Waiting

So tired, I could easily blow it off.

But the birds have been hanging in the cool crawlspace plenty long enough and it is time. “I’ll have a beer first…” and I do. And it’s so good, I have another.  It is already late fall and the sun is long gone and it feels later than it is, even though it’s barely dinner time. The birds are laid out on the cutting board, waiting. Although they really aren’t waiting, because they are dead; if they ever actually “waited” for anything while alive.

I often seem to procrastinate when it comes to cleaning birds, and then I hurry through it mechanically. But tonight, I’m in a different mood. Almost as tired as the shorthair curled up in the corner of the living room by the stove. The good kind of tired, where whatever you’re going to do you’re going to take your time doing.

roosters/cutting board

I lay the bird spread out on its back. Game shears remove wings and head and legs. Feel through the deep mahogany and purple-tinged belly feathers for something more tangible. The knife slides in easily, and the thin skin parts up the length of the cavity. The pungent odor of pheasant hits the nostrils. Rich pink flesh exposed. A pile of technicolor feathers accumulates. A few crimson spots where #6 did its thing.

Flushed under cold water, thoroughly.

And then its time to ponder a recipe. Maybe a sautè in sage, bacon and port. They deserve nothing less.

A Bird Hunter’s Table

A new, “highly recommended” addition to the upland hunter’s bookshelf has just been released – A Bird Hunter’s Table by Sarah Davies.

A Bird Hunter’s Table is about cooking, eating, and sharing friendship. It is also about gundogs, gamebirds, and getting outside to enjoy the land. Featuring contributions by MOF’s Tom Reed and Greg McReynolds, among other notables.

A Bird Hunter’s Table includes over 130 recipes, stories from the field, and a smattering of natural history.  To learn more, see a sample of the book, or to purchase, visit www.birdhunterstable.com or contact the author at birdhunterstable@gmail.com.  Trust us – this one is worthy, friends.

 

ABHT_cover_front

Homestead Rhubarb

In the autumn, you dream of Huns bursting from the rubble that was the old milk house, and you carry your shotgun cradled ready. You follow the dogs, and they follow their noses.
But now the land is sharp green from rains that don’t seem to quit and when you go, you don’t follow the dogs, they follow you, and they don’t pick up scent, they pick up the bothersome beggars’ ticks burs from last years dried stalks of houndstongue. You go where you want and sometimes, you walk among the old buildings and think about a different time, a different era.

There’s a hand-dug well and fifteen feet down, water. It is rock-lined and covered with rotting timbers. Peering down into those depths gives a tremor in your soul. A dark, wet, fearsome cavern. You think about being down in there, digging the damned thing by hand, and placing each one of those rocks. You think about the darkness, but then you look up and above, is freedom. Above, sky. Lots of sky.

Once, you ran into the old man whose grandparents homesteaded the place. 1898. Part of the Desert Land Act of 1877 which quadrupled the Homestead Act’s woeful 160 acres to 640 if you could irrigate the place within three years. Up on the mountain, you have seen the evidence of this – old dams and a series of ditches dug by hand and a walk-behind plow. Tough men. Tough women. Tough horses. Grandpa died in 1919 and Grandma in 1932. The old place was burned down by teenagers on a lark before the Second World War.

In this early summer in this new century, before the cows come out on the land and before the grass really comes, you ride your best saddle gelding and fix fence to keep the cows in and the neighbor’s cows out. You ride and you think of homesteaders because it’s too early to think about Huns and when they start pairing up, you quit bringing the dogs because you want the Huns to marry well, be happy, and raise lots of children. Besides, you are tired of picking burs.

As spring comes, you watch it coming: pasque flowers at first, up in the timber edges and sage benches. Phlox next, then spring beauties then avalanche lilies, then marsh marigolds up on the edge of the crick where young aspen are budding and ready to burst forth like words from a pen. It is a cacophony of chlorophyll.

Each day as you ride past the old place, with its scattered rock foundations and its still-stout railroad-tie post and rail fence, you think about hard land and hard people and tough living. And then you find it. Ridden past it many times, but now, up in the saddle, it is obvious and big: a patch of homestead rhubarb, 100 years or more old, growing out there feral among the sagebrush and spike fescue. Untended and still growing, still going, still here long after the humans who planted it have left and been forgotten except only in the mind of an old man who once was a boy who remembers. Everything else, every companion plant in the garden, has been gone for decades. Save rhubarb. Still here, still growing. How long since a pie cooled on a countertop that was made from that rhubarb? How long has that plant been growing and waving its big leaves and bright red stems in the Montana summer breeze? How long since laughter of children? How long since it was watered by hand with water from a hand-dug well?

One evening as the sun tilts west and it is still daylight at nine, you decide to take a drive out there, out west of your place and you walk among the sage with a plastic sack in your hand and a doe antelope with twin fawns barks at you from the ridgetop and you bend to the plant and pull a few stems, enough for one pie. You don’t want to pull it all. It needs to survive, as it has for more than a century. You will tell the old man about that rhubarb and he will smile and remember. A survivor.

-TR

Week-old chukar

It was a romantic dinner. Candlelight. A fire crackling in the woodstove, splashing orange shadows on the walls of the old ranch house. A decent Malbec. Some tunes.
And chukar. Sauteed in olive oil with an excellent mild curry paste added on low-simmer. Red peppers, cloves of garlic, slivers of sweet onion. Served on a bed of rice. Delicious white, wild meat, spiced just right. A most successful evening.
A week later, my old die-hard bachelor habits resurface. I dig in the refrigerator, find the remnants of that spectacular meal. I’d sent half home with my lady and she prudently ate it the very next day for lunch. My half I forgot about and now, like a treasure discovered at a garage sale, it resurfaces. Eureka! I’m not shoveling in microwave popcorn after all.
When was that meal anyway? I wonder, asking my canine friends. They don’t remember. Surely this has still got to be good, right? They agree. Offer to eat it for me.
Without female wisdom this night to guide me, I dive in.
I can put it on a tort! Melt some cheese! Dab a little Indian hot relish to top it off!

And so I do. And it turns out well. Nearly as delicious as the first time, with only the lovely company lacking.
Two hours later, a rumble. Hark! What was that? Distant thunder. A crack of gastric lightning! Silence rent with a sound much like a stepped-on frog. From under. Fumunder. What?! I’m tore up. Battered in a bile hailstorm!
I sprint from bedroom to bath and fling porcelain out of my way. An explosion! Then silence. A thunderclap!! Another! What?!
Two hours later, I shiver and sweat in bed, timidly sipping water, awaiting the next distant rumble and thinking: Goddamndable chukar partridge. Even in the off-season, they win. Little bastards.

Hard to Argue With

The sign on the diner read, “If You Don’t Stop We’ll Both Starve.”

Hard to argue with, so we did.

And over cheeseburgers and home made fries we basked in all that days on end of hunting new country, on foot and horseback, with friends old and new, can do for the soul. Meanwhile, tired dogs curled up and slept in the way that only hard-working, contented bird dogs can – satiated, and I like to think, already dreaming of being afield again. By the time the pie arrived, there was more right with the world than seemed possible.

Though the hunting may be behind, the trip isn’t over till it’s over, and all these other details are still relevant – almost as important as watching a covey of Huns explode. Almost.

– Smithhammer