One morning just before dawn I was awakened by popping sounds. Three. And then four. A pause. Two more. It went on throughout first light, coming from all directions. I laid very still, awake now, focusing and straining to hear and bear witness.
Just the day before at the farmers market I overheard talk of duck season beginning and thought “How Minnesotan.” Coincidentaly, my friend John had recently written a charming piece which he shared with our writers group. I found myself thrilled by the description of the duck blind that the boy of the tale laboriously constructs with his father on weekends before rising one morning to arrive with youthful anticipation and sense of adventure only to be usurped by a hunter supreme, stalking down the center of the river in his fatigues and dark demeanor, then shooting from the opposite bank as the birds arrive honking from above, taking the primo shots and the prize before saluting and tramping away.
I know much of nothing about hunting, but in John’s yarn I sensed a glimpse of the primordial quest which continues on today so that a boy or a mythic hunter might tangle with life and death from the safety of sport. Perhaps it is simply in our DNA or collective conscience. And how much better, I thought, to take responsibility for our sustenance rather than leaving it in the hands of antibiotic and growth hormone-injecting, feed lot butchers. Better for any prey to live on the wing, if just for a time, or in forests or prairies, or be raised (as one market vendor describes his herd) “in a stress free lifestyle moving daily among fresh grasses, clovers and bountiful bugs with ample sunshine, fresh air, and a touch of morning dew.”
I am, besides, a self-proclaimed carnivore. If you ask me to name my favorite culinary treat, it would unequivocally be filet mignon, medium rare please. Or luscious chunks of lobster dipped in warm butter. Oh be still my heart. And how I miss the California availability of multiple sushi bars – tuna rolls, yellowtail, eel, tekka maki – bring it on. My husband regularly turns a roast chicken into ambrosia. And while I’m not one of the Norwegians who long for lutefisk, I think of pickled herring as candy.
The next morning the popping resumed. This time, knowing exactly what was occurring, I fantasized about every pop, wincing as each magnificent mallard took the hit, flailed and fell. Pop, pop, pop.
The problem lay partly with my overactive imagination. Each death became a tale unto itself. The teenager on his first, thrilling flight south, terrorized when dad suddenly jerks and falls from the sky. What to do? Go back? Flee faster?
The point leader who is taken down while the flock scatters in panic, desperately trying to regroup.
Or the devoted couple whose partnership is destroyed with one pop. And that was the other part of the problem. Each spring since we have resided on Mt. Faith, a drake and his mate have taken up residence at our backyard pond. And because I know that migrating birds usually return to the same place each year, how could I be absolutely certain that our particular mister and missus were not being blown out of the sky? No. Not them.
And so I am left with a dilemma. Hankering for a hamburger while decrying murder and mayhem. But it’s Minnesota, I tell myself. And certainly there is a 4H Mom grief support group out there somewhere. Please respond ASAP to snowbirdredux.