Friday, April 22, 2011

Harvest Day

Ducks are fine creatures and if a bond can be made they are among the finest pets a person could have. When my package of ducks, advertised as a variety pack arrived, I found it contained only one Swedish Blue and twelve of the Peking breed. I had made the mistake of ordering around the Easter celebration when everyone wants the yellow hatchlings. As the loading of the package was up to the hatchery, and about the only ducks they had available were Pekings, I received a small swarm of peeping and cheeping, mostly yellow ducklings.

The ducks grew into eight drakes and five hens. The hens soon began laying four eggs each day more than I needed. I tried them scrambled, fried, poached, as eggnog, as quiche, as dog treats. I am not a great egg eater and began to choke on the overabundance. Meanwhile, the drakes spent all day, every day, squabbling about who "owned" the hens. The commotion they created prompted me to begin honing a grudge against them in an effort to overturn any moral compunction that might restrain my harvesting a succulent duck. The leverage worked and a "Harvest Day" was declared.

By surreptitious means I snagged a duck. The process is quite simple. You need only place a tasty morsel, such as a worm, in your hand and offer it. A duck will rush up to snag the treat and when it does so, you snag it in turn by the bill. This method can be used only once as the others will observe your deviousness and word or should I say the “Quack!!” will spread quickly throughout the flock and you will never be allowed within ten yards of one of them again...ever.

So, I tucked the duck under my arm and as a consolation prize for making this his last day on Earth, I dubbed him “Freddie”, a name I intended to award to all such future volunteers. I carried Freddie to a cage behind the house and conveniently near a water barrel that I would employ as the chopping block. The others ducks were in a tizzy about the trick they had seen me play on Freddie. They watched me with suspicion and alarm and from a considerable distance as I proceeded into the house to recover a large knife I intended to use to pop off Freddie's head. As I exited the house, the other ducks squawked in terror at the sight of the implement of death. But they do that at the sight of anything unusual. They are highly excitable creatures.

I placed the knife on the water barrel, fished Freddie out of the cage, tucked him under my left arm, brought him near the block, and again lifted the knife. Freddie responded by stretching his beautiful white neck out on the block as if he understood how the game of chopping-the-duck’s-head-off was to be played. His behavior caused me to pause in his execution and as I did so I was distracted by the sound of muttering coming from behind me. I turned to find three or four ducks stretching their necks from around the corner of the house where they observed my horrifying behavior. I imagined thought bubbles above their heads that read:

”What’s he doing with Freddie?!!”…”What’s he doing with that knife in his hand?!!”…”Oh, grief! No!!”

I returned my attention to Freddie, and as before he helpfully stretched his neck out on the block. I raised the terrible knife over my head. As I did so he looked up at me with one little gray eye that seemed to say, “How’m I doing guy? Am I doing this right?” His trusting little eye blinked rapidly and my knife wielding arm fell limp. 

I lowered Freddie from his too Heavenly perch to the Earth where he hurried off to compare notes with his amigos. There would be no sending of ducks to heaven that day nor would there be any future harvest day, as I love my creatures too much and as there is an abundance of homes in need of my overabundance of ducks.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Easy Shot

The slug cut a swath of pulverized flesh through her right flank and she went down by her front legs. The thirty caliber bullet carried, even at the range of three hundred yards, enough energy to collapse her front legs within a half second and lay her on her side in one. The entry wound was dead center to her torso, but inhumanly, not to any vital organs. So she shrieked to the sky and thrashed her legs in the dust and snorted and wheezed for a while too long. She was dead within a minute.

I stood at the barbed wire fence, almost afraid to speak. The rancher was in a fit. I’d heard men curse before, but his were different. My father cursed in an offhand manner; he dropped something…he cursed. But this man’s curses were directed and an order of magnitude worse.

The rancher’s fists were balled tightly at his side. His eyes glared with darkness and his words were choked. He sounded as if he would cry. “God-damned hhhell!! What the God-damned hell makes people do this!!?” White flecks of spittle were on his lips. The horse was already beginning to bloat. She lay on her left side. The bulging wound, puckered to the sky, was surrounded by a vomitus of dried blood. There was a beginning of stink and of flies.

My father bought a Garand thirty-caliber rifle, known as a thirty-ought-six or
30-06. These were war surplus and available by mail for a nominal amount. I don’t know why, but he got the idea into his head to go hunting…for something. I wonder if there might be a blood lust lying within people waiting to be sated; in some way it must take some shape, find some form.  The thirty-ought-six is a man-killer. The weapon was used at a time when the thought was to kill thine enemy, not just wound him, but to lay the fucker in the dust permanently. Military strategists later came to realize, a wounded soldier was more of a burden to the enemy than one stone dead, and so they devised bullets that have a high probability if wounding.

