My goose hunting was a bust. When the roads into the areas where I wanted to hunt were finally passable the snow geese had moved on. We do have a lot of Canada Geese and a variety of ducks hanging around the sloughs to nest and raise the broods. Come fall, if the weather doesn’t chase them out, we’ll have a healthy waterfowl population.
There was one casualty of the long, cold winter—I found an LBB—Little Brown Bird—in my yard. It was at the base of the clothes line pole and I found it when the last of the snow had melted away. The bird had sought protection from the freezing cold, probably during one of the early winter storms, by huddling beside the pole. It had frozen to death there and when I found it the bird hadn’t been discovered by any of the neighborhood’s stray cats so it was in the same huddled position it had been in when it was overtaken by the cold and died.
What bothered me about the bird’s death was that it sought shelter beside the metal pole, a pole that would transmit the freezing cold down from above the snow to the ground. The bird had no chance of survival but yet its instinct had been to seek shelter there. I wondered if its instincts have been altered by human manipulations of the world and the reason it turned to the steel pole that was sticking above the snow was because it connected the pole to people. Have we spent so much time altering our world that the wildlife that once depended on their instinctive wits to survive may have turned too much to us? The thinking that set these thoughts in motion came from the essay I’ve been working on for a month or so. In the past century and-a-half, since Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, the relationship between people and animals has undergone a drastic change. Neither in the Romantic period nor in the Age of Enlightenment was there a concentrated effort to establish a kinship with animals such as exists today, but among some people Darwin’s views have inspired this kinship. When I was holding the nearly weightless little bird and feeling its light, feathery softness, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt. Should I have been feeding the birds around the house more food? Or, was the little bird’s death just nature acting out her own population controls?
Rather than put the bird in the trash and condemn it to the landfill I decided to bury the bird. I dug a little hole in the still frozen ground and buried the bird beside our rhubarb plants. I put it back into the cycle of life. After that chore was finished I went back to raking the yard. For the past two weeks while I have been noting the ducks, geese, grouse, pheasants and partridge I have also thought of the little bird. In a strange, very mental way, the Little Brown Bird made a small part of our world a bit clearer to me. The distance between the game birds I have been watching and the LBB is very narrow. We understand that our support of game, whether it swims, flies or runs, also supports all other species and to prove this we usually offer the habitat argument without really explaining the deep connections between all wildlife, habitat and ourselves. But, the LBB was, for me, proof of the argument. It isn’t Darwinism that has created the kinship but how we have altered the world. The more changes we make the greater our responsibility is to the world and as we recognize that responsibility we develop a deeper relationship with nature. The Little Brown Bird was, for me, a reminder of just how deep our responsibility is. The truly sad part is that the person who condemns hunting (or fishing) is ignoring that relationship and trying to replace it with an artificial Darwinism that is feel good emotion and not science—hard or soft. It isn’t the kinship with animals that insures their survival, whether a Little Brown Bird or a Giant Canada Goose, but is our willingness as people, hunter or non-hunter, to accept our responsibility to the world and to act on it.
Copyright, 2009 by Galen L. Geer.
8 months ago