Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Duck Hunting Gone Wrong - The Meaning Of Life

New Meadows River at sunset
     A 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.
Ruby-crowned kinglet

    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.

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  1. Oh my God...........incredible. Wow...unbelievable.
    After the shock of your story...words seem trite.
    I do love your fresh Tree of Life sculpture!

  2. Dear Robin, how angry, how frightened, how enraged you must have
    Been. I watch these macho men around me get all puffed up to go "get" their
    Yearly deer, moose or duck limit. They posture and make obscene noises
    And brag about their skills and I just want to spit on them. I've even said
    That if their families are Hungary I'll help them buy food if they'd agree to spend
    That time taking their children on a walk. They laugh at my so called
    Joke. My boss tells me they are laughing at me. How sad is that?

  3. Un-freaking believable!! I hope they are caught and soon. We have to put up with hunters in our cove, with hunters firing their guns less than the required 500 feet from an occupied building. We report them, but nothing is ever done.

    I'm glad you were not hurt. Those idiots do not deserve to be anywhere near a gun. You deserve to feel safe on your own property.



  5. Wow. The ignorance of some people never ceases to amaze me!! I too hope they are caught and never allowed near a gun again!

  6. I don't know how some ignorant people get guns. Now don't get me wrong, I am a gun owner and have been a hunter in the past. But there are rules, maybe not the letter of the law, but ethical rules. Maybe it's because of my 20 years in the Army, but my first inclination is to return fire and see how they like it. Many, many years ago I traded in my hunting license for shooting with a camera. The photos I take are much more satisfying. And, its nice to know that I can come back another day and shoot the game again, with no harm done.

  7. sharon f in west kDecember 2, 2010 at 8:34 AM

    I was the recipient of a narrow miss several years ago while mowing my "lawn". Over the noise of the electric mower I felt more than heard the air split by my head; the sound was such that my next door neighbor came flying out to see if I was alright. We found the source-a guy getting into a boat across the river (it is quite narrow by my place). We started letting loose on him-received a blank stare and then were ignored henceforth. We also then realized we were nicely outlined on the high bank that forms our hillside with no one within a miles' proximity. No report was made-we had no ID info whatsoever; I was just left with an impotent rage over the carelessness of a most likely indiscriminate killer and a reaffirmation of my intense dislike and lack of understanding of the "sport" of hunting.
    Rant aside, I'm glad you are ok-please be careful when facing down the rifle toters-they are cowards ; if they weren't they wouldn't have to hide behind guns.

  8. It is so frightening to know there are people like this. I fear for our country because it seems having guns is almost a mandate for everyone- and it seems our population's intelligence level is dropping by the year...and they have GUNS!!!! I don't know where we are all headed, but it doesn't look very promising. I guess we just have to enjoy the beauty that nature provides us, and I thank Robin and others who make it possible to enjoy it with their beautiful photos. -Ms. Boo

  9. Wow...Robin this situation is almost unbelievable. I wish for these peopleto be caught and taught a lesson. I understand and agree with your sadnessof the hunt but the behavior is just unacceptable. Hopefully yourdescription will help find them. Love your pictures!

  10. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I don't know how anyone can shoot abeautiful bird that harms no one, unless they are starved....and to point a gun at a lovely woman isbeyond belief. I hope they weren't drinking. Let's hope this never happens again. I too have beentaking lots of pictures of sunsets. It is true, everyone one has a personality I guess. Glad you hadthose tests and hope all is positive. Take good care, Ronnie

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you all-
    I've had such an outpouring of support and positive regard for what I do that I'm very moved. You all got me choked up and I'm not kidding. At a time when the hunting event left me feeling vulnerable, and so a little lonelier than I actually am, you all contributed to my restoration with your kind, loving words. I did not write about this part, but several of you have mentioned the "impotent rage." (perfectly stated). Yes, I felt tremendous rage and am still trying to sort that out for myself. It has been helpful that so many of you, when reading my story, felt the same rage, or at least outrage, and had experienced that yourselves. I think we should all form an oddball militia, a militia of kindness. Thank you.

