“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).
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.
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.