Bird Dogs & Training  |  11/30/2021

A Nostalgic Return, A Future Reimagined


Visiting my old city with a new bird dog 

Words By Douglas Spale, Photos by Yannick Nimy

Final Installment of a 5-Part Series

As I embark upon a tour of my former city, I am accustomed to a Labrador’s presence at my side. With my heart full of expectations, I dare to dream of a moment in time where my former dog, Sunka, would be around to guide young Kohtopu on this sentimental stroll. 

But It was not meant to be.

My familiarity with Chicago has diminished in my absence. I am merely a tourist on this symbolic return. However, Kohtopu’s excitement to explore is what motivates me to continue forward. While I strive to keep cherished memories alive, the truth is that I should harness those experiences for the betterment of my future. 

This journey through my past is designed to intertwine the lives of my beloved Labradors, but also to pay homage to all those who have made my time in Chicago remarkable. 

*   *  *

We began our day admiring the beauty and power of Lake Michigan as the sun rose above the endless horizon. While the waves crashed before us, the allure of this scene prompted the exercise enthusiasts and casual observers alike to gather on the paved trails that line the beach.
As sunlight illuminated the beach and then the city, its rays revealed a stunning metropolitan oasis. The memories of my many mornings beginning in this peaceful manner floated through my head. As Kohtopu’s magnetic attraction to the water grew stronger, her curiosity in this environment was apparent. Nevertheless, I could not blame the eager pup, we are simply visitors enjoying the sites. 

As we departed, Kohtopu took to the waves like her predecessor, the big water providing a compelling challenge for the young retriever, but she left the lake with boundless satisfaction. 

*   *  *

Next, we ventured toward the idyllic Lincoln Park neighborhood to take in a captivating marsh, hedged and adorned with prairie-style grasses. The attractiveness of this marsh stems not from its quarry, but rather its backdrop. Upon our arrival, I was instantly reminded of a time when Sunka launched from the boardwalk into the pond, believing we arrived to chase the swimming waterfowl. Fortunately, the whistle brought her to heel.
As we sat upon my favorite boulder and gazed upon the city, I reflected upon all the peoples and memories that made my life here so delightful. While Kohtopu relaxed and took in the setting, a flock of geese flew overhead, likely to welcome us to this picturesque intersection of nature nestled within the city. To the untrained eye, this marsh may appear surreal and I often wonder if I shall ever experience a more tranquilizing scene in any other metropolis. 

*   *  *

With our senses invigorated with emotion, it was time to begin our training regimen amongst the vaulting skyscrapers. That session brought back many memories of my former life: Throwing marks and crafting setups in front of the cityscape is a unique but exhilarating stage. Surprisingly, Kohtopu was thriving in that park, unphased by the birds crossing overhead and the small mammals scurrying about.
I was ecstatic about the focus of my second bird dog in the city. Although we did not happen upon any of our former acquaintances, we could feel their presence cheering us on as we prepared for the fields of fall.   

*   *  *

Our final stop gave us a view of the city from afar. Sitting in that moment served as the fulfillment of a promise that I would bring Sunka back to Lake Michigan.
The scene also became an inflection point in my life. I am now able to acknowledge that I alone have very little power over the consequences of the physical world. Moreover, we merely live in a state of balance with nature. As such, it is crucial that we fortify the path toward protecting and enriching the environment. 

Moving forward, my life story is not about me, nor my Labradors, but has everything to do with the tapestry of peoples, practices and ideologies that can improve our world. 

*   *  *

While my motivation for this trip was to craft a loving sequence devoted to my Labrador, I am left with a greater understanding of the power of a dog. I am fortunate for the relationships that I have made, all derived from my devotion to my pup, and the gifts and guidance so many have bestowed upon me.
As such, it is my intention to motivate others into believing that together we can deliver upon a mission to improve our conservation practices. 

As I bade farewell to Chicago and set our aim toward hunting season’s bounties, I hoped that Kohtopu would grow into her role as a goddess of the Plains, and serve as a symbol of my devotion to preserving the natural habitat around us.

Douglas Spale decided long ago to live life with a bird dog at his side.


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