  12. What an awful experience! Sickening. We had an encounter with a deer hunter who came to our front door and yelled at us at the top of his lungs. This was because Howard questioned how close he was to our house. the man, actually, was walking around with his gun, not shooting, and it annoyed him. He said we shouldn't intentionally make noise when walking in our own woods so hunters would know we were there, that we were going out too late in the afternoon in our own woods. Were letting our dogs chase deer, etc. He would sic the law on us because you cannot harass hunters, its against the law. But what you went through was much worse. What depresses me most about these encounters is the huge gulf between me and the other person. That people can have beliefs and behaviors so alien to me. Like that terrible thing in Brunswick today with people equating Obama with Hitler. How can such absolute ignorance BE??!! But then there are people like you who restore my faith in humanity. Kind, sharing, creative, who have a reverence for life, even in its smaller manifestations. (To paraphrase Schweitzer) There are more gun blasts in the woods and marsh these last few days than during regular hunting season. I guess it's those muzzle loaders. I can't wait for Dec. 11. I don't know when duck season ends and will bring you relief. Soon, I hope. Love,Jo

  13. I could not agree more, Jo. Suddenly finding myself on the edge of a human abyss is a large part of what leaves me grossly disturbed by this whole thing. And, the abyss is always there whether I see in any given moment or not. That is part of the terror.

  14. Great stuff! What a ghastly experience!

  15. Just unbelievable ... I do however wonder what their reaction would have been had you pointed a gun in their direction and threatened to fire (not that you would, of course)!!

    Loved the sunset ... everyone is precious. FAB.

  16. Robin, if EVER there was an article I so wish you would submit for publication so ALOT more readers could hear of this horror that happened to you...this is it!! Do you even think a "Hunting" magazine would consider publishing it? Of course not- but seriously- think about doing an OP-ED for the Portland paper- or even...NYT's!!!! It's important enough to share what craziness goes along with this "sport" of hunting. I for one, think you'd be doing a service to all of us who abhor guns. -Ms. Boo (again)!

  17. Ms. Boo,
    That's a glowing review if ever I saw one. Thank you. However, I have not a clue where I'd begin to send that story to editors anywhere. The best I am able at this point is what I have done by posting it to the whole world on the 'net. Anybody got any ideas how to go about that?

  18. FAB, thank so much. I'm happy that the sunset shot evoked so much thought from all about the uniqueness of each of them.

  19. I am sending you a machine gun for Christmas and I want you to get your bathrobe on, anchor the thing on the end of your pier and wait for those ##%*#@ hunters to appear again! See how THEY like being hunted!
    I can relate to your preventive health measures you are taking...sounds like my past month!
    Glad you ended with the beautiful sunset!

  20. What a story, Robin! There are some truly crazy people out there, and combine that with male bonding, free flowing testosterone (sorry guys, but girls don't do this), and the high from having guns can turn into an explosive situation. A pity you had no way of taking photos of those guys for evidence.

  21. Your love of birds puts me to shame when I claim the same.

    "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."

    A pox on those men. Probably drunk to boot. Sorry they did not get caught for their stupidity and cruelty.

    I had a dunck hunter friend who was a good man. Always worked hard for Ducks Unlimited to buy habitat to keep it safe for the birds. He told me that one time only, he shot a goose. It's mate circled and circled, calling and calling. He went home empty that day and never shot another goose who mate for life.

    Perhaps birds know more about love than any human.

