The Time I Shot a Bird

When I was 10 years old I got a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. It looked just like the Winchester rifle, The Gun that Won the West” which I had seen on the saddles of all the cowboy heroes in all the westerns kids like me loved.

(That the Indians only had bows and arrows in the beginning and that “winning” the western territories of North American meant killing the people who already lived there, seems to have not been a part of my elementary education)

What a thrill. There were little cardboard tubes of BB’s, tiny shotgun pellets, which you poured into the rifle to be ready for rapid-firing. It had lever-action cocking, you had to pump it for each shot, just like Tom Mix or Buffalo Bill had to do with their Winchesters when they whipped them out of the saddle holsters with the leather thongs. Once you learned the technique you could lock and load with the best of them.

So with a big smile on my face I went outside to, well, shoot my new rifle. The first targets were Coke bottles or tin cans but the ultimate target to “shoot for” was a bird. Now, if you are hunter, you are thinking “Yeah, so?” but maybe you had a parent who also shot animals for sport. As for me, I don’t think I my father had even held a weapon since his days as a member of Florida National Guard back in the 20’s and even then only for formations and parades. So when it came to “hunting” I was on my own and that is the good news and the bad news all in one.

The point of this story is that I had a hunter career of only a few hours. When I finally had the chance to sight my rifle on a blue jay and pull the trigger, I killed it and immediately burst into tears. I don’t what I thought, in fact I didn’t think, I just aimed and fired. It just seemed like a good idea at time. I ran in the house crying to my mother who I am sure had sympathy but was silently wondering about mental stability.

I have had many friends and pleasant acquaintances over the years who were hunters and fishing folk. I never told them they were wrong. It’s also not like I don’t kill creatures. I spend a lot of effort this time of the year trying to rid our kitchen counters of big black ants. My daughter and I killed a mouse with the traditional deadly snap trap. I even had the terribly sad task of holding our beautiful seventeen year old cat, Punkin, as the vet administered the lethal injections for obvious humanitarian reasons. However, a hunter I am not nor will be. Self punishment, such as marathons, maybe, but killing animals for the fun of it, no thank you.

Once a few years ago, as he neared the end of his life, we sat with Bill Coffin in his living room in Strafford, Vermont while he watched yellow finches at the bird feeder outside his window. Here is what he said: “Nature is much more interesting when you realize you are about to return to it”. I think of that each time I fill my bird feeder just out the kitchen window where the blue jays, possibly exacting revenge for their ancestor I assassinated in Florida in 1949, eat everything before the sparrow can get there.

Huh! On a journey to return to nature? What a concept.

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