A while back when I was much younger, I lived around Atlanta amongst a band of pseudo red-neck hippi-ish types who were two steps from hillbilly and one step from I don’t know, but they were good at heart and what are called “down-home boys.” I was a vagabond, really, a failure at being a Navy guy because I wouldn’t play by the rules. I had been consistently naïve about things in life and one of them was listening to a recruiter tell me I could be anything I wanted in the navy, just name it. I said, “I want to learn navigation” and he said, “oh well that would be a Quartermaster” and I said, “yea that’s what I want” then he said, “sign here.” I guess you already know I did not get to be a Quartermaster and I resented them for that and used it for an excuse, a methodology. I had so often used this in life to escape the so called responsibility of my actions that a series of events happened that led me to Atlanta, out of the Navy and into a semi-quasi state of vagabondism with the for said band of roguish, but harmless characters.
One day as short stories are apt to start, we were hanging around in a flop apartment or it might have been the cougar’s house, “Maxine” that kept me in change and drink, I’m not sure, that’s another story, drinking whiskey, beer and smoking pot and cigarettes when one of the band said, “hey, lets go down to the Flint river and go hunt some squirrel.”
An adventure, just what we needed. Now I didn’t own a rifle or anything like a gun and have never had the desire to, even though later on in life, I did, but that’s another story, when one of the guys said, I got one you can borrow, a .22. We were all then set, for as you can gather from my description above, these were southern boys and not having a firearm like a rifle or shot-gun is like peanut butter without jelly for a country boy, it just, “ain’t natural.”
We piled into a couple of cars or was it one, I can’t remember and away we went, south, I believe, to the Flint river, but directions really don’t matter in a bowl, we all end up back in the same place, anyway, eventually, so to speak.
This area was heavily wooded in hardwoods with lots of what they call “live oaks,” which has always confused me because they were trees, plants, growing things and obviously alive, so it is one of those redundant things we do in naming I guess, a peculiarity for another story, but as you know, at least I would think you would know, squirrels love nuts, especially acorns and you know they come from oaks, “live oaks.”
Now if you were a southern born person and I mean from the rural south you would also know there is a and here we go with methodology again, a method in hunting squirrels that’s all its own, a special way it’s done. It is not like hunting deer or any other big game in North America, but in the case of squirrels, there is an actual conversation between the hunter and the squirrel. You bark and or you listen for a bark because squirrels are clever in the woods and the hunter compels them to stick their head out of cover, and you must have a perfect shot to the head for a perfect squirrel dead. Now for you squeamish people and anti-killing animal vegetarian types and I now fully agree with you, it seems cruel and a terrible thing to kill a little creature like a squirrel going about its day, working hard to store its nuts for winter, but it is a clean kill if you can do it to the head and it is the way things are for people who hunt and eat squirrels. There are many cruel things in this world that we need to mend for sure, and squirrel hunting is one if you don’t have to eat squirrel to live, but there are people who do, who supplement their food with deer and squirrel and what have you; they grow up on it and its part of their culture, so judgment is a tough one to do sometimes and change comes slow. It is only through learning and being sensitive that we may change and through this story it began for me and I began to see that all life is forever linked, a mixture of pain and joy and memory.
We are there amidst these trees, with the leaves thick on the ground from many years, sort of like the dawn of time in a way. The only real tracts or paths were animal trails and because of the thickness of the trees and the leaves, there was very little brush, mostly fallen wood and under the limbs of these great trees it was almost like a park, the ease of which one could walk was beautiful, peaceful, full of what one would recognize as bliss, the bliss of being, the all-ness of the forest, the acceptance I felt being in it, the bosom of it, consumed me.
Southern boys are serious when it comes to squirrel hunting and after I got my instructions on what to do, you know how to talk to squirrels and listen for them, we sort of dispersed and the talk in silent agreement ended.