    So glad to see you on the cover!
    December 02, 2010 11:24

  22. Oh, Robin, what a horror you had to experience! I can't even fantasize about what it must have felt like to know there was a complete idiot out there pointing a gun at your head! Even though I know that that boat load of persons was not the prime example of hunters everywhere, it's still got to be nightmarish. (I had to use the word "persons" because, to call those specimens "men" insults all the good men out there. Besides, the word "men" implies some level of maturity--and those "hunters" were showing only teenager-ish drunken pranksterism!) (Hmmm, that must not be a real word--my Spell Check has it underlined. Oh well.......)

    I understand the conflict you felt before this incident, regarding hunters and their "sport." I grew up in a rural setting where my dad hunted rabbits and squirrels--if he hadn't we wouldn't have had meat on the table. My husband grew up hunting small things like that or even deer. Once he went all the way to Wyoming for elk-hunting season. He could justify his actions with all the same lines others have used for years. I didn't buy it--but I usually kept quiet. Fortunately he outgrew his atavistic need to "bring home the bacon" in such a graphic and violent way.

    Thanks for this, Robin--and welcome to the not-so-exclusive club where the dues consist of insurance payments for tests! May you live long and prosper........

    Rated. D
    Yarn Over
    December 02, 2010 12:55

  23. Still shaking from having read the end of this piece. Shaking for you and shaking for me. Yet am able to find such calm in the beauty that you share. Thank you for this.
    December 02, 2010 01:02

  24. I'm so sorry for your experience. I'm my opinion, these men cannot even be considered "sport hunters" there is nothing sporting about shooting an animal that can't fly. These are the types of low-lifes that give all hunters a bad name. I hope karma catches up with them in a big way.
    December 02, 2010 01:48 PM

  25. That's a harrowing experience.

    What those "people" (and I use the term loosely) did was pure and simply a crime. Rightfully reported by you.

    However, these "people" give other real sportsman a bad name. I do not object to real hunting.

    FYI: I too have had bullets ricochet next to me, pellets actually hit me in the face, etc. by so-called hunters. They are NOT hunters/sportsman. They are thugs with a gun and should be deal with appropriately.

  26. I agree with many who've already commented--I'm okay with those who eat what they take, take only what they eat, and hunt fairly and legally--but I just don't get people who kill just for fun. And those jerks you encountered were simply cowards. Good on you for standing up to them!
    Felicia Lee
    December 02, 2010 03:20

  27. Absolutely gorgeous photos!
    December 02, 2010 03:20

  28. Each photograph is simply beautiful. Your story is disturbing, to say the least. Your reflections on the sunset and the birds are wonderful.
    December 02, 2010 07:01

  29. I have wanted your work on the cover ever since I found you. Your photographs of birds capture more than the feathers but the soul of these graceful creatures.
    The sunset is extremely gorgeous.
    December 02, 2010 07:17

  30. Birds are truly a great addition to life. They are the grandchildren of the dinosaurs. Their beauty and charm add to the tree of life. Thanks for this nice story.
    Algis Kemezys
    December 03, 2010 02:49 AM

  31. I was so sickened by the men you described here. Last weekend we came across several deer while traveling. I can't imagine someone wanting to kill them. This is a wonderful, much needed post. I hope all your tests come out perfect. -R-
    Christine Geery
    December 03, 2010 04:09 AM

  32. Your photographs are striking. I love your tree of life. ~r
    Joan H.
    December 03, 2010 07:10 AM.

  33. My deepest thanks to every one of you has read my work, enjoyed my photographs and taken the time to comment. I sometimes feel when I'm writing and compiling a post with photos that I'm talking to myself. That's okay, but I can be a really tough audience. It's a wonderful thing to hear all your friendly voices. Each of you has made me feel seen rather than merely aimed at. Thank you. RRR

  34. Kathy wrote: "Oh Robin ... this brought tears to my eyes, shame (at my own personal little grippings) and humility in the face of God's creation. I abhor sport-hunting - I can accept the humble Native American way - hunt for the pot, and honor the fallen life ... but not birds ... the little creatures so beautiful, not them ..."

