“Once upon a time,” the story is told, a covey of grey partridge roamed the plains of Zair. Among them a small, pitiful individual feebly vegetated while her powerful brothers and sisters ridiculed her, keeping the best grain and insects for themselves. To survive, the little partridge was reduced to seeking minute morsels of food in the fissures of rocks and hard-to-get-at places. Unfortunately, her short beak did not always allow her to reach her food, and she grew weaker.
The Virgin Mary, witnessing her misery from paradise, was saddened and called her to heaven. The partridge curled up in her hand and listened as the Virgin said, “Little bird, I am going to transform you, so that you may know the joys of life. Thrown out by your kind, you will now live alone in the serenity of the forests, where along with silence you will also find an abundance of food. You will be the elegant hostess of the underbrush and will generate the admiration of those who love nature. Your capricious flight and your intelligent defenses will allow you to escape your pursuers. I will protect you.”
The Virgin laid three fingers on the little bird’s head, leaving three brown transversal imprints now called the “Virgin’s fingers.” Her beak lengthened, her plumage took on a golden hue, and she flew back to earth as guardian of the forests.
So was born the woodcock, also called “Our Lady of the Woods.”
-Guy De La Valdene’s Making Game: An Essay in Woodcock, pages 95-96. Photo by A.J. Hand.
“That evening I was lonely and I caught a condition the French call vin triste (“sad wine”). I returned to my motel room, packed, and told my dog that we were in the wrong line of work. Her eyes were like pats of butter and radiated a lifetime of trust. How could she know that someday she would be too old to hunt and that soon after she would die? All she knew was that she loved me at that together we had nudged dun-colored skies into fanfare of wings, whimpered and cut ourselves on talus faces, lost ourselves in sweltering bogs, and found birds where there should have been none. We understood each other better than most men understand god. More important, we hoped that when autumn came, the birds would fly.” pgs. 78-79
Bursts like this one where Valdene rifts on spring lift Making Game from reportage and into the world of art.
“Spring probes the imagination by tacking from gloom to color, from apathy to the naivete of revery, and by insinuating an inkling of clairty into the dull haze of hibernation. Her promise of life, of revelry, of natural beauty is deliberate, sometimes palpable, other times so faint as to be mistaken for passing fancy. Her curtain may loiter in midstream, only to reopen momentarily on the breast of a goldfinch or descend under the weight of a grey rain, all the time uprooting and tempting, taunting and promising the inevitable, until one morning, for no apparent reason, dawn sighs and a flushed breath of air warms the earth. Spring is the breakfast of the year.” pg. 29-30
I’ve read Guy De La Valdene’s book Making Game last week and I’m going to share a few quotes here of the next few days. If you enjoy them, I suggest reading the entire book. It’s well worth it.
“The Seneca Indians believed that the Creator made the woodcock from the leftover parts of every other bird. If that is true, his heart must be that of an eagle, for it is big and filled with the unique courage required to wander in solitude through the mysterious forests of his continent.” pg. 29
Guy De La Valdene is easy to envy. He has spent his life fishing and hunting, has owned a quail plantation in Florida, and has life-long friendships with guys like Jim Harrison and Russel Chatham. Valdene also writes, and when he does, he’s good enough at it to give me another reason to be jealous of him.
One of his earliest works is Making Game: An Essay On Woodcock. I just picked up a first edition of this book. I’m not that far into it, but when I finished the foreward last night and set the book down, I knew I was I going to enjoy the remaining 202 pages.
“The morality behind hunting is buried beneath a dozen reasons, all of which are valid, but none of which ultimately satisfy me. It wouldn’t occur to me to hurt an animal unless I were actively hunting it. I condemn cruelty of any kind, and yet I have crippled more birds than most. The contradictions are hypocritical, but, even though I cannot explain them, I do not feel like a hypocrite. What I am is a bird hunter, and sanity’s sake I will leave it at that.”
-Guy De La Valdene, from Making Game: An Essay On Woodcock.