Saturday, June 25, 2011

If you need something good to read this summer...

Yes, this is subjective as hell.  Anyone who's traipsed through this blog for a while knows that I'm partial to Guy de la Valdene.  My only complaint with his work is that there's not enough of it for my consumption.  Were he as prolific as some mainstream writers - John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Stephen King - I might never pick up a book written by anyone else.  That's a bit of a stretch I know, but hey, passion runs deep sometimes.

la Valdene's latest release, The Fragrance of Grass, is another memoir of sorts, this time loosely wrapped around the grey partridge.  Following a theme of previous works centered around woodcock and bobwhite quail, he gathers decades of stories from places as distant as his native Normandy and remote Saskatchewan.  Colorful characters from a life lived between the extremes of society offer a glimpse into the realm of people beyond the world of the average reader.  Farmers, poachers, royalty, singers, authors and more find their way into these recollections, each leaving something to ponder.

True to form, la Valdene paints life as it is, himself included.  Very few modern writers are so willing to open up about their transgressions with such candor.  He is as equally understated about his successes and unashamed of either.  While lessons learned early in life did not ward off all mistakes, they did leave impressions that he translates into timeless pieces of knowledge:
"My first bird dog taught me that personalities dictate decisions, which in turn affect events."
This line is not set off from the rest of the text but could easily be.  Many of the areas covered in the book - from learning to shoot to the stocking of bird populations to the excesses displayed in taking game at various points in history - all can be boiled down to this simple observation.  His perspective is that of a man in the third quarter of his life, looking back with the wisdom gained only from having been on the field the previous two quarters.  Widely traveled with plenty of days in the field, the experience is a solid foundation for the reflections he shares.

I remain amazed at his command of the English language, his second language, no less.  Neither blunt nor flowery, he has a knack for choosing the right word or expression to convey the feeling of situations that we as hunters often struggle to voice.  It's hard to summarize this book in a single line, but one in particular stands out from the rest:
"In the quiet of the night I confess to the dog closest to me my heartfelt wish to be a child again."
Don't we all.


  1. Over the decades, I became aware of Guy de la Valdene through the books of Russell Chatham and the tarpon cult classic film "Tarpon", but I had not read his works. It was just a few months ago a non-hunting friend told me I had to read Fragrance of Grass. About this time, the buzz started in the blogosphere and I started with Fragrance, then For a Handful of Feathers, and finally, Making Game. His perspective and use of language is masterful and refreshing. I had long ago tired of "blood in the sand" memoirs, but I was fascinated with his origins and story.
    He was raised in a castle in Normandy with a kitchen crew of six. His father was a WWI French Ace, and his mother at age 21 piloted a single engine Puss Moth plane from London to Africa to hunt big game. All the above is mentioned by him not just as an aside, but to let us know where he is from and where he is now, and not as a boast. It is who he is. Regardless of background, he is all of us who have wrestled with the incongruity of killing the birds that we love. While reading Fragrance, I thought of another great book I haven’t read in three decades, A River Never Sleeps by Haig-Brown, but this is not to say Fragrance is a terrestrial knock-off of Haig-Brown’s masterpiece, because it isn’t. Perhaps it is that both books begin with the authors as children; both are wonderfully written and reverential of topic. Of his three bird hunting books, Fragrance is my favorite because it was my first exposure to his unique style. Being from the south, I took note and some pride that he has chosen the Deep South as home. In For a Handful of Feathers, I detected an ungrudging respect and affection for the south and southerners (well, some), something that we don’t often receive from other quarters. I look forward to his next book.

  2. Nice comments Gil, especially the part about struggling to find the logic in killing the birds we love. I'm hoping there IS a next book - it's been long time between releases.

  3. Thanks, Mark. I've seen this at several sites. Perhaps you've already heard it. He discusses his next book. Enjoy!

  4. Thanks for the link. That's quite an interview, a testament to his enthusiasm for his work.