Robust reading & a Robust shotgun
There are certain people that I just wish I could meet and share a good meal and better conversation with, and of those people is Guy de la Valdène.
A war baby born in New York city in 1944, Guy de la Valdène had the opportunity and privilege of not only being educated both in the United States and Europe, but of being exposed from a relative young age to some outstanding bird hunting (as well as fishing) in both sides of “the pond”. But most important, he took the time, and also the expenses, of putting down in excellent writing a lot of those experiences. And he does so in such a beautiful way that I can only admire.
Mr. de la Valdène’s books present a substantial more cosmopolitan view of hunting than is generally available from less enlightened writers. He provides a zesty mix of natural history and ecology, a lot of cooking and some drinking, great dogs and enticing women, hunting and poaching, and a passion for wild birds, with an emphasis on the wild.
If I remember correct, the first piece that I read from Guy de la Valdène was an article published in “Garden & Gun”, that was the foreword for his latest, and I hope not last, book, “The Fragrance of Grass”. I was immediately hooked to his writing and storytelling style, and as soon as I could connect to internet I ordered that book. Later I was able to order “For a Handful of Feathers” and “Red Stag” (his only novel) from used bookstores.
Just about two months ago I decided to order the prized “Making Game – An Essay on Woodcock” and I should say that my decision to buy a new home in Traverse City, MI, was in no small way influenced, or at least reassured, by this book.
Through much of his works Mr. de la Valdène questions the ethics of hunting and the killing of wild animals, in the same way that every true hunter should do, but recognizes the urge and need to continue hunting in order to maintain the importance and relevance of wild places and wild things in our lives.
You could have a hunter’s or poet’s heart, but as long as you love nature you will love these books. I am listing them in chronological order, and presenting a small quote from each.
Making Game - An Essay on Woodcock (ISBN 0-944439-14-4), 1985, 1990
"Of late, these feathered things have been settling on the souls of those who poison the sky and foul the seas. In the not-so-distant past society beheaded such people. Just a thought."
For a Handful of Feathers (ISBN 0-87113-618-X) 1995
"A la pointe du fusil means at the tip of the gun, and implies freshly killed game. Faisandè means pheasanted (if that were a word) and suggests game that hung until the germs of its intestines invade the balance of its tissues, decomposing and softening them while strengthening he fundamental taste of the meat, which in the case of pheasants, wild turkey, and quail is bland. Three days on the gallows will relax muscles and fibers as surely as the sun loosens the reserve of young women, allowing the wild flavor of its nature and the environment it lived in to be released."
Red Stag - A Novel (ISBN 1-59228-134-6) 2003
"The brown paper hid a leather gun case, inside which lay the stock and barrels of a box lock, sixteen-gauge side-by-side Robust. The set smell of gun oil that stained the felt lining rose to greet him. The wood was scratched and the gun barrels had lost most of their bluing, but when he put the gun together and closed the breach, the sound filled him with delight."
The Fragrance of Grass (ISBN 978-0-7627-6414-3) 2011
"'Cochon!' exclaimed the young maid, reddening. But after a little while, encouraged by the wine, the presence of large, sated men, and the wood-burning warmth of a nearby stove, she made a production of licking her lips. To the cheers of the men, she flashed the table a lovely, well-shaped, pink breast. It was my first party."
Maybe one day I will meet Mr. de la Valdène, be it in the woods of Northern Michigan or in his farm turned bobwhite quail heaven in Tallahassee, Florida, or any other place that holds some wild birds, and at time I would like to have my sixteen-gauge side-by-side Robust portrayed above, just to shoot a couple birds for a meal that would take several hours to prepare, and that would make it socially acceptable for us to share one or more bottles of good red wine.