  35. Hmmm, I think I'd term that one of those rather unsettling events I'm more aware of in my more elder period of age - certainly hunting season sounds like a lot of guns in the cove. Among other things I probably read too many newspapers and listen to too much news, making me aware that the world is not completely peopled with nice law abiding honest people!
    The advent of the cellphone made it a great game to keep tabs on where 'the law' was at any specific period in time. Fare on television hardly echoes the radio shows and early tv offerings. Discipline in school can not be what it was with the advent of 'rights' - nor are any positions of authority respected by many. The pendulum may have swung too far . .
    Keep on 'shooting the bright side of life'! Enjoy Advent 'as the days dwindle down' - and don't get hung up on the rest of the words of that song! Fortunately the days will lengthen again. liz

  36. Oh my….started out so humorous and ended with me being MAD as hell. So sorry you had to go through that and your dog too!

    Perhaps you should carry a gun!

  37. What an awful ordeal to go through. I think the hunters were warming up with lots of alcohol....surely they wouldn't act like that if they were sober. Sad, sad, sad! I hope they are caught and punished!

    About the tests....I have had them all except the colonoscopy. I just can't seen to volunteer for that one...even though I know I should...

  38. Your blog, photography and love of birds is so amazing. I am in awe.
    rated with love
    December 03, 2010 06:45

  39. I am thankful for finding your blog. It is truly wonderful.

  40. Robin,
    Cream rises to the top! Your work is very high =quality.

    I hope you are contemplating a book with small essays about the birds. Many bird photographers take a pic of a bird then say What is it? You not only know that but you know details about their lives.

    I am gonna be a bird inmy next life, so I thank you now!

    WOuld you mind if I cpied some of your photos for an OS editor piece? LOng overdue.


  41. Nanny, for me, go get a colonoscopy. And thank you for your kind thoughts. RRR

  42. Steph, I think I'd like to be a bird in a next life, too. Maybe one that's got three hots and a cot of some kind, though so I don't have to get shot at and can be warm! Thank you. RRR

  43. it's my turn to rave about someone.

    this woman hasn't gained a reader base yet

    i think it's because i too dodge new faces fearing spam and worse.

    her new faces are bald eagles that visit her.

    her storys are a diary of the birds

    she also includes other raptors that visit her.

    i know you'll be in awe of the pictures she has taken

    she must have their trust to get very close judging the picture of the talons. you have to fear that. yikes!

    have a look.

  44. I wish you had hit them with a rock! Poor innocent birds. Killing to live is one thing, killing for "fun" is so very wrong..
    Lunchlady 2
    December 03, 2010 09:29

  45. Lunchlady and Schwanz,
    Thanks very much for reading and for your pithy sentiments. You all make me feel like a rock star!

  46. "I've also learned that the life 'firsts' are getting further and further apart, so I'd better pay attention."

    I've started to notice this as well, but never have put the thought to words...brilliant.

    "There is no justification for killing for entertainment."

    I've often felt the same way. What happened to you was wrong. period. Those guys give all hunters a really, really bad name. In the same way that extreme members of all groups, give particular groups a bad name.

    I rarely do this - but you seem open to other perspectives. If you'd like, I do comment on hunting in my latest post.

    Thanks to O'Steph for directing me to your lovely writing and beautiful photos.
    Y Heron
    December 07, 2010 03:32 PM

  47. I think Jim has it right. It is definitely an ethical violation. It must have felt like you were caught in a time warp of a nightmare. I am so sorry you had to experience that. Your pictures are beautiful as always.

  48. Ooooooh am I so angry at those jerks... What the hell is wrong with people?! I do believe in karma though and hopefully they will get theirs in the end.

  49. vclark,
    Thank you, indeed an ethical issue to say the least.

  50. Jen, I posted this, what seems like ages ago now. That the writing carries on through now for a comment tells me that the post has a real life all its own. When something I write continues to inspire comment, I'm very pleased. Thank you.