The Old Bag

The katabatic rolling down the gully is adding a touch of wind-chill to the wintery frost hereabouts. It’s a purple-lipped, drippy-nosed and pointy-nipples kind of start as I leave the comfort and warmth of the truck.

I walk in the odd way of the near-hypothermic outdoorsman, slightly hunched with arms pressed against one’s torso but soon enough the sun will rise to warm the northern faces.

It’ll be one of these gnarly northern faces, which I’ll select and scale along with my two canine mates. After repetitive sub-zero mornings game animals will be hunkered down in beds of fern or under canopies of kanuka trees waiting patiently for warmth and light.

There is no sign to indicate a grunter in residence on the face I choose. It’s just a random rocky place with a ‘feel’ that calls to me. So, its onwards and upwards, accruing metres slowly. The rising sun is on my back as I go. Unknown to me, the sun is on another back too.

The boar is dozing, eyes closed, when the dogs catch his scent. Together they approach with speed and anticipation. They do not pause as they enter boarzone, instead they grab an ear each and brace for battle.

I hear the meeting of friends and foe above me no bark, no squeal – there is only loud breathing as all three pull and struggle, paws and hooves spread wide, muscles quivering.

Hurriedly I continue gathering metres till the trio above begin to tire and descend. As we all draw level I shuck my gear and drop my rifle, waiting till the boar presents his blunt end and grabbing a hold there. It is steep and difficult underfoot. Try as I might I cannot stop nor steer the combined weight of boar and dogs. There is no tree to anchor me, no stable ground to stomp my boots into and brace my bulk at ground level. Reluctantly I let go and scurry back to my gear – I toss my camera bag, tracker bag and rifle over my shoulders then stumble after my mates.

As the fight descends through broken ground I shuck my load again before grabbing the boar’s tail. Now, if only I could hold him still while I get my knife out. If only the bloody dogs would stop pulling against me. If only I could I could get my knee up near the boar’s armpit and tip him. If only the bloody blackberry vine around my foot would break or let go. If only!

With a burst of energy the boar drags us all off our feet. Dogs and I hold on grimly readying for another skirmish. This time I win a pause but nothing else. Next up is a blackberry thicket where the boar ducks his head and digs in. The dogs hold fast, thorns shredding their nostrils, eyelids and ear tips. I let go, I am not as tough as them.

Through the blackberry thicket they tear, gaining momentum on the steepest of descents. I decide to go back for my gear. If the dogs weary and bail I will need my rifle. If the boar shakes them loose and breaks afar I will need my tracker.

Now, where did I drop my gear? Way back up there somewhere. I hurry because the dogs are getting battered and torn, dragged further and further away. Sweat is dripping off my eyebrows, my lungs are hurting, I rasp as I breathe. Where did I drop it? Was I this high? Was I higher? Was I lower?

I cannot find my gear. The dogs need me. I have to go now.

Irate and frustrated I arrive just as the boar burrows into another blackberry patch. I grab his departing heels, one in each hand, and drag him backwards. The weary dogs sense my mood and release on command. Free of foot tangles gravitational and opposing pull I manage to tip the boar and knife him.

Then I make the killerclimb a third time over. I sweat. I swear. I stumble, often.

Eventually I spot the green tape on my rifle butt but my joy is short-lived. My camera bag is not there. Had it slid and bounced down the hill? Did it drop off my shoulder after I scooped it up earlier – in that case is it further uphill?

Sore and quiet, the exhausted dogs follow me as I search, up, down, around and around. The bag is orange for goodness sake, how can I not see it in this place of grey and brown?

Finally there it is!

After years of outdoor action, the hi-viz camera bag is worn and dull, not the bright and eye-catching thing it once was. Perhaps it’s time to end our partnership – yeah, nah – eye-catching packaging is well and good but it’s the contents within that are more important and worth working hard to keep a hold of. The old bag, familiar and capable, will stay by my side.

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