I mustered up the courage to ask, “What happened?”

He shouted, “What happened? …I’ll tell you what happened!! Some cowardly son-of-a-bitch shot this poor innocent horse for the fun of it; that’s what happened!” He continued for a while, alternating between curses and lamentations, and I stood, frightened and respectfully still, trying to find words appropriated enough to sooth, or placate, or to excuse my taking leave.

I watched as my father, disassembled the rifle, cleaned the parts, laid out his plan and executed it in a very methodical manner as he did with all his electro-mechanical projects. The barrel was to be cut short, eliminating the front sight. The stock was also cut short and “floated”, that is to say there was to be a gap between the stock and the barrel so as to eliminate any distorting load the firer’s grip might cause the barrel to bend ever so slightly and cause the bullet to deflect. The receiver was to be drilled and tapped and a scope fitted. And last but not least a shock absorbing pad would be attached to the butt for user comfort. My father was a genius of sorts. If he wanted a radio he built his own, if he wanted a cement mixer he built his own, if he wanted a sail boat he built his own, and if he wanted to kill something…

I excused myself from the scene and only returned after a month to witness the carcass shriveled. At the time the ranchers were poisoning the coyotes and havelina that would have cleaned up the rank mess within a week or two. As a result only the rats and insects were left to slowly disassemble and scatter the bones. It took months. Finally, after a year or two, the bones were gnawed to nothingness by all the creatures in need of their calcium.

It took many, many months, for the last traces of the horse to be worked into the soil or blown to the sky. But it took me many decades to fit the various bits of facts and hints about this incident together into a truth. People speak the truth in an obtuse manner. They tend to say the opposite of what they are trying to conceal but in such a singular way so as to accentuate what they really mean. The spoken words stick, but don’t register until enough little pieces pile up; they coalesce over the years until they finally push through into a truth. My father’s declaration, "he wouldn't harm a fly”, stood in stark contrast to the nature I knew. But I also knew the distance of three hundred yards from our back yard to the horse in the draw…would have been a very tempting and easy shot.

Monday, April 11, 2011


I have speculated that if someone could invent a pet food that appealed to the human palate it would sweep the competition from the field.

I have found it. They are pre-made frozen beef patties made by a company called Flanders. I was shopping and though I seldom consider such a purchase I found myself comparing the unit prices on frozen beef patties. The Flanders brand was half the price of the others so I indulged and purchased a package of twenty.

Upon arriving home I could not resist popping one into the electric skillet and soon the smell of something vaguely beefy began to fill the house. I say vaguely as there was only a hint to beef scent mixed with other unknown qualities. I lifted the ground, fried remains onto a plate and my cats gathered about to beg a sample. I tested the “burger” myself and found it almost unpalatable. The pieces I offered the cats were chewed a bit and spat out. The package promised “beef” but there are many parts of the beef that are rejected and I now know where they wind up. The parts I had purchased were probably snouts, snot, tails and integuments. I offered the remainder to my dog who like a true omnivore devoured it with enthusiasm.

I am the alpha dog in this wolf pack and my dog Beta is the beta dog. We are fellow omnivores and are at some level in competition for the good stuff. His enthusiastic consumption of the patty has sparked a competitive nature in me and I have found myself developing a taste for these “dog food burgers” and too, possibly as a result, have the overpowering urge to lift my leg on an ever widening circle of territory.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Stroll In the Mountains

It was a wet summer in ‘73. A friend came to visit and we packed for a hike in the Huachucas. The desert was an emerald green and all the little snakes were out of their too-moist holes trying to dry off. The south-eastern end of the Huachucas cross the border with Mexico and the entire length is a common and easy smuggling route with all the canyons and oaks that afford cover.

We were only a mile in and passing along a pine shaded trail and up a slight rise where at the crest we surprised and were surprised by a string of mal-hombres. They were numbered, three gringos and four Mexican "mules." Neither side could see the other coming and so the encounter was sudden. The coyotes were carrying long-guns, side-arms and big knives. The carriers were dark thin Mexicans 
carrying tall, bulky packs that extended over their heads. We halted before each other at a range of about forty yards. 

