Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Last Grouse

     I ate the last grouse today. Not "the" last grouse, but the last grouse in my freezer, so you can relax. My appetite hasn't been responsible for placing Bonasa Umbellus on the extinction list, and even if I could eat that many grouse my shooting would surely never allow for it.

     Today's grouse was sauteed in olive oil, drizzled with a bit of a Dijon pan sauce, and served with some ratatouille I whipped up. I like the taste of grouse, and pretty much every other game bird I've eaten. In fact I thoroughly enjoy eating all manner of big game too. Today, however, the grouse didn't taste so good. Not only was this the last grouse in my freezer, but also the last grouse my English Setter, Austin, will have pointed for me.

     In December, Austin started suffering from painful lameness in his front right leg. I didn't hesitate taking him to the vet. After six weeks of tests, and awaiting lab results our worst fears were realized. Austin had bone cancer. Our time together is now limited, and we've had our last grouse season together. Austin doesn't know this, though he knows he's got a painful leg, and he knows he gets treats twice a day now, because I learned a long time ago that a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down. And though I'm not 100% on this, I suspect he knows something is going on, because just like I know him, he knows me, and I'm not too good at hiding that this situation bothers me.

     I remember the day, and the place I shot that grouse really well. We'd been at our annual grouse camp in upstate NY. For more than a decade I've been travelling to hunt with the same rabble every year. Originally we held two big camps in NH each fall, but over time families, and job transfers changed that. We decided to hold camp in Pa a couple times, but eventually settled in NY. Austin pointed this bird along the edge of a small stream lined with wrist sized dogwoods. He had pointed 4 birds in the last hour, but I hadn't had a shot opportunity. This time I did, and the bird tumbled dead. It was a beautiful, healthy bird. The kind of bird one shows off, and I did, a little.

     I wouldn't eat that last grouse without giving my pal a taste, so as I sat in front of my plate, Austin sat by my side with his own plate of grouse. I know he earned the privilege of eating by my side, and I hope the grouse tasted good to him. Today, I found it to have the rather bitter flavor of mother nature's cruelest joke, taking our dogs from us too soon, and the saltiness of tears.

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