Dreams were always a big part of my childhood. As the son of a pastor, our means were meager, so dreams often had to suffice for reality.
One such dream concerned a red mini bike. The images were so real that when I awoke, I searched the house looking for the Honda that I just knew my folks had purchased for me.
Some dreams did come true. Long before the movie “A Christmas Story” turned the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun “with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time” into a household name, I was having dreams of my own Daisy BB gun.
I lived in Tennessee during a time when a boy walking to the creek with a bb gun did not elicit panicked calls to 911. In fact, it was an expected rite of passage.
I no longer remember the circumstances, but I am sure I probably pestered my folks about getting the BB gun for some time. One morning as my dad tried to rouse me from undoubtedly another dream of adventure by shaking a tube of brand new Daisy BBs in my ear…with not a great deal of success.
When I did wake up, he had for me my very own BB gun. I was enraptured. I know he told me about safety and not to shoot at the birds. Our little town was a bird sanctuary and boys with BB guns were not allowed to pick them off at will – clearly an infringement of my rights as an 11 year old. But most of the instruction was shouted down by my excitement. I quickly dressed and prepared for my first East Ridge, Tennessee safari.
That first day, the only danger was to paper bullseyes. Later however, a blue jay that I felt was bullying the smaller birds at the backyard feeder paid the price for his indiscretions, courtesy of my new-found marksmanship.
I really only had intended to scare him off; I aimed high to hit the tree behind him, but my experience in working ballistics was pretty slim. Predictably, aiming high allowed me to execute a perfect kill shot.
I was horrified as the jay fell from the feeder. I knew I had broken my dad’s instruction and the city law. Perhaps it was then that I began wrestling with the philosophical paradox of hunting: loving the animals but also loving to hunt. Such thoughts are difficult to reconcile for a child – indeed they are difficult for an adult.
In an episode entitled “Opie The Birdman” from the old television program “The Andy Griffith Show”, Andy’s son Opie was the proud owner of a new slingshot. Andy warned Opie to be careful with his new weapon (sound familiar?). Opie was practicing with his slingshot when his gaze fell upon a bird in a tree – he let go the stone and the bird fell dead. The bird was a mama, with three hatchlings in a nest just outside of Opie’s bedroom window.
Once the sin was uncovered, Andy made Opie sit and listen to the three baby birds chirping for their mother – made more poignant because Opie had no mother.
Opie decides to adopt the baby birds and raised them in a cage in his room. He named them Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod. The day comes that the birds have grown and Opie releases them one by one. Opie comments “that cage sure looks empty” to which Andy responds “yes, but but don’t the trees seem full”
There are many things about this story that resonate with me. Like Opie I unintentionally killed a bird. I am approaching being an empty-nester, watching my children and step children fly out into the world, leaving our home quieter and emptier.
I am also a conservationist. I invest a good deal of time working to conserve our natural resources. I do that through my connections with nature as a hunter, angler, and Trout Unlimited officer. Yes, sometimes I harvest game and fish – but my desire is to do so in a way that leaves our streams and trees – nice and full.
Thanks Andy –