Saturday, February 8, 2014

Carnivorous Songbirds

Yesterday afternoon I loaded my .22 and headed outside. With the safety on, the sun shining, and fresh snow covering the endless acres of forest beyond the farmstead I felt like a new woman. I was really looking forward to my hunt. Though "hunt" doesn't mean what you may think. In all honesty it is more of a winter hike with a gun. The point isn't to take game as much as it is to track it, pay attention, be outdoors and possibly get lucky. I had warm socks on, waterproof high boots, a second-hand wool sweater, and a pocket full of ammo. I had high hopes for a fat rabbit or a bushy-tailed squirrel but that that was the extent of the hope. What I really hoped to get was some Vitamin D.

I did not take any game that day but I watched much. I watched a trio of doe head south by the creek. I watched a small flock of turkeys waddle uphill. I stepped in deer paths that were just left behind, looking at their prints and tracing them with a gloved finger. I looked for tracks of smaller game and saw none. That let out a small sigh but even learning where animals aren't is a lesson towards learning where they are. I listened to birds and watched woodpeckers dart through the trees. Something about being outdoors and paying attention makes me warmer. I was grateful for that, and for all the wildlife around me. Fate and luck both brought me to this farm. A house in a safe part of the world surrounded by water, plants, fish, game, and livestock. To some people I am am scrambling to make a living—but to me (and to people who think like me)—I am beyond wealthy. Resources matter. In the end, nothing matters more.

I stopped at the looney place underneath an old orchard where the heads and guts of the pigs I recently slaughtered were left to compost. A chickadee landed on a frozen pig ear sticking out of the snow and then landed on a bit of frozen intestine some creature had snarled up from the shallow grave of leaves and compost I covered them with the day after friends and I dragged them out. The little darling bird ate a bit of flesh with gusto right off the intestine and flew off. I watched the tiny animal amazed. How did I ever think something that lived in the north woods did not have the ferocity of a coyote when it came to meal time? Songbirds and Songdogs alike need the sacred fuel that is other living things. I had a belly full of pulled pork for lunch, the chickadee had some as well. My meditation on the carnivore of songbirds was interrupted by the scream of a hawk.

I looked up and saw two neighbors I know well. There are two adult Red-tailed Hawks on my mountain, a mated pair. I see them almost every day. I have named them Huginn and Muninn, after the pair of crows that sat on Odin's shoulders. Their names mean Mind and Memory in an old Norse tongue. I saw Muninn then, about fifty yards from where I stood in the forest. I know this hawk well. She was the first Red Tail I ever caught in my falconry career and I remember both the thrill and honor of that first capture. When I saw her beautiful red tail I knew she was a Haggard (lingo for a mature hawk). I could not keep her so I calmly removed the noose from her foot and released her back to the sky. Today I did not hold her, I just watched her. She screamed once more into the cold air as she flew away. Red tails make a sound so royal it is now used in place of Bald Eagles in pop culture. (If you watch the Colbert Report you know the sound of a Red Tail in the opening credits.) I stood there in the snow, on a weekday, with thoughts of squirrel tracks and whitetails in my mind and tried to remember a life when it was more common to go on a first date than to hold a hawk against my heart.

I didn't take any game that day. If I had I would have brought it home, cleaned it, and wrapped the human-yummy parts in my freezer and saved the hawk-yummy parts for Italics. I wasn't worried as I had a freezer and fridge with plenty of hawk food and a larder with plenty of human food, but the point of hunting isn't necessarily dinner. It's a skill I value above many as a meditation and a blessing. To ignore the predator part of your omnivore soul is a dangerous omission. Hunting is part of what makes us human, what brought our body and minds to this point in our evolutionary story. We too are animals, apex predators, and have a dance card to fill in nature. To learn that dance and enjoy it with all the respect, excitement, and certainty of a happy animal is huge part of being a complete person (in my eyes). And while I know not everyone wants to go out and shoot a rabbit, we can't argue that creating food—be it a homegrown tomato soup or a stag steak–is possibly the most primally satisfying activities we can endeavor. After all, food is what keeps us alive, keeps us going, and keeps us looking for carnivorous song birds and pulled pork sandwiches.

It's a wild life outside your kitchen door. Go out and find it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing better than going outside and discovering what's really out there. You just don't see the great stuff from the comfort of your armchair!
Good luck with the hunting. Those rabbits can be hard to see, and fast to pull a bead on!

February 8, 2014 at 9:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt like I was there. Thank you for that!

February 8, 2014 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Lovely post Jenna, I love wild birds and your descriptions are like seeing it all myself. Good luck finding something in season for dinner.I just chased off 100 head of Elk that were in our pasture, they eat everything and tear down the fences. Stay warm!

February 9, 2014 at 12:35 AM  
Blogger CallieK said...

Here in Toronto we're having the coldest, hardest winter I can remember in the 22 years I've lived here so I guess I shouldn't really be surprised, but last week a red tail landed in the tree right outside my backdoor! We see them circling overhead every so often and last summer one was making regular visits to a large scale composting area nearby to hunt for rats but this is the first one I've seen in my own backyard! We live in a second floor apartment in the middle of densely populated block but there are a few trees out back that dozens of squirrels use as a jungle gym, and a large flock of pigeons roost nearby so I can see where it would be decent pickings for a hawk if it were desperate enough to venture among people. It was marvelous to see but I'm going to have to keep a closer eye on my cats to be sure they aren't mistaken for large squirrels!

February 9, 2014 at 5:44 AM  
Blogger WillowBrookFarm said...

Reminds me of the buffalo farm I go to sometimes. They have big slabs of suet she gives people for bird feed. I hung one in our tree for the birds and my dog spent all her time pacing back and forth under it trying to get it down! Lol

February 9, 2014 at 11:03 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

I smiled when I read the part of the post about the chickadee. I had a budgie once who loved turkey, and another who loved pork chops. Some people think birds are darling things out of a Disney film. :-)

A lovely post.

February 10, 2014 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger Carol Denton said...

"Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know,
There's a wisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling.....let us go."

From 'The Call of the Wild' by Robert Service

Read the whole poem if you haven't already. One of the best, and so you!

February 11, 2014 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger KirstenJL said...

If you want to find rabbits, get some electronetting. I keep chickens in electronetted runs and the rabbits have figured out it keeps their predators away as well. They hang out near it all the time.

February 11, 2014 at 11:29 AM  

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