I drove down to the river the other night feeling completely severed from fellow humans. It was a day of more than usual social contact but I didn't click with the company I shared. I felt numb, full of self-questioning. Parking the truck, I harnessed the dogs, the dry, fine-grained river silt getting into our mouths and eyes. We walked along fields, by darkened barns, an overcast sky back lit by a mostly full moon and the ubiquitous sodium vapor lights of nearby development.
I'd brought stuff to make a fire but it was already late, I was going home. We turned back for the truck and, what ho - what was this? An orange blinking LED close by and moving. Light can be very deceptive in the dark. Stationary lights appear to be in motion. The brain plays tricks. But I had a point of reference, the dark trees, and could see movement against it. I flicked on my flashlight but - nothing there. A mountain biker without headlight maybe, but a bike makes sound even if ridden on soft river silt. We conitnued to the truck with me periodically turning on the light. I was sure my eyes hadn't deceived me.
Then by my truck a red LED over which gleamed two green points. I flashed the light. A Walker hunting dog with an electric tracking collar! He barked once and Mak, my incredible battle-bred canine companion panicked, scurried back about ten feet... until he realized it was a dog, then he exploded. Took me a bit to fish out the pepper spray, just in case. In the brush next to us something else crashed, medium-sized by the sound of it. Either the Walker's quarry or another pooch. Then it emerged. Another dog with a collar. It was pandemonium for a bit, me screaming to keep the Walkers at bay until I could heave my two into the truck.
On the way out were two parked pickups and four men standing in a field. I stopped to talk, tell them I'd seen their dogs. I had, after all, spent an afternoon with bear hunters a couple years back. I can be anti-social but if I feel I share common ground I can be downright friendly, talkative. I jumped from my truck.
"Looking for your dogs?"
"Listenin' to 'em."
"Just saw 'em down the river."
"What're you hunting?"
Clearly these guys weren't interested in talking and I couldn't really blame them. Some strange guy coming out of the dark by himself in a truck, not intimidated by four strange men in the dark?
"Well, I'll leave you guys to it," I called cheerily and drove off.
That was it though. The sweat of nerves and restraining my dogs, the excitement, then the pleasure of running into others with multiple dogs, others who are comfortable in the dark in the middle of nowhere, no matter they were taciturn, it was enough to change my brain chemistry. My feeling of separation from the human race had dissipated, my mood now improved. I was no longer a pariah banished forever to isolation. I was just one of those guys who drives around at night with dogs in his truck. And that's not a bad sort to be.