I brought my horses home from the summer pasture this morning. It is only seven crooked miles from gate to gate. I’d talked Maggie, my daughter, into riding with me when we took them out, but I didn’t have any takers for the ride back. “Dad, it is sooooo boring. There’re no cows to move and nobody to talk to and I don’t get cell phone reception…..”
I like a quiet ride and talking to a horse with my legs and hands. Occasionally I’ll sing to myself or let them eavesdrop as I pray. A horse rarely complains about my singing or dropped cell service and they’ve never revealed my sins when they’ve heard my confessions.
I saved my mule out for myself and was loading the bay gelding and buckskin mare in the horse trailer for my wife to take home when the first grouse flew up out of the wheat stubble. It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with Maggie the day before and my own college years decades before.
“I am so tired of baloney sandwiches.”
Maggie is a college junior this year. She’s lived on campus the last two years and wanted to try life off campus. She rented a house with a friend and had a line on a good job. She had saved up enough money to make it through the year. But she had seen a little pickup just before school started and that took her savings down. The promising job had evaporated and she had hunted hard and long before finally finding another. Rent turned out to be a little higher than she had thought and utilities too and her reserves were running thin sooner than she had planned.
Maggie had worked for a credit card company while in High School and talked to hundreds of people who had gotten into financial trouble by spending other people’s money. She vowed that she would make it through college without going into debt and had chosen the route of Ramen noodles and baloney sandwiches until her finances improved. I and a great friend, Dave Brown, had shared a basement apartment and the same diet while students at Tech. Grouse had been our poor-man’s chicken. Back then, gas had been cheap. If you were a good shot, you could go out on a Saturday morning and fill the freezer with two weeks’ worth of groceries.
We hunted turkey and antelope near his home of Edgemont and were glad for the variety they brought to the freezer, but our bread and butter were the sharp-tailed grouse from the prairies near my home of Sturgis. We could be into birds only twenty minutes from town. Their dark breasts, floured and fried in butter, created a sandwich that filled your stomach. Prior to opening day, we lived on a gaunt diet of peanut butter and day-old bread. But after the first of October, we lived like kings. The bread never changed, two loaves for a dollar, but the meat of a grouse created a feast. A dismal meal eaten over homework instead became a celebration that included laughter at a poor shot missed or wonder at an amazing one made.
Grandma is headed back east for the pheasant opener to spend time with her family and has said that she will take back a box of elk for Maggie and her room mates. I’m thinking about taking the dog out to that little stubble field with the berry patch and seeing if I can’t add a few grouse just for old times’ sake.
There ought to be a little hardship in earning your first degree and I’m secretly glad my daughter is handling this life lesson on her own. Nothing drives home the value of hunting and the bounty we share by living in South Dakota, like a diet of baloney sandwiches replaced with fried grouse breasts and grilled elk steaks.