellow grasses, miles of smooth mounds. The dogs were already down the other side of the hill, when they raced past a low solitary shrub. Up burst a barn owl. An enormous tawny bird with a big head. Cowboy’s eyes yearned upward, and he ran faster and faster —circling – his pounding pattern below matching the circling rising bird above. If only he could fly. Then a raven flew into the arena and the owl and the raven sparred. I ‘d never seen these two birds joust! The owl unsteady and the raven swiveling. The raven kah-kah! The owl —deadly silent.

And, Cowboy following their skylarking barked from below “ I will catch you!” His lungs worked like bellows. Young, strong— his powerful breath propelling him onward. Sprays of dirt shot upwards. He barked, “oh let me fly” as he ran faster and faster and just began to get a little lift.

All I saw was this year old bird dog in his Dionysiac fervor, so I didn’t see the barn owl fly away nor the raven return to its place. But they did leave. While Gypsy ignored this madness, and wove between grasses scenting for Hungarian partridge – remembering she had found them on this hillside before. Ready for the point, she was an elegant, sleek runner that barely disturbed ground or stalk.

When the skies were empty, and everything calm, I looked back to see Cowboy lying down. He was panting so hard; his tongue was hanging down to his paws; it seemed he might implode for lack of air. Where has all this youngster’s air gone? Spent. I shook my head at his folly. Bruce and I began our way back to the truck.



We picked our footing carefully as we stepped down the hillside, and Cowboy finally got up and followed weaving like a drunk, making a dozen steps, and flopping back down.

This was the procession down hill. He’d weave, he’d walk, he’d flop. Eventually I leashed Cowboy and he walked tiredly by my side. No pulling and farewell desire. How pleasant to have my bird dog on an loose leash. He didn’t mind that I was being so slow, and when we reached the truck he somehow found the strength to jump onto the pickup tailgate and scoot into his kennel. We put away our gear and Gypsy found her place in the truck. I’m pretty sure Cowboy was fast asleep when we pulled out onto the road for home.




8 thoughts on “Young Dog and a Barn Owl

  1. Singers are the best readers.
    So enjoyed hearing your voice in word and tempo. Thanks for including me on your mailing list.
    just beautiful.

  2. Lovely day at The Dalles Mountain Ranch. Majestic views up there and in the spring, spectacular wildflowers. An FYI, I do not think the entire ranch has active restoration work on the grasslands. One area part way up to the Y in the road is being selectively grazed for restoration. The Mid-Columbia Native Plant Society recently had a speaker from the project. Most of the acreage is being allowed to take a more natural course after being disturbed by grazing. Sounds like dogs and their humans has a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing the experience with the rest of us.

    1. Hello Paula- my goodness somehow I thought you were away in Minnesota or some such place. Yes, as you drive towards the farm buildings, the land under restoration that we have been following is on the right. Bruce also went to a recent native plan society meeting where the speaker talked about the project. Thanks for checking in and reading the piece!

      1. You are correct, Sher, I am indeed in Minnesota but still very connected to OR/WA news thanks to e-mail, FB, etc. The Native Plant meeting Bruce attended is likely the same group that friends from Goldendale attend. Sara Wu is President tho she would like to be relieved of that duty after several years but no one else will take it on so she continues. I do so enjoy your posts about life on and off of the farm. Please keep those writings coming our way.

  3. Hi Shar & Bruce…from the frozen Midwest! I love stories about hunting dogs who lose their “senses” and crazily chase something that catches their fancy. My first field trial decades ago with my first GSP Chili Dog ended in an exhausted puppy and an embarrasses owner. I let Chili off lead to near the barn and he chased a Barn Swallow to near exhaustion. The judging guys on the horses just shook their heads. After a long period, I finally got Chili’s attention and back on lead. He pointed first to the pigeon in the grass, way before his rival puppy GSP. However his owner, me, couldn’t get the starters pistol out of his pocket fast enough to fire the blank. The other owner was quicker on the draw and won that pairing…even though his dog wasn’t really holding the point as Chili was. In fact, on principle, the judges DQ’d us. Chili & I slinked back to the truck and decided it was time to celebrate our DQ…so we went to DQ for ice cream!

    1. Hello there Birdin’ Bob- I enjoyed your story, and it has many familiar elements. Many! We’ve had bird bogs for 27 years, and Bruce has had them for 30 years before that! So many stories of trial experiences- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thanks for sharing yours.

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