The crop of the grouse was overflowing with greens and berries as I carefully plucked the feathers from the breast. Ben, my son decided to make this Thanksgiving about wild birds not the usual turkey, so when he came home I sat on the porch and plucked grouse. One doesn’t ever really forget how to pluck ducks, geese, chicken, quail or grouse when you learn as a baby. I had a red snow suit, with white furry trim that zippered up the front. I was still young enough, about 3, to be carried by Dad when I first plucked the feathers from a duck while sitting on a big weathered log in the tidal flats of the Salmon River where I grew. Dad said “Stay Put”, then wandered off with shotgun in hand and Silver the spaniel by his side to shoot ducks.
Silver brought the ducks back to me and I would carefully pick up the newly dead bird and begin pulling feathers away from the warm body. There is a lot of technique to plucking a duck well. Going with the flow of how the feathers grow ensures you don’t rip the skin. You shouldn’t grab too many feathers at a time. Mostly the feathers come out easily and one hopes that you killed the duck after the new feathers are mature or there is the slow work of pulling pin feathers. That first day of hunting with Dad led to a childhood of plucking, gutting and preparing wild birds for all of our special family meals.
As I sat with Ben pulling the feathers from the still warm grouse I was reminded of the closeness that is created when you hunt and gather food to nourish your family. The autumn sun was warm, the spruce grouse beautiful and an ancestral connection was shared. This year my father put down his guns and this month as he celebrates his 87 birthday he has decided to move to a retirement home in town. It has been hard to watch him make end of a lifetime decisions to give up the many things that have nourished him and his family.
So as Dad lets go we continue exploring living and nourishing ourselves through his example but in our way. This weekend as we sit down to dinner I will be grateful for the living example of my father who lived connected to the joys that this earth has to offer. We will cook grouse, geese and pheasant and with the many vegetables and herbs from the garden. There will be joy and happiness and a celebration of lives well lived. All the very best, Kathleen