Their armament was not meant to be raised against the law nor for passersby but for use against squads of rip off teams that ambush such smugglers. Neither I nor my friend had ever had such an encounter before. With a flash of a friendly waves and tense smiles each side reassured the other and each quickly surmised the other to be more interesting than a threat. And so we closed the gap. They and we spoke in soft, low voices.

Their leader inquired if we had seen any "law." His eyes darted nervously behind dark shades as he munched one end of his handlebar mustache. We informed him of the Forest Service truck we had seen at the head of the trail. His nervousness increased and he conferred in whispers with his fellow coyotes. They decided to continue along their path. We wished them luck and stepped to one side to let them pass and spent the next few days in relative peace, being serenaded by rattlesnakes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Trickster Must Go

I have an implicit understanding with the coyotes that lurk about my property. They must not cross the perimeter fence surrounding my home during the daylight hours. Their intrusion during the darkness is tolerated. There is nothing I can do about that and really it is welcome as they vacuum up the rodents that damage my sparse garden crops. At night the cats are tucked safely inside my home and the duck into her pen. The dog is asleep in his house and wouldn’t rise to challenge a coyote; they are simply too tough and the dog knows it. During the day, however, the cats and duck are out and about and Trickster is a expected to keep his distance. But he has violated the agreement.

I surprised him around noon a couple of weeks ago. He was sniffing about near what was once a chicken pen. Our encounter was very brief. He spotted me the instant I him and he flung himself over the four foot fence with the greatest of ease and slipped into the tall brush but not before making brief, sneaky eye-contact. Then last week I saw him lope through the yard as if in an effort to flush out anything live. He was searching for targets of opportunity. There are no rabbits within the fenced area that might lure him; he was after a plump cat or duck. These were severe violations of the agreement.

I thought he might be searching for water as this is a desert and we are in a drought. In an attempt to satiate his urgent need for water I have been placing a full bucket in a remote location, emptying it in the morning and refilling it in the evening. Leaving a water source out during the day creates a problem. The coyotes, and bobcats are drawn to it not just to slake their thirst but also to hunt any creature that also needs the water, and of those there are many. The bucket of water becomes a waterhole. By removing it during the day the cats will not run the risk of using it and being ambushed. But that was not sufficient for Trickster. He continued to raid the yard during the day.

I have the right to defend my creatures and if Trickster threatens my pets or livestock I have the right to dispatch him. Trickster made himself a problem and so must go.

So I pulled the slugs from two .308 rifle rounds, emptied out half the powder, stuffed cotton wadding inside the cases to take up the space and hold the remaining powder against the primer. I trimmed off the end of the metal clad slugs so as to cause them to mushroom upon impact and replaced them in their cases and sealed them with a swab of laquer. Two rounds is sufficient. If I hit him with the first round the second would be used to dispatch him. A fully loaded round is simply too powerful. I have neighbors within one quarter of a mile.

Then I got to thinking that I could frighten some animal sense into him with a blank round, so I pulled the slug from a third round and replaced it with cotton wadding; the slug was not replaced. It will be used in the first instance and I will only later employ the deadly rounds if Trickster returns. Trickster, after all, may be female and could have young that are dependent on her. I don’t want to make orphans.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Big in Japan

One of the “to see” features of Japan, if you ever have the good luck of making such an excursion is to Yoyogi park in the metropolis of Tokyo. There you will have a chance to listen, if your ears can take the roar, various bands, most of which are from other parts of the world. And, you will see the Elvis dancers twisting their life away. After the onslaught of sound, which I should warn you sounds like that of a jumbo-jet taking off, the bands will offer themselves up to be worshiped as idols by their Japanese groupies.

There was one particular fellow, a member of some punk band that I am sure is unheard of in the States, that had place himself on display for the admiration of a clutch of overly enthusiastic Japanese girls that had coalesced near him for that purpose. The girls, about a dozen of a very young age, were gathered together at a distance of twenty yards from this specimen of western-rock-hero. They giggled and squealed and clutched each other like…well, like small overly excited children. The object of their admiration was a large pot-bellied lug of a man with a shaved head, dirty white short-sleeved shirt, frayed, grease stained cut-off pants, and high top boots with lug soles. His arms were crossed and he wore the greatest shit-eating smile on his face I have ever seen on anyone, anywhere. Suddenly, one of the girls burst from the group, closed the distance between herself and her hero in a flash, and she threw her arms around him. The brief embrace was returned and she dashed back to her groupies, who squealed delight and enfolded her as if to share the scent of her brief encounter with the exotic. He stood there beaming. Yes, you too could be big in Japan.