New Meadows River at sunsetA few days ago, I had a mammogram which prompted maudlin, pouty feelings about getting older. The list of things one must seemingly do to keep the old carcass going feels endless. No sooner have I completed the "crush-o-gram," as I call it, than I must present for a bone density scan. I could say no to this and just wait until I fall down, then crumble to the ground, a pile of dust and broken bones. But, Sally Field, whom I'll always remember as The Flying Nun, says I must, so submit I will. After all, who would argue with The Flying Nun? I've also had to make an appointment with a dermatologist for assorted "skin things," though they can't see me until June of next year. My face may fall off in the mean time, but I'll just have to get in line with the rest of the apparently flourishing dermatology market. There are a lot of us out there. Thankfully, I'm not due for a colonoscopy until next year. Like the Christmas shopping days count down pounded into us every day lately, I'll be counting down for next year. Soon, you'll hear me on the TV and the radio, "Three hundred and sixteen days until my colonoscopy!" "Only two months until my colonoscopy!" "It's not too late all you Midnight shoppers! Tomorrow is my colonoscopy!" You'll think to yourself, maybe even say out loud, "Shut up already!" And so I should, because I'm lucky to be alive. I'm lucky that I don't yet have any of the maladies these tests are intended to detect. I'm just advanced enough in age to have learned to fear that I might. So a-testing I will go.
Besides fear of disease, age has also taught me a few other things. Most importantly, I've learned that I really don't know much of anything at all. The more I learn about things, the less I seem to know in general about the big stuff, like the meaning of life. I've also learned that I no longer have to explain nor rationalize my values. I gave that up in my forties. Now, I simply embrace when I feel something is good or wrong; that's all that is required. I need not debate the logic with anyone and especially not with myself. I've also learned that the life 'firsts' are getting further and further apart, so I'd better pay attention.
On my way home from my mammogram while deeply engrossed in a self absorbed pout, I saw this sunset. I didn't hesitate to stop and photograph the stunning scene. Millions of sunset photographs have been taken before, but each sunset is unique - a life first for the viewer. It will only happen in that moment and never exactly the same again. At the second of it's greatest brilliance it will be suddenly gone.
There's nothing special about these birds, either, though each one is a living being, as unique as a sunset. Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Hermit Thrushes have been photographed gazillions of times, also. When I see them, or hear their calls in the trees, I get a shivery thrill. I've rescued them after window strikes then held them in my hands. To feel a live bird in the palm of my hand is inexplicably magical. The essence of its life infused my skin and travelled up my arm to my own heart every time, a tiny pulse of understanding of the meaning of life.
At the end of this past duck hunting season, while hundreds of water fowl were having their last moments on earth, I had a life first. I had picked up a pile of yard debris and was about to toss it into the ocean on the cliff-side of our property when a boat with hunters arrived in front of our pier. Every year, hunters come into the cove. I don't like it, but I had accepted it. The gunfire riles up both my dog and I, but presumably, the hunters have licences and it's legal, so that's the breaks. Up until now, whenever hunters appeared, if I made my presence in the yard known, they left. None of them wanted to discharge a weapon within sight of a human being. I know some really nice people, people I would call my friends, who hunt. I've tried to tell myself that hunting is okay; that it serves some greater purpose that I haven't understood. I've tried to convince myself that hunting is a humane means of herd control and "migratory bird population control," as a game warden would later tell me. But the truth is, killing for sport has never sat right with me, so I've never been totally okay with hunting. Until now. Now, I know unequivocally what my position is.
There were five hunters in the boat about three hundred feet away when I threw my armload of sticks over the cliff. They looked right at me, but instead of moving on, they commenced to blast away! Bird shot scampered across the water surface as my dog ran for the door, tail between his legs. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I screamed so loudly that I was hoarse for hours. "No! No! Stop!" I yelled, waving my arms frantically. One of the hunters waved to me in mock greeting. "Ha ha ha ha ha!" I could hear them jeering as they waved at me from the boat. "Go! Go, get the hell out of here!" I screeched waving them out of the cove. Still screaming, I had started to cry when a hunter standing in the bow of the boat shouldered his weapon and aimed at me. "She looks like a duck; let's shoot her!" He yelled while pointing his gun at my head. Peels of laughter rolled from the other hunters. Two of them waved, taunting and laughing. Suddenly, one of them bellowed, "Look! There's one!" Roughly a hundred feet off the bow, a lone eider at the end of its molt, unable to fly, bobbed on the water. Hardly looking, a man swung his gun around and blew the duck out of the water in a puff of feathers. Quickly, the helmsman spun the boat around. The shooter yanked the decimated duck from the drink, passing it off to the hunter that had threatened to shoot me. He flailed the eider like a ragged flag back and forth in the air at me while the hyenas waved and hooted beside him.
Howling like a wounded animal myself, I ran into the house and dialed 911. To the credit of law enforcement, my report was taken very seriously. Dispatch notified the game warden who was an hour away. Though he came as quickly as he could, the hunters were long gone when he arrived. I gave additional details, filled out forms, showed him where they fired from and where I had stood. He took evidentiary photographs. But, to date, the hunters have not been caught.
Eventually, I found my dog cowering under my bed and with him, I found a truth. In the emotional aftermath I discovered a conviction I didn't know I had. Hunting is wrong. Sport hunting is optional, not life sustaining. There is no justification for killing for entertainment. I've had rough things happen to me in my life. Sadly, some of them have involved violence. But this was the first time anyone pointed a loaded gun at me and threatened to shoot. The fleeting moment, when I thought I might be shot and my life taken, showed me another glimmer of the meaning of life. Some things are simply better understood in their absence, like a sunset after the sun goes down or a still, flightless bird.
"The Tree Of Life," photographed in the safety of my kitchen.