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It’s the perfect time to give thanks

I come around the corner and there they are, tales told in tracks. In soft dark dirt in one area of an enormous field, there are dozens of boot tracks and dog tracks, all sizes. It’s apparent that the game lands at Tuscarora have been visited by dozens of hunters and dogs; this afternoon, my dogs and I have the place to ourselves.

I know no one is here because the pheasant stocking truck many days gone and not due. I know that pickings will be slim, but that’s okay. It’s a warmish day with a weak sun, and the grounds are beautiful. Around another corner, and another, and another – we have the place to ourselves and with the variety of cover it’s like we could be anywhere, Nebraska, the Dakota’s, Iowa.

But we aren’t. We’re just on a game lands in our own neck of the woods. I find myself thinking of a local great group of people who comprise The Friends of Beltzville State Park. They get together to work on special projects of the park, as volunteers, because they all love the place. Could there be a Friends group for individual state game lands? If so, I’d join this one.

Just a week or so prior, I’d spent a week in northern Maine hunting grouse with the dogs. I hunted hard for six days, and only twice encountered other hunters. The terrain was rugged, the weather sometimes raw, windy, unforgiving, but I remember that on the last day I strongly felt the need to give thanks. And it’s the same feeling I have this afternoon, on state game lands back in Pennsylvania.

I give thanks for living in a state, and country, where public lands for recreation exist and are tended. I give thanks for the privilege of purchasing a hunting license and using it, not only to put game in the freezer, but to simply enjoy the outdoors with my canine buddies. We hear a couple pheasants cackling far from us, but don’t see any, or put any in the vest – somehow that fact fails to diminish our enjoyment of the day.

I give thanks for the friends I’ve met through training dogs, beginning with my late friend Bill. Many years ago, I volunteered at a habitat project near Locustdale, where organizers needed people with trucks and open trailers to help tote discarded Christmas trees to the top of a mining reclaimed area. The trees would be used to create brush piles, as shelter for small game.

On my way down the dirt road, truck and trailer emptied, I pulled to the side to let a truck and trailer pass, going up. Each of us had a German shorthaired pointer riding in the front seat. We were best of friends until Bill’s life ended prematurely, due to liver cancer. I give thanks for his presence in my life as a dear friend, and I give thanks for the shorthair I got from him, Lozen, and her son and grandson, who hunted with me today.

On the drive home, I find myself thinking of some of the friends in my life and how we met. Some friends in Maine, who I met as a reporter when I was sent to do a story about a fundraiser for their daughter – now friends for more than 20 years. My friends from another Barnesville, in Georgia, who I met when I judged their dog at an AKC event in Weatherly – now friends for more than 20 years.

I give thanks for all those seemingly chance meetings in our lives, which aren’t really chance meetings at all, I don’t think. I believe there’s a grand plan to things. At times like this afternoon, when the clouds mute the setting sun into a gorgeous glowing haze, I remember my manners — and give thanks.

One of the many things to give thanks for is being able to experience wonderful travels to scenic places with four-legged buddies. That’s Homer, proud of his grouse in Maine. LISA PRICE/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS