It’s embarrassing to meet an old friend and want to introduce him or her to a friend who is traveling with me. I have the capacity to recall events of the past, but people’s names escape me, lost somewhere back there in the cobwebs of time.
I hold off with the introduction as long as possible, making small talk while hoping the name will come to me. Finally,I decide I’ll just be bluntly honest.
“I’ll never forget you as long as I live,” I say, “but your name I have temporarily forgotten.”
I’m thankful my mind is still able to recall outdoor adventures from an early age – such as rabbit hunts with my father and brother and uncles, coming across an abandoned orchard from which we enjoyed the sweetness of cold apples recovered from beneath the snow, being in the dewy woods with my two teenage sons on opening day of squirrel season, or sitting around a cheery campfire and listening to the sounds of the night.
One of my fondest memories revolves around hunts for a beautifully feathered bird about the size of a smallish chicken.
He’s the ruffed grouse, the king of the wild birds. He’s quick, cunning, elusive. If you’re lucky enough to put one in the gamebag, you’re as happy as you were on the first night of your honeymoon.
In my younger years, I trudged up one ridge and down another. I drove through briar patches and honeysuckles. I had grouse roar out from almost beneath my feet. Sometimes I heard only the roar of their wings as they flushed out ahead of me, far out of gun range.
I bagged a few, missed aplenty.
Avid grouse hunters will tell you if you’re hunting grouse without a good dog you’re wasting your time. Well, it is a more pleasurable pursuit when the German pointer or Irish setter locks up on point and trembles with excited anticipation as you wade in, gun ready, to flush this admirable and desirable bird. Your partners stand by on either side in case you miss.
I’ve never owned a grouse dog, but I hunted with men who did. Ken Franks and Bill Litteral were strict and demanding when it came to training dogs to hunt grouse. You could see the pride and the love they showed for these animals and the pleasure their dogs gave to them in return.
THE GROUSE BOOK
What set my mind to dwelling on grouse hunts of the past is a review copy of a book on grouse I received.
“A Passion for Grouse” is the best book ever published on the ruffed grouse. The writing is first rate; the graphic presentation is stunning. There are hundreds of color photographs; a grouse drumming on a log; the old stone fences and abandoned orchards of grouse habitat; the rhododendrons and tangled grapevines of our own Appalachians.
The hardbound book features more than 560 pages. It weighed six pounds on my bathroom scales. It was published by Wild River Press (www.wildriverpress.com).
Actually, it was 2013 when I got my hands on a copy. I believe I did a column on it at that time. So, I’m not sure if a copy is now available. The price tag of $100 is more than most of us would want to pay anyway. There may be copies in the local libraries?
There are literary tributes to such iconic grouse writers as John James Audubon. “How difficult it is to hit a flying ruffed grouse,” he wrote.
The last story in the book is written by Corey Ford, the beloved bard of his own “Lower Forty.” His column by that name ran monthly for 16 years in Field and Stream magazine.
His story in the book is titled “The Road to Tinkhamtown.” If you read it, about the death from old age of his beloved grouse dog, Shadow, and the surprising ending, I guarantee you’ll be reaching for the tissues to wipe away the tears.
We all have a Tinkhamtown back there somewhere in the recesses of our memory.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 932-3619.