Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Where the Wild Things Are




I've got two old rusty traps, little ones, for muskrats. I don't intend to use them along the river out back because my trapping days are long over, but I kept 'em because they remind me of the joy of trapping, a skill I learned from a neighbor who loved nothing better than to be out at the woods at the crack dawn. I trapped muskrats when I was a boy, and, hard as it may be for some people and more than a few muskrats to understand, it was a joy.

Seriously, there was something magic about marching out into snow- or frost-dusted river banks in the old days, cold biting at your nose but everything else about you warm with anticipation of shining that flashlight down into the set and then, if you're lucky, seeing nothing whatsoever where a pan should be reflecting back, a muskrat somewhere down there in the water his leg held firmly by the kind of trap I'd like to put up on my wall.

PETA would have my hide for even bringing up that kind of horror, I'm sure, but right down here among the flotsam and jetsam of my 65 years on earth, I'd like to make a place for a pair of rusty old traps, barbarous or not because it was trapping that taught me to love early mornings and the stillness in God's natural world.  "In the splendor of the heavens," John Calvin once wrote, "a lively image of God is a blessing."

Big deal. Calvin was only parroting David:  "the heavens declare the glory of God," which makes the sky, this morning too just outside my window, one stunningly great preacher.

I'm not a hunter, really.  But once upon a time I was, and it was wonderful. I tend to side with Henry David Thoreau about killing stuff: hunting is something every boy should do, he wrote in Walden, but every man should put behind him--something like that.  That's a rule of thumb that's only good on my hand. I'd never tell some Cabela's-bedecked woodsman what's right or wrong when it comes to lowering a barrel--"who am I to judge?" says the pope. . .and me.  The good hunters--and there are thousands of them--absolutely love the natural world. But somehow I've got a governor in me when it comes to killing, I swear.

Last week I went along with real hunters and great local guides to the flat, grassy lands of central South Dakota, where there are, literally, thousands of ringneck pheasants, some of them planted maybe, but most of them simply a gorgeous, abundant feature of the area's flora and fauna.  Managing populations of wildlife is as good a reason as any for hunting, or so it seems to me, and what we left behind after a day and a half, when I quit, was hundreds of hens and a few game roosters to repopulate the place by next November.  That'll happen.  There'll be a ton more next year, I'm sure.

I got my share of shots. Three dead birds have at least some bbs from my shells--or at least that's what I like to think.  And I'll eat all three, stick them in a crock pot for three weeks, and toss 'em in a hotdish.  They'll be good too, just like last year.

But I'm not a real hunter. I don't even own a gun. A real hunter loves to hunt, to shoot birds. I just love the outdoors. 

Freud used to claim that dreams were the exercise of your subconscious, that lurid sexual fantasies, for instance, bubbled up from whatever it was that surpressed such astonishments all day long. Sleep allowed the brain free reign to breed images that, for the most part, you otherwise sat on but couldn't sweep out, stuff you wanted not to want or see or do but did. Sleep, he said, tells you what you really don't want to know.

Freud's no longer standard currency in dream studies I guess, but I can't help thinking of him because the night I came back from the hunt, a very strange bird stepped hauntingly into my dreams. I was sitting right here in my desk chair, beside the big window north, when a huge rooster walked up from the whited field to the north, a monster pheasant, big as an ostrich.  He didn't see me, but he was right up here in the backyard, walking warily, pigeon-like, his eyes alive with fear.

There was no story in that dream, no hunters pushing him out of a field of big blue stem. I looked. Out there toward the river and all through the miles of Iowa countryside behind our new house, I saw no orange hats, no orange vests.

But the terror in that big bird's eyes I read far too easily.

PETA scared up a big rooster in my head, I guess.  It was not a sweet dream.

If I'm asked, I may well go along again next year, borrow a gun and knock down a couple of birds, march through fields thick with grass and miry swamps of broken cattails.  Maybe I'll take a tail feather home and stick it in a loop from the rusty old chain of the muskrat trap I'll hang on my wall here. 

But next year, just like this one, I'll probably quit early.

Because really, I'm no hunter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey man, during the Kohler strike my family would have starved if were not for hunting rabbits, squirrels and pheasants.

My favorite set was the "wheat-set" and then the "cubby-set" followed by the "log-set" and "slide-set". Those Onion River sunrises were spectacular and the hatchet throwing was only to be enjoyed by young men.

I think you are a hunter, you just have defined it wrong, now our prey is a little different... now we just hunt for the closest easy-chair.

I will be getting my 30-30 out again this year in search of the wily white-tail. I will be hunting with my sons and son-in-laws. It gets no better than that!

Have a good one.

JT