I hunted with Dick Rivers as many years as I’ve lived with my wife; almost as long as I’d hunted with my late father.
Friends, family and readers have learned, cringed and laughed as they followed our outdoor adventures, successes and miscues for more than a quarter century.
He was a good friend and even better hunting partner. The Spokane physician prepared for hunting seasons with the diligence of a NASA engineer before a launch. He was a voracious reader, intellectually curious, serious and hilarious.
I looked forward to the long drives or returning to camp each night to whip up a new topic of conversation.
As an ardent hunter and angler, he recognized the natural connection to being an active environmentalist.
Most of all, he was imminently dependable.
I couldn’t imagine a hunting season without him, until a disease raised its ugly head. When he bailed out in the middle of our 2009 Blue Mountains elk hunt, I knew it was serious. When he abandoned hope for a 2010 hunt, I realized it was terminal.
In July, I had the privilege of preparing his last dinner.
My wife bowed out of the kitchen as I prepared the main course. She knew the elk tenderloin saved for the occasion would be handled with the reverence we bestow on all wild game we harvest.
This choice cut was marinated in tears.
Rivers equated elk tenderloin with gold, partly because it’s the best free-range red meat on the planet, but mostly because it’s been raised by God and spared by the bears and wolves to be harvested by a hunter.
He knew what I had gone through to find and shoot that elk and labor over its carcass with a knife and saw. He knew I’d bloodied my hands to bone out the still-warm meat for half a day in the forest.
He knew how the sweat poured off my brow and how the pack straps dug into my shoulders as I endured five two-mile round trips out of a steep, dark canyon.
“This is the best meat I’ve ever had,” he said that night, choosing his words carefully after slowly chewing several bites.
We’d always said that about our elk. But nothing else about hunting has been the same since Dick Rivers vacated the buddy seat in my pickup.