Outdoors

The Necessity of Open Space

Lately I’ve been pondering the proportions of the perfect place

Lately I’ve been pondering the proportions of the perfect place.

This is no small task for a person as particular about his environment as I am. My perfect place needs to be of sufficient size — critical mass, I suppose — so the basic necessities of day-to-day living are met.

I need a decent grocery store, for which I’ve developed a handy diagnostic: does the produce department stock Italian parsley and arugula? If it does, it’s probably going to meet my needs. I can make do with other substitutes, but I sprinkle chopped parsley on just about every pasta dish and I dump arugula on food like a sodium lover who unscrews the cap because a saltshaker takes too long.

My perfect place also needs a coffee shop that doesn’t drown my cappuccino in a pool of steamed milk, a respectable bar that doesn’t make you feel icky when you linger too long with a solid IPA on tap, and enough restaurants with their wits about them so you don’t have to eat out at the same place every week.

A pizza place, a Mexican restaurant and a burger joint — especially if it’s the same place serving the IPA — are required. A wider selection of ethnic options is nice, but I can survive without if there’s a bigger city nearby where I can scratch the occasional culinary itch.

As mentioned, size matters. If your town’s too small, the interesting joints won’t stay in business long. Make sure to frequent the good ones soon after startup, while the cooks are still focused and before it becomes obvious to the owners that no matter how good the food, there will never be enough bodies coming through the door to pay the bills.

Too big comes with its own set of woes. You may be able to buy all the arugula you want, but good luck finding a place where you can run your bird dog off a leash. When the population of your place creeps up to 100,000, it will likely take you 20-30 minutes just to drive to the city limits, and it might take twice that long to find enough room for the dog to get some proper exercise.

Open space means more than just a healthy pup, however. Open space is the tonic of the soul. I’ve been fortunate enough, or maybe it was strategic, to have lived most of my life in places where unleashed dog space was nearby. Both of my English setters, for instance, received critical early training on wild pheasant and Huns in the fields on the north end of Kalispell around Kidsports.

Though we were just practicing, not hunting, it was in those fields that I learned when Jack located a covey of tight-holding Huns, his steady point was as certain as death and taxes. And when he put his nose to the ground and moved off on a steady, zigzagged pace, he was trailing a running rooster.

That’s where I learned to trust my dog, and as most bird hunters will affirm, I became a humbler, better man because of what my dog taught me.

We mostly saw birds there, the game birds, along with the rather frequent flyovers of northern harrier hawks. There was also the occasional eagle, and once in a blue moon we’d jump a whitetail lounging out in the tall grass.

These were short walks by necessity as the commerce of Kalispell’s busy north end was closing in. Alas, arugula-stocking grocery stores and respectable beer joints do require a certain critical mass to survive.

Still, if forced to choose between cosmopolitan and country, I could be happy washing down iceberg lettuce with a Bud Light.

My memories of Jack on point are worth it.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.