Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bow and arrow

I was sitting at our dining room table last weekend staring out the sliding glass door at our backyard when a very large crow flew down and began picking at god knows what. I was a bit annoyed because I'd noticed that the crows had been leaving droppings on the lawn. My one-year old son had tried picking one up the other day. For a instant, I toyed with opening the door and tossing a rock at the crow, but then I got a flashback to a moment out of my childhood that I was never proud of.

I grew up in Boise in a time and culture vastly different from the one my children are growing up in. My brother's and I were given pretty much free rein when we played. We climbed trees, threw rocks, had mock sword fights with ominously sharp wooden swords, plinked away with BB guns and even practiced archery with fairly blunt but deadline practise arrows.

I cannot even imagine a time that my wife would entertain the thought of turning either of our children lose with anything resembling a weapon let alone freely providing them with something as potentially lethal as a bow and arrows. Regardless I wiled away many a summer's day launching arrows at cardboard targets or stupidly pointing the bow skyward and marveling at how the arrows shrieked to the sky only to be seized by gravity and shriek equally as fast to the ground dangerously near my feet.

On one lazy summer day, I spied a flock of sparrow's dining innocently but noisily in our backyard on the seeds of crabgrass. And, as is the custom of young country boys and humans in general, I thought it would be funny to frighten the small creatures. I picked up my bow and arrow and sneaked up from the side of the house, notching an arrow onto the bow string. It never occurred to me that I would ever hit anything as small as a sparrow. After all, I rarely could hit a car tire sized cardboard target. My aim was to only plant the arrow into the ground near the sparrows and send them screeching off into the lilacs surrounding our yard.

I took aim and released the arrow. I flew true to the flock of sparrows and landed in their midst. As expected, they flew terrified from the spot. All, that is, except for the one I'd hit with my arrow.

I watched stunned as the bird lay at my foot gasping it's last breath as it stared at me with terror that glazed quickly over into death. The gravity of what I had done punched me in the stomach as I knelt to pick up the battered little body. I had taken a life.

Despite my fascination with BB guns and bows, I was not a hunter. I loved animals and birds. And even though I grew up in farm country, I had never developed the mindset that farmers and their children do about dispatching life stock in a matter of fact manner. Other than dispatching a few trash fish we caught while fishing in Lucky Peak Reservoir, I had never killed an animal or bird. And even killing the fish left me feeling hollow and guilty.

Being raised fairly religious, I tried praying over the dead bird, hoping that god would see fit to reverse my sin. The bird remained lifeless and glassy eyed in my cupped hands. It then dawned on me that I was the only one who knew about my assassination of the bird. I looked furtively over my should and then ran to my father's woodworking shed and hid the tiny corpse in a utility closet until I could figure out a way to cover up my crime.

I stood in the backyard biting my lip, my conscience doing flip flops in my brain. Then I notice the trash burner. Back then, much of our trash was disposed in a decidedly unenvironmentally sound way by burning it in a large metal barrel. One of my daily chores was emptying wastepaper baskets into the barrel and setting it on fire once the barrel was full. I dashed into the house and began hauling wastepaper out to the barrel. I grabbed an empty paper bag,slinked into the shed and dropped the dead bird into it. Then I carefully buried the bag under the rest of the paper in the barrel and lit it with a single match.

Within minutes, the sparrow was cremated. I remained and stirred the ashes with a stick to make sure there wasn't any remaining evidence of my crime. Then I went and put away my bow and arrow.

No one ever knew about the bird I'd killed that day. My 10-year old self thought by eliminating all traces of my mistake I could erase it. But in reality, my mind just kept repeating the moment over and over and permanently etched it on my brain. I never forgot the feelings of guilt and shame.

I'm not sure what the point of this story is. Maybe it is that the poor sparrow gave up its life to teach me a lesson about the importance of all life. To this day, I don't hunt and I can't stand to see any creature injured or abused.

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