I spent some time at the cottage this past week to enjoy the outdoors, the changing landscape of fall colours, cooler temperatures and the absence of biting insects. The autumn is a great time to be outside in the fresh sweet air. This was my time for sitting by a fire, breathing in the cool air and watching the forest creatures prepare for another winter. The little cottage has some big picture windows looking out towards the lake. As I walked up to the glass to enjoy the view I noticed something on the ground outside. The lifeless body of a brown partridge lay near the window. I quickly went to retrieve it. I marvelled at this beautiful bird with its soft brown plumage. It blended in with the grass. Immediately I realized that this was in a way a gift for me. I picked it up and noticed that it was still very fresh. There were no markings on it. No other animal had disturbed it and no insects had discovered it. A non-Native friend of mine was with me and we talked about what to do with the dead partridge. We had watched these beautiful birds many times in the woods nearby. On our walks, these birds would rustle up the leaves as we went close to them, yet they would be totally invisible in the dense brush, layers of leaves and wilted vegetation. Sometimes, as they stood just a mere few feet away, it would be difficult to spot them. I suggested that the best thing to do would be to make a meal. My traditional Cree culture has given me some background in life on the land from my Elders and parents. I knew that the respectable thing to do for any animal that has died is to consume it. Many Elders have passed on to me stories of famine where any small amount of food was considered a source of nourishment. They instilled in me and other young people the knowledge that it is a terrible thing to waste any kind of food. There are few greater offences in our culture than to throw away a healthy food source. My non-Native friend accepted my invitation for dinner and I ended up with the task of preparing the bird for our supper. I turned the woodshed into a butcher shop and began plucking the bird. I sat down with some old clothes and placed a few plastic bags to catch all the feathers. It was a small bird but the practice was no different than plucking the feathers off a full-sized goose. I had done this many times in the spring with my family. Sitting in the cool forest, surrounded by cut and split fire logs and doing something that was so familiar, brought me back to my family hunting grounds near Attawapiskat. I thought of mom sitting by an open fire inside a wigwam, her legs covered in plastic with a goose on her lap and her hair pulled back and adorned in a light scarf. She was usually surrounded by her sisters or our Kookoom (grandmother). They would skillfully and effortlessly pull away feathers as they reminisced about their adventures when their family lived in the wilderness. Bannock would bake on sticks around the fire, a pot of strong tea would be suspended on a wire over the flames and the smell of fresh pine boughs filled the wigwam. After carefully plucking away the feathers of my partridge, I went ahead with the task of gutting the bird. It was the same practice as gutting a goose which mom had shown us. After carefully removing all the organs, I trimmed the feet, wings and head. When I was done, I was left with a small-sized bird that resembled a fresh chicken bought from the store. I stuffed the bird with a mixture of fried onions, blueberries and crumbed dry bread. The meal was simple and it was similar to a recipe that mom had made for me many times when I was a child. I roasted the bird with a little water, some spices and a whole lot of diced potatoes. The meal was great. I am not much of a hunter anymore. I haven’t used any type of firearm for years now. Instead I use my hunting skills to try to capture an image of a bird or four-legged animal with my camera when I am in the outdoors. I still try to spend as much time in the wilderness as I can but I don’t often have the occasion to enjoy those wild meals and recipes I had back in Attawapiskat. So it is with much respect that I can say thanks or Meegwetch to Pee-Neh-L (partridge), for giving me some much appreciated taste from the wilderness and I never had to fire a shot.