Dear quiet reader,
By the end of the day yesterday, I needed a break. We had spent the afternoon painting urethane on wood trim, hanging doors, and wiring light fixtures as a part of our ongoing home construction project. We had also spent the weekend in a state of excitement and awe at the recent news from Norway. Between the paint fumes and the surprising new reality of The Snow Child’s success overseas, I felt a bit of vertigo. I needed to get my feet back on the ground.
“Let’s go grouse hunting,” I said.
So just before dusk, we abandoned the wires and paintbrushes and put on our boots and coats. Sam grabbed a .22, and I helped our 4-year-old daughter get dressed. Then we set out into the woods behind our house, the fallen leaves crunching under our feet, our golden retriever jaunting ahead with a moose bone in her mouth.
As I’ve mentioned in previous letters, hunting for me is rarely about just hunting. It’s a reason to walk quietly in the woods, to leave behind the day’s cares and pay attention to details of the natural world that at first glance seem small but are in fact bigger than any of us.
We stepped over bear scat in the middle of the trail, and, farther up the hill, noticed where a cow moose and her twin calves had bedded down, leaving their imprints in the dry foliage. Our daughter measured herself against the tall, wild grasses that have yellowed in the autumn, and begged a shoulder her ride from her dad. We inspected a squirrel nest in the side of a hollow cottonwood tree, and we joked about how messy the squirrel was — throwing his trash of leftover spruce cones just outside his door. As we neared an old-growth spruce forest, an owl swooped silently through the air and disappeared into the trees.
It is unusually mild here for this time of year. Most of the leaves have blown to the ground and each night it frosts, but it has yet to snow on us. The afternoons have been warm and calm. As we hiked back down the trail, the sun was nearly set and in the far distance we could see the Matanuska River winding through the valley, the sunlight glinting off its water.
Much to my surprise, we actually did get a grouse. Sam shot it among the alder bushes not far from our house. When we returned from our stroll, he cleaned the bird. I coated the small pieces of meat in seasoned flour and fried them in olive oil in a cast iron pan on the stove. It was delicious, if I may so myself.
P.S. Welcome to my new subscribers. I hope you enjoy my letters.