Once upon a time, I had a kind and peaceful nature. Live and let live was my philosophy. I would no more think of wantonly killing another of god’s creatures than I would of harming myself – despite having been raised by a father who was an active hunter. Sure, there’s a certain level of prowess to hunting: but then again there’s prowess to tennis too, and it’s bloodless.
But those gentle thoughts all predated the acquisition of my own little plot of land, twenty years ago this year.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s all out war.
How did this happen?
Well, in truth my conversion to gunslinger has come upon me slowly, almost surreptitiously, over the years, an accretion of innumerable insults and outrages. Season after season, I’ve stood mostly silent as the chipmunks dug up and devoured every crocus I so meticulously planted the previous fall; as the red squirrels gathered up the fallen walnuts, chewed into the house wall, and stored them in the wine cellar insulation, causing, one snowy night, a thundering cascade as the groaning insulation finally gave way under the strain, dumping hundreds upon hundreds of chewed walnuts, dust, debris, nesting materials, dirty fiberglass, and god knows what else all over the basement. I even remained still this spring as the happy little Easter bunny nibbled to nubs two dozen of my just planted nine-dollar delphiniums, moving effortlessly down the long border like some newly minted debutante sampling costly hors d’oeuvres at the Plaza.
But the real break came two nights ago, when something, mostly likely a raccoon, broke into the chicken coop, managed to open the “predator proof” automatic chicken door (a very kind $250 gift from my mother a few years back) & slaughtered 8 of the new Arauncana hens – the ones that lay the blue-green eggs. It’s not like I had put out a welcome mat: the chickens are enclosed in their own locked coop surrounded by an 8’ foot solid fence. And what really bothered me was the wanton destruction: OK, raccoon, so you like chicken? Who doesn’t? Take an occasional chicken. I’ll give you that. But not eight chickens. And please, eat something more than just their head before you kill another!
I should have realized sooner that there’s no reasoning with such an enemy, and I’ve resolved not to go back to my pacific ways. On the advice of a hunting friend, I’ve ordered a brand new 22-caliber air rifle with a scope. From Amazon.com, if you can believe it. (Air rifles, really supped up bee-bee guns, are not considered firearms; they work with compressed air, and all that’s required is the ability to shoot straight, which, you may be surprised to learn, I can: another until-this-time-unused legacy of my Wisconsin father.)
I’ve also installed sensor lights in the coop. The next time something climbs over that fence – POP goes the weasel! And that goes for rampaging nut-crazed squirrels, crocus-stuffed chipmunks and delphinium delighted bunnies, too.
Do I sound cruel?
Tell it to the chickens.
The only real question here is why it took me so long to man-up and face the facts that it’s an eat-or-be-eaten world out there. Frankly, I’m not sure. Wishful thinking, perhaps, along with an extended childhood in an anthropomorphizing culture that turns Bambi and her kind into cute little companions rather than the rapacious plant-destroyers they really are. All in all, life in the adult world is a long way from my childhood favorite, Tucker’s Countryside.
Though it’s not as if I weren’t warned. I can still remember my grandfather telling me as a child:
In the garden, Michael, patience:
10% happily surrender to pest and pestilence; these too have their place
10% to acts of God; these are beyond our ken – and both are your due as tenant of the wonderful world around you.
The rest, as sower of the harvest, is yours.
And if anyone else except God steps over the line, WHACK ‘EM.
I suppose a lesson learned late is better than never.