Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Fragrance of Grass by Guy de la Valdene

“For fundamental reasons of survival, animals don’t follow insane leaders, only men do.”             - The Fragrance of Grass, Guy de la Valdene, p. 54

The Russell Chatham cover will immediately remind readers of Jim Harrison’s novels because Chatham’s painting are found on the covers of all of his books. This is no coincidence for Guy de la Valdene is a friend of Harrison and Thomas McGuane, two of America’s great living novelists. The connection is pointedly made by the epigram that proceeds the text – a quote by Jim Harrison that provides this book its title: “Between the four pads of a dog’s foot, the fragrance of grass.” Guy de la Valdene is one of perhaps three or four sportsman today that can write so vividly about hunting that you’ll want to clean your shotguns and pack up your gear for a day in the field. That this book is a memoir about hunting will be unsettling to any vegetarians reading this post, but I am unsympathetic. We live in a visceral world where the moronic executives of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) gorge themselves in New York’s finest restaurants on steak and lobster before making a commotion when movie stars are photographed wearing fox-fur coats. But I digress; to the heart of the matter: The Fragrance of Grass is a beautifully written book. It is compelling in every sense, and de la Valdene makes no excuses for his favored sporting activity. And lest one think he doesn’t have a heart then you are mistaken. He talks openly about the brutality of killing; “The surrender of a bird to its death, a concession to pain and terror, is not to be confused with art unless one is a fan of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.” (p, 207) But de la Valdene is, after all, a realist, and the book concludes with a fascinating collection of recipes for partridge. The Fragrance of Grass is a marvelous book; inspiring because of its quality writing and memorable because of the stories it tells. The book is poignant and filled with a deep understanding and appreciation for life. This one goes on a special bookshelf in my den, up there with Theodore Roosevelt, Tom Davis, Peter Hathaway Capstick and Robert Ruarke.

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