Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
I awoke today to words that saddened me far beyond my personal proximity to their subject, “Guy passed away today. Thought you would want to know.” I reached out to a friend, one close to Guy, who asked me, “How did that reach you so quickly? He just passed a few hours ago.”
Such is the passing of giants, no matter how quietly they may fall.
Guy De La Valdene, author of For a Handful of Feathers, Fragrance of Grass, Making Game: An Essay on Woodcock, On Water: A Fishing Memoir, Red Stag: A Novel, and the director of the Tarpon, a beautifully subversive film that caught and mounted a moment in my conscious like some philosophical taxidermy, passed away in the early hours of March 31, 2023.
Valdene was a genuine Norman Count, a man of actual French Royalty, raised in, “a small castle built in 1642 by an undistinguished nobleman for his mistress.” He was, for me, whatever the royal equivalent may be in outdoor writing. With at least three friends who knew him, I tried hard to meet the man whose writing so impressed me on first reading that I sought first editions of all of his work.
In truth, I only came to know that work this year, when hunting quail over a dog from Valdene’s kennels so excited a hunting partner that I became curious about a writer who could inspire such enthusiasm. With the immediacy of the internet, I bought For a Handful of Feathers before we left the woods. I am nothing if not ardent about writing that strikes me. I devoured the book and mentioned that fact on social media. The comments rolled in.
“My life is better because of him.”
“A longtime favorite of mine.”
Perhaps the most verity lay in the observation that,
“The South is a small world, not surprisingly connected by a hunting dog.”
A life afield is a life of passion. I often say my obligation is offering words that inflame those passions sufficiently to carry you in the moments you’re not actually gripped by that overwhelming love you feel watching a dog charge through cold water and decoys, or shivering with gooseflesh lifted more by Old Tom’s early spring ululation than the cold air on your neck, or when the sudden tug and lightning flash in a mountain stream is but a memory clouded by spreadsheets and sales reports.
Guy De La Valdene did that for me. The beauty of the writer’s craft is that he always will.
In The Fragrance of Grass, Valdene offered a tally certainly rendered inaccurate by the years since he wrote it, but apt enough to quote in the moment,
“I have hunted at least one hour a day for three months a year, ever since I was eight years old. That translates into more than five thousand hours in the field, a lifetime walk that, under different circumstances, might have taken me from Paris to Istanbul and back…I like to walk, and I know guns.”
Would that we might all deserve such an epitaph.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor at Large, Tom Beckbe