Original illustration by Ralf Birch
Imagine a child that wants to take possession of a treasure, and as simple as a child’s treasure can be, they can be unachievable, owned by giants, guarded by tradition.
Imagine now that same child, having crossed oceans, explored continents, still loving the same giants, and unsuspecting of the passing of time, suddenly coming across the once much desired treasure.
I already told you about the farmhouse I grew in and about the 1960’s vintage cabinet that there was in the front guest room and some of the treasures that it contained, one of them a paper box that once encased a hunting knife.
Ivete was a close friend to my mother that sometimes would visit us at the farm. Ivete worked at the “Casa Bardaro” in Ribeirão Preto, a very traditional hardware and home appliances store that did not survive the turbulent evolution of the Brazilian economy during the 1980’s.
On one of her visits, in the early 1970’s, Ivete presented my father, who at the time was a dedicated outdoorsman, with a hunting knife. This knife was made by Mundial, a large Brazilian cutlery that unhappily no longer makes sport knifes, and had a design inspired on some Puma skinners, and was aptly named Cougar.
Although a cougar is a puma by any other name, and vice-versa, this Cougar knife had a distinct personally. The blade is forged from high carbon steel and then hard chromed; the handles or scales are some kind of Brazilian hardwood and a long leather tong passed through an eye on the tang. A leather sheath accompanied the knife. I remember an occasion when my father took this knife on a duck hunt and lost it on his way back to the truck and then backtracked through the swamp until he found it.
But if the Cougar knife was attractive its paper case was fascinating. On the cover there was a picture of a high power bolt-action scoped rifle and some bottlenecked cartridges on top of a jaguar or leopard pelt.
All these things were rare and exotic for a child in my situation. Brazilian gun laws being restrictive as they have always been and American or African big spotted cats also not being available around the corner (not that there were many street corners in the farm) made my imagination take off. Compound that with a healthy dose of Tarzan comic books and movies and stories generously supplied by my grandfather and you may see me flying from our farm to the jungles of Mato Grosso and from there, to the savannahs of Africa.
But children are careless with their treasures and one day that box disappeared and the knife submerged in some obscure kitchen duty and the years went by.
Just before Christmas of 1999 we visited our family farm in Goiás state, central Brasil, just weeks before I relocated to the Netherlands with my wife and children and as I snooped around drawers and cabinets I found that Cougar knife, rusted, broken tip but never forgotten. I took it to the shop, cleaned all the rust, reshaped the blade and sharpened it until it could cut as well as a cougar can bite and let my father know I just had taken possession of a treasure.
During the short three years that we lived in the Netherlands I used the Cougar intensively, special on barbecues and when we again relocated to the United States it came along with us.
But since the world is full of surprises this story is not over yet.
One Saturday on the summer of 2004 I was looking things around at a gun show in Kalamazoo, Michigan, when coming on to a table I saw a card box with the picture a high power scoped rifle and some bottlenecked cartridges on top of a jaguar or leopard pelt and inside it a brand new Cougar knife.
After asking for the price of the knife I paid the amount so fast I must have frightened the seller. I had to be quick or Cougar could get away.
Clearly, that gentleman did not know that he had a treasure on his hands. A treasure that, after 30 years, I now own.
Note from author:
This feature was first published as part of my book “A Wild Beast at Heart” (www.publishamerica.com, ISBN-10 1424147212) in 2006. During the launch ceremony of my second book “Caçadas: Estórias e Outras Mentiras” my friend Eloir Mário Marcelino and Colonel Trajano, both passionate hunters, book collectors and internet scroungers were telling me that they were able to locate several Cougar knives at “Mercado Livre” and other internet shopping sites, and that both had bought a couple each. I understand that Cougars are commanding a premium price, and I am very happy to have mine well guarded for “ future generations”.