Just a Drop for Colour

Author: Brendan Menchions

Every grouse hunter has experienced it.  That instant flash of a memory sparked out of nowhere by a simple smell.  I will not attempt to explain the science behind it, but the raw emotion that is felt when it hits needs no explanation.  Some hunts I spend more time smiling at old memories then I do focusing on the task at hand.  Another thing that we all share as hunters is the loss of loved ones, gone forth to hunt the endless fields in wait for us.  Mine was my dad’s best friend Vern, who to me meant the world.  When it came to grouse hunting he never forgot me. And he never forgot his homemade hooch!

A day in the field for us was as much about the tail-gate cook-up as it was the birds.  My dad’s blue Coleman stove and cast-iron frying pan were as much of a staple of the hunt as the shot guns.  The smells began one by one.  Starting with the smell of burning propane warming that old cast iron in the cold October damp.  Next came the freshly cut onion and bacon, as I watched Vern finish cleaning the mornings grouse.  The timing of it all never seemed to change.  With the addition of the grouse to the pan, a smell would hit your stomach without even stopping at your nose.  Then my favourite part.  With the rhythm still in sync, Vern would reach into his lunch bag and pull out a bottle of his homemade rum.  Every time was the same, a “two-finger” pour.  The pinky to the pointer.  And with every glass the crack of a diet coke with a quiet statement “just a drop for colour”.

As much as Vern loved a hefty drink on occasion, my dad was not one to partake.  In all my years kicking at their boot heels I might remember seeing him have a dozen drinks with Vern.  This meant that I did not have some of the traditions that I know many young boys do, such as drinking the neck of dad’s beer, or the “becoming a man” drink with dad and his hunting buddies.  However, like every young man I did hit a point in my life where I had to go out and find my own way.  This pulled me away from hunting for a few years and every September the pang for it grew stronger and stronger until I finally made the choice to move back home. Many seasons preceded that first season home, and many seasons have past since; but none have been as important as that one.

In a hunt that seemed as normal as every other I fell right back into the rhythm with my two old hunting buddies.  A day where common sense told you grouse would not cooperate, turned into a gift from the grouse gods themselves.  Over the years we had accumulated a handful of cook-up spots with everything required.  Running water to wash the birds, gravel base so we were not standing in mud, and thick enough trees to break the wind.  Now like I said, this was a day with winds howling through the thickest cover.  And that forced us to branch out and try a new spot amongst the pines.  I took my usual perch on the side of the truck box and watched intently as the two old boys worked their magic.  Soaking in the smells I realized that this was the place I was meant to be all along.  While I was day dreaming about my possible follies the past few years away, I didn’t even notice Vern pull his bottle out.  And I didn’t notice the three glasses lined up ready for the “two-finger” pour.  But when he passed me my glass the smell that usually sent me into memory land snapped me right back out of it.  Some things in life are meant to play out a certain way.  This was perfection.

Serendipity has struck me a few other times in my life, this moment trumps all of them combined.  The hunt turned out to be my last with Vern.  We lost him to cancer shortly after, and even though he didn’t know it at the time, the romantic in me likes to believe someone was watching over us.  Hunting is full of seemingly uneventful moments that we try our darnedest to soak in. The ones that are meant to be remembered will be.  They just need a drop of colour added to them!

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