There I was in the woods alone, walking, pausing, looking up through the branches and foliage of the oaks, listening and really not knowing what to do, waiting, walking, creeping about, a character, paused and ready, like I was waiting for an opening act in a theatre, but I was the only one there. It is sort of strange how my thoughts were and I remember them just as if I were there instead of in front of this keyboard, the quiet and the frustration, I mean I could not find one lousy squirrel anywhere. It seemed like squirrel heaven in here and as time passed I would hear a distant shot and I assumed my compatriots were doing the hunting thing as it should be done, what ever that means, but I to myself, to my own reasoning did not possess this skill or really any want in it or of it. I was the actor, the player in the empty theatre. Should I stand like Hamlet, skull in hand and a symbol of the mortality of man? No, I was a player on another stage; each of us in his or hers own way finds the roles each of us are to play. Mine was here on this carpet of leaves, each leaf symbolic of some purpose I could not see or comprehend, even at this day’s end I would not see it or glimpse all the realities each breath holds as I walk and behold, if I should look and really see the things around me every day. I would not see or understand for many years the consequences that my feet upon this way tread, will feed the hungry goings about in my head, the things, which I do and call my life.
That is when something finally started to begin, as if my thoughts alone weren’t happening or some sort of beginning or beginning of an ending and it started happening then at that exact time in an instant, before one of my wandering thoughts jumped to another. I say and describe it like this because you must know that this is how I think and the years have passed like those leaves on the forest floor, but yet within my mind no time has passed. The jump from here to there is as an endless reciprocal, forward and backward, backward and forward as if they were the same. I could hear through the brush a strange sensation of rustling, a pattern of sounds that was growing fast and right at me and at the very last moment, instinctively for some reason I crouched down low to the ground just as four or five deer leaped directly over me then receded in an instant, away, bounding, jumping and gone. I sat there without thinking anything for a while, everything was quiet, silent, so still even the stillness had character, a personality, a quality as if the forest had let out a great breath and was pausing in itself to listen and I didn’t want to move and let it know I was there.
I relaxed, stood up and looked around thinking about those deer and one of them was a buck with a great rack upon its head and as it had passed over me, at just that fleeting moment of time, I felt different, as if I viewed myself from another room in an eerie space of time where through all the speed at which this strange event had just transpired had slowed and in its slowing there was that period of time that instant or moment if you will as I gazed above my head that view, that picture, the resolution of their flight, suspended in my mind as if I were frozen in time.
This leads me to the sadness, that I will never forget and will always be with me, prodding me, teaching me about life, its purpose, the rights, the wrongs and what we are given lease to and what we are not given. Everything is a progression that cumulatively leads towards a summation of factors and to an ultimate conclusion. These happenings shaped me, my world, my universe, petty and great and my understanding of things.
Me I stood in the forest, frustrated, awed, a little bewildered by the flight of the deer when I saw a hawk fly to the top of a tree and for some reason without a thought I raised my rifle and fired a shot, the sound itself a loud rude curse, a foul word upon the earth that broke the silence in the forest that day, that echoes in mind today. It dropped, spiraling down through the limbs, through the branches and the leafy masses, a clumsy spin, an inglorious end from days of its errant flights. There it lay in the dry oaken leaves that crunched and made uncomfortable noise, solemn sounds that seemed suddenly loud as it stared, the hawk eye, still clear, but not as bright as it was in full life. A dimming had begun, a dulling glaze upon its lens that told me its life was about to end. The beauty of its feathers, the plumage of its wings, the perfectness of its being lying there amongst the leaves, directly looking into my eyes, the last vestiges of life and warmth, though I did not touch, I knew was there for that moment, that last moment, a tendril linked to me, a thread, a link, a grip as strong as strength can be, holding on to me, with its eye on that side, saying, “Why?” It did you know, it did say that, a message from one intelligence to another. It did not accuse and I don’t remember whether it was then or later that rhyme or poem if you will, the “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” came to me, that great song, that lesson of life and death and the consequences of our lease here if we fail in our purpose. Coleridge knew, he knew the price, we all know, we are born with it, each of us have it written in our DNA. Lessons revisited over again, until we learn or fail to live, as we should.
