End of the world?

Angus and his pheasant, an instant before the collision

“Next morning I got up and it did not.”  — Philip Larkin, “The Mower”

Well, just in case we’re all toast tomorrow I thought I’d make a shout out to express some thanks. No Chinese Doomsday escape pods here, just a few images and words about a Chinese ditch parrot (thanks to the scribes at Mouthful of Feathers for this appellation).

Brittany and pheasant
After the collision

Last weekend I was treated to a rare flat-ground, private land pheasant hunt with a good friend, and was able to connect with a rooster. Angus caught up to the wounded bird just before it escaped over a big irrigation ditch. As it was still quite alive Angus apparently knew he daren’t release it to readjust his grip so he might see where the heck he was going. I watched with a mixture of intense pride and mirth as he serpentined his way back to me, and I called repeatedly to give him a vocal beacon. I assumed he would stop when he got to me. Instead, he ran smack into my boots at full speed, snapping the cock’s neck in the process, relieving me of the dispatching I dread doing.

The bird, a yearling, had his world end almost a week ago. I don’t know where his soul is, but his body has been hanging in my shed out back, and is scheduled to serve as the honored ingredient in coq au vin tomorrow night for my parents’ holiday visit arrival meal.

pheasant hanging
Aging pheasant

Bird souls. I did no big game hunting this year. Avian life’s been bigger to me as a result. Bigger in lots of ways, but largest in the soul category. Bird spirits. I’ve ignored these, trivialized them deliberately to distance the remorse I’ve learned to reserve for larger prey like deer and elk. That seems wrong to me now that the winged are all I’ve killed this year. I remember the first birds I killed years ago, before I began hunting big game. I wept on their feathers. It’s a penance I regret losing and aim to recover.

Sometimes I think the paradox of hunting is its main attraction. Trying to kill something you love and value is an irresistible hook, but I need to remind myself of this sometimes. I think the game of bird hunting with a great dog sometimes obscures the fact that it centers on wanting to kill. The days I “get” nothing, get skunked, tend to shift the meaning away from hunting – which is the pursuit of prey with intent to kill, and not strictly the killing of it – and toward an ethic where success is measured in relation to the bag limit. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled when I bag birds and have no illusions about the day’s goal of limiting. I’m just saying that I want to remember to appreciate the losing side in this “recreational” activity. It recreates me, but uncreates the bird. I get up the next morning (or have thus far). It doesn’t.

6 Replies to “End of the world?”

  1. Those thoughts bring up some deep questions…how we’re all related to each other’s lives—animals and humans (and on and on…land, plants, water, etc) I guess the important thing is to honor life: the life that the animals have, the life that the hunter has and provides to others as food, but also the life of the hunt with the dog. There is joy in all of it when it stays in balance or proportion and without waste.
    There are more colorful ways of saying this, but Kansan leaders encourage marketing land for hunting to non-residents for the economics of it–it’s a huge source of income that fits with agriculture and the livelihood of the people who take care of the land and cattle, etc. A side effect, however, is that there is much less (like 80-90% less) hunting by residents who used to hunt on the basis of friendship with the land owners or managers. I think of all the loss of fun and recreation to local families, raising kids or not, the lack of places to get outside in the sun on foot.
    Also, once those paying relationships are initiated, the need for liability insurance comes up and the litigious society and one less used to hunting with an experienced elder produces fear of taking risks on acquaintance/friend relationships, a tragedy but legitimate safety concern and financially prudent approach.
    My hope for a better balance lies in people who find a way to have work that sustains them while they enjoy or take care of the best that our wild or agricultural areas offer. Technology certainly improves the prospect, and people mentoring others. I saw in a bookstore recently an encyclopedia of how to live in the country put together by a woman (and her husband) with a college degree from Columbia. She’s gone now, but that’s a great legacy!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Marjorie. The will to live is fascinating in and of itself, but more so when one looks at how that will gets manifested in all its various ways by various beings. Rodney King’s question, “Can’t we all get along?” remains unanswered, doesn’t it?

  2. Nice one Bob. I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets a little spun by these conflicting eternal realities. A worse sin I figure is to ignore them.

    Driving to my last quail hunt a songbird slammed itself against the windshield with a small dead thump. Being a bird dork I nearly stopped the car to see the species and indulged a thought I might be able to do something. A beat, and then the recognition of my destination and purpose. I contemplated how a songbird might taste.

    1. Thanks, J. Destination and purpose. What more is there? I’ve wanted to ask my cat how songbirds taste. I’ve watched a pair of Eurasian doves visit our bird feeder for three seasons now. They’re one of the sweetest married couples I know. But I’m told they should be eradicated because of their invasiveness or whatever. It’s interesting how we tend to look at animals in convenient ways. I love Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

Chirp away

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