Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Hunter and the Cook

As published in Ojai Quarterly magazine, Fall 2011.

Photo by Bill Snider
Blackberry filet mignon with rosemary-roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, pesto-encrusted halibut with grilled corn and roasted red pepper relish, honey-thyme Alaskan salmon with green-tea rice – these are among the typical meals that come out of my husband’s kitchen on any given night.

Except in October.

The non-existent pre-nup I allegedly “signed” 18 years ago says that Bill will go to parts unknown that month with a gun, a slumberjack and his father and brothers, and I will fend for myself. This year he left me with a homemade macaroni and cheese casserole, but when that runs out, I suppose I will attempt to make a meal out of ice cubes, chocolate syrup and Cheerios.

October brings with it the most gorgeous golden light and brilliant blue skies that make Ojai’s mountains look like I could trace their ridges with my fingertip. But I hate October. Not just because I am dining like a caveman, but because I know for sure that summer is so far gone I can’t even see it in the rearview mirror. Another summer gone. Football, fall sales and back-to-school chatter make me pine for my flip-flops and the smell of chlorine. And to top it off, I just had another birthday. Another year gone. The days are shorter. Leave in the dark, come home in the dark. Another day gone.

The chill of the past two mornings reminds me that I will soon be wrestling with that infernal furnace, which comes on whenever it damn well pleases. There will be lists to make, Christmas presents to shop for, turkeys to cook. Winter will drag on. I’ll wear socks to bed. It’s October and I am alone with my thoughts.

Toby is confused. He cries and stares at the door each evening, hoping his master will appear. I look at him and say, “What are you complaining about? Your diet hasn’t changed a bit.”

My vegetarian friend says things like, “Well, I’m sort of hoping Bill doesn’t get anything.” Of course, she says this while zipping up a swanky pair of Italian leather boots. I don’t bother with telling her about family traditions, conservationism or knowing where your food (or footwear for that matter) comes from. I also don’t tell her that I actually hope he shoots the first thing he sees, so he can come home and fix the heater.

I never used to defend him. Our first year in Ojai, he brought his antlers home and I found them in the front yard. I shrieked and reminded him that we were living among the most violent of hippies, who would not hesitate to mount our heads. He looked out the window in shock and disbelief, then ran out to find that a coyote had swiped his trophy from the side of the house and gnawed it to the nubs in the front yard.

It’s taken me a while to understand Bill’s annual hunting trip. I see a peace come over him that fulfills him like nothing else all year long. He’s told me about the respect he has for the animal he kills, and the lack of celebration after taking its life. The men quietly congratulate one another, but there are no hoots and hollers. For him, the moment he stands on a hillside looking upon vistas of a thousand miles of nothingness gives him a contentedness that is unmatched. His story about a marmot that sat near him on a log says it all; they just stared at each other for hours.

While I wait - for winter, for Bill - I think I’ll drag my sweaters out of their hiding places. I’ll even put that chocolate syrup to good use and make hot cocoa. Maybe I’ll even spike it with cinnamon. I’ll throw on a sweater, grab my mug and sit with Toby on my deck to watch, maybe even enjoy, an early slow-burning auburn sunset. And I’ll close one eye, point my finger at the sky, and begin tracing the Topa Topa Mountains.