I don’t know as I turned away, hunting ended for me that day and the vision of that beautiful bird, the memory now of it, is accusing. Its eye staring, saying, “What right have you to take a life, who are you, that you may kill, and release my spirit to the wind on which I flew. My life, which is mine and mine alone, mine to fly above the trees, or take away my power to take another life, mine to choose, for me to feed, my family and me. It is my destiny to hunt not yours and what meat that is on my bones is not yours, you still don’t know your purpose, man; you are the one with the hands.
There you have it, me a wandering fool of sorts, accused and sentenced by the image of an eye. The eye from a bird that fell from the sky that turned into a memory inside my mind that haunts me with a single question, why? Many if you read this will probably laugh as you think to yourselves he goes to far, to serious is he about life and our purpose here, who cares, we have things to do, we have to make a living, we have an image to keep, we have to appear strong not weak. I see this in the eyes of the people who are desensitized, who walk along the streets today or drive, driven to some focused goal, hands welded to the horn, get out of my way I have to be somewhere today. I don’t know, what do you think?
I must properly end this story I guess and tell you that I, my friends and I eventually met, at the end of that day, on the Flint. Its muddy waters still holding some glint, some ray, extended down from between some space in the clouds. The last photons meshed, where upon our fire did shine, casting its own shadows, as we talked and passed the bottle around, leaving us larger than life in red fire light. Our shapes against the trees coming out like giants from the leaves encircled us as we pleased ourselves with tales and hearing, “Oh, that’s bullshit man,” several times, again and again. My turn came and I couldn’t say a thing about what I did or didn’t do, so someone else took up my turn, but there wasn’t an eye among my friends who didn’t pause to look and say, “What happened to you today?” By Michael Andrew Harris, April 11, 2016 11:21 am.
Today I begin this page of short story content and hope to be able to write a few stories that amuse and entertain. I am sitting in Starbucks Encino watching the people pass back and forth, buying their what-evers and talking the talk so important for each of us to say to one another, to form the bonds we so dearly need to help each other feel good and purposeful in our daily goings. These are the first words and please come back to see how it all goes.
Michael Andrew Harris
I observed the shouting of the man at the podium, raising his arms, his mouth ejaculating a spray of criticism at the situation of his enemies, enlarging their failures by the swing of his arms and the articulation of his fore fingers and then, still rising higher on the very toes of his shoes, he mouths the epitaph of their demise. It is the old game, done many times before, get the people, yes, get the people going, fear of loss, fear of loss is a powerful thing. It works on the soul, on the mind and the heart. It tears the goodness from anyone in an endless fashion that becomes a frenzy. A frenzy that justifies anything in the name of the law, the law of eradication, removal of evil, then purification, a ritual that goes back so far in our history and I mean human, I’m surprised it took so long to rise here again. The elements of it all are few and usually only three, as in fire. An exothermic chemical reaction: fuel-fear, heat-anger and air-purification. The formula, the ingredients of insanity disguised as a crusade, the flavorings are all the same leading to the same place, we’ve been before, hell, hell on earth. You don’t have to go down to the bowels of the earth to feel the fire. It is right here. Prejudice, hate, greed, avarice, jealousy, power, corruption, zealot righteousness; how many words do we need? How many do we have to describe evil? The strangeness comes upon us, the conspiracies, the evil objectives, all exposed, the promises flow, rivers of change, prosperity, milk and honey, I’ve it heard before and so have you. It is nothing new, it’s a nature, a condition we have, where all reason is thrown aside and hate takes its place, It’s the same game, with the same name that always leads to the same, death. The death head, heard of that? A biblical story, an ancient story, medieval story, a modern story, all over again and it starts with that man in the pulpit, waving his fingers and arms, shouting, criticizing and making promises of change, a savior come to the rescue, a man of the time. People want a hero, a superhero and if they can’t find one, they’ll invent one and have an actor take the stage. I listen on and on and the people cheer and cheer, they’re hero is here. Finally I turn and leave, and in the coolness of the air, I faintly hear, “We must build a wall, we must keep them out, they don’t think like us, they don’t dress like us, we must protect ourselves. They must not be allowed…..”
Michael Andrew Harris
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