In two hours,
after 10 shots, I had one cock blue grouse. The old man had used three of his
shells to kill a cock ruffed grouse and a hen blue. He handled his oversize gun
with remarkable speed and graceful ease.
"I pass up the
easy shots," he explained at the end. "Anybody should hit the easy
We had worked our
way around to the southwest side of the mountain. About 500 feet below the gray
rock peak we sat in the shade on a fallen log by a pool of spring water. It was
icy water, clean and delicious. The old man had laid the dead birds out on the
log between us. The dogs were stretched out in a puddle to cool their bellies,
staring at us with their brown, intensely interested bird-dog eyes. They wanted
dogs," the old man said.
"I forgot my
knife," I said.
He swore, rather
gently this time. "I'll do it," he said.
the three birds, using a small pocketknife to cut slits below the breastbones.
All three grouse were stuffed with berries.
He placed the
birds back on the log. Perhaps they are the only creatures as beautiful dead as
they are alive; or it might be that we seldom get close enough to living birds
to really see them. But we looked at these three now in a row on the brown
bark, the cock blue grouse actually a grayish color mottled with blue, white at
the shoulders, a bright orange patch of skin above the glassy eye. The hen blue
was smaller and mottled brown. Both birds had a black tail with the broad gray
band at the tip. The ruffed grouse, reddish above, yellow-brown below, barred
tail fanned out, was loveliest of all.
for today," the old man said. "Let's head back."
On the way back
out around the mountain to the Forest Service road where I'd parked he showed
me a pond that I had never known was there. I suppose an optimist might have
called it a small lake. Dozens of springs that drained down the western slope
of the mountain converged and met, then spread to cover a four-or five-acre
flat with a couple of feet of water. The pond was completely and closely
surrounded by thick timber. The old man said that sometimes there were mallards
on the water, dozens or even hundreds of them, and it was not unusual to see
Canada geese. "It's the season," he said. "But no hunting here. I