The one thing that we’ve never lost, though, is food — specifically, the wild game that he and my uncles and cousins bring home every hunting season. Even though I’ve left the woods, my greatest connection to my father is still the animals that he harvests from the land. He told me once that when my sister and I still lived at home, he had to shoot five deer a year just to keep us fed; now that we’re gone, he’s down to one or two. He still keeps his freezer packed to the gills with venison; sometimes there’s elk and fish, and occasionally wild turkey. We ate the pheasants he hunted, their flesh sweet and pale. A few times we shared bear — the purple, tangy meat slow-cooked into a puddle.
Venison is always the big-ticket item, though. A freshly sliced backstrap with a little salt, black pepper, garlic and olive oil is as close as you’re going to get to tasting heaven. Though we can’t talk about politics, my dad texts me recipes from time to time, on the cellphone that he mostly uses to talk trash with his hunting club buddies. His latest culinary advice concerned how to properly brine a turkey, to tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavor. (He recommends less salt than you’d think, about a quarter cup, and emphasizes the importance of using both brown and white sugar.) Whenever I take the train down from Brooklyn to visit, he hems and haws and grunts as I raid the freezer, but I know he’s happy that I still love wild game. Hunting is the connective tissue that binds us together.