Birds being the cover story this issue, I was reminded of my first venture as a duck hunter. This is a short story.
It happened on one of the days after Christmas when I was a kid, grade school age. My dad had been given a shotgun as a present, so he decided to take me to nearby Horseshoe Lake in Avoyelles Parish for a hunting adventure. It didn’t take long to spot a target. Near where the car was parked, a duck was perched on a stump in the lake. (I am not sure what kind of duck; I was just a kid.) My dad anxiously loaded a cartridge in his new weapon and took aim. There was one problem though, from down below. I was tugging on his arm pleading for him not to shoot the poor duck.
My dad had been raised in these woods where barefoot boys wandered through the thickets in search of prey for the dinner table. As an adult he fought in a war where men fired machine guns and dropped bombs on each other. Now in this moment of his life with his sparkling shotgun in his hand he faced the realization that he was raising a city kid. I am not sure if he was proud or disappointed but it was probably the latter since he didn’t fire a shot that day, and, as far as I remember, never used the shotgun again.
My father would spend most of his career working at a park where there were lots of birds, including ducks, swans, Canada geese and even coots. The worst threat the birds faced from humans was being overfed with popcorn and breadcrumbs.
For the Canada geese the bounty may be more than they deserve. They are beautiful creatures with their striking black heads, white cheeks and brown bodies, but they are known in parks throughout the continent as a nuisance. They eat grass to the roots and their droppings are finger-sized pellets spread along the walkways. If ever they go back to Canada we should build a high fence.
Far more aesthetically pleasing are pelicans gliding over the water. This is the most graceful of aviary acts. As the wind carries the state bird there is serenity. But then there is a sudden plunge as the pelican dives into the water. Next comes a mighty splash and then the big bird launches upwards spreading his wings to assume his resting place on the bed of wind. His bill is now richer by one fish.
Most majestic of all the birds is the swan, the giraffe of the pond with its long curved neck seemingly out of proportion to its body nevertheless striking in its appearance.
Nearby a duck is perched on a stump watching the pageantry though perhaps annoyed by the relentless gibberish of the seagulls. Nevertheless, for a bird a park is a good place to be, if only the Canada geese don’t decide to stay.