We discussed dog triumphs and mishaps as the two setters crisscrossed the sunrise filtered desert hills in front of us seemingly unaffected by the same gravity I was battling. Talk eventually turned to birds and how to prepare and cook them, a chore most (including myself when pressed) often took the easy way with, merely skinning and breasting out the flesh that took so much sweat and hope to acquire. Chukar fajita, seemed like an anticlimactic answer to all the trouble we went through during the journey that led to bagging one of these lonely birds out in the desert. I almost paraphrased the line Jim Harrison is famous for on the matter, how it is a sin against God and Man to remove the skin from any game bird meat, because they are so much better with it left on. But in light of all the hills we were to climb that day and all the hustling to make it to dogs on point, one more imposing mountain to climb in suggesting we take the time to pluck a potential pile of birds felt indignant.
But its true, we work so hard in dog training and preparation for the hunt, spend so much money on gear and to reach our destination, all the effort that goes into a hunt itself it seems counter intuitive to simply rip the skin off our quarry and breast it out only to cook it in the most diminished and mundane way possible as if that was our only choice. I didn’t put blisters on my aching feet and climb hill after hill until my lungs burned and knees creaked just to throw together some thoughtlessly prepared a dish to be wolfed down unceremoniously while watching Netflix, I wanted something worthwhile, I owed it to the bird and myself.
It was on that chukar hunt last season I decided to make it a point or almost nostrum to try to pluck all my game birds (unless too shot up) and leave the delicious flavor sealing skin intact so that it could arrive on my plate crispy and ready to devour like some Christmas gift that suspiciously resembled the top item on my list, and it is entirely Jim Harrison’s fault.
The author and poet has often had an influence on me, his poetry could be a strong and tough force of nature and not the sing songy page filler I had always ignorantly dismissed poetry as. Through his writing he also showed me it was OK to be a determined outsider, as a lonely socially awkward kid who never fit in anywhere but in the woods or on a stream, Jim Harrison’s work proved to me that it was the rest of society that doesn’t fit into my world – a dynamic many people will never have the pleasure of understanding during their own struggles.
When Jim died on March 26th it didn’t come as much of a shock to me, I had read that his wife had passed away a few months prior and from that point on I often thought the he would be the type of person who would follow his love to the next world in the graceful way that soul mates have. We all have our time, I’m sure the poet would tell you. I briefly harbored some regret on never meeting the man, but in reality what would I say? What could I say? At best I would probably sound like Chris Farley in those old SNL Sketches, fidgeting,flushed, and sweating “Do you, do you remember that time you wrote Legends of The Fall? That was awesome”. The thought of sharing a hunt would have been a sublime and Mars like goal to reach and I wish I could have figured out a way to make it happen, but instead I will just settle for the realization that our Heroes are mortal too.
I felt awestruck at the mysteries of this life and the next and how someone I had never met had shaped parts of me through the tiny key hole glimpses of himself distributed in the pages of his books. How many more determined outsiders would read his words, feel them resonate, and take something good to keep from them?
I opened the freezer and found Jim’s chukar, the one I had taken the time to so carefully pluck at my tailgate as if Harrison himself was looking over my shoulder in approval, and left it on the counter to later turn into a meal that celebrates death and life.
“At last the days are stacked against who we think we really are”