6.23.2008

Death

For my fortieth birthday post i wrote about some survival-ish type things i think i do well. One of the things i did not implicitly include on that list is a talent at making things dead. You know: leaving a plant to die, killing and butchering livestock, euthanasia.
Those things weren't on that list because i suck at them. That's bad because killing and/or death is just part of the daily events in a subsistence type of lifestyle.

I remember one time my grandfather summarily dispatching all but one from a litter of kittens. He'd lived within a hundred yards of his birth place for 80 years and he knew exactly how many cats he needed for things to operate correctly around there. One day while trying to drill a hole in any one of the random things that need drilling on a farm , a wasp kept pestering him. He squashed that wasp with his thumb. He shot things that tried to get in the hen house, he rung the necks of chicks, opened the jugulars of large pigs.

I thought of him yesterday when i discovered the bird in the backyard.

I went out into the yard yesterday to hang some clothes on the line and found the ground littered with feathers. Cats--and i'm assuming our cats--had mutilated a pigeon. From the number of feathers laying around i figured it was already dead and hoped that they hadn't pulled it under the house to get all stinky and stuff. I didn't see it anywhere and so went on about my hanging. And then i saw it: half a wing gone, it sat on the ground there in front of me stunned, but very much among the living. The pigeon--a Ring-Necked Pigeon--flapped away from me when i tried to inspect it, but i could tell that it wasn't really going to be recovering from what had happened. I knew i had to kill it.

Once, back when i was living at the Craft Center, me and Justin and Cute Paul off-ed a squirrel that had got caught in some bird lime. That time, we just put the squirrel in a shoe box, taped the box shut, cut a small hole in the side and held it to the exhaust of a car. The squirrel was dead in a matter of thirty seconds or so. I thought about doing the bird the same way, but for some reason didn't. Instead i came inside and googled "how to euthanize a bird." Among the many suggestions, it started with holding the bird in your hands, grasping the head firmly in between your thumb and first finger...it went on and explained how the sound was unsettling to some people, how some people had the sensation of life leaving another's body. Gee whiz, man.

Anyhow, although i tried as best i could to summon the existential acceptance concerning life's passage here on earth embodied in my farm-dwelling ancestors, i just couldn't bring myself to hold that bird in my hands and snap its neck. I opted for the second plan suggested by the web site:

I went outside and i caught the bird in a light-weight bag--the kind they might give you at some sort of conference as a gift/way to carry around all your instructions. The bag had long-ish handles on it. I swooped up the bird in the bag and vigorously swung it around in a wide wide circle. At the last second i gave the bag (and bird) a really good flick of the wrist and sent it to a dead stop against the side of a Pecan tree. When the bag hit the tree it said *thuck*. While i probably should have checked on the condition of the bird immediately, i opted instead to kind of randomly run around in circles and shake my hands while saying "euuuuwwwwghhh! awwwweeehhh!!!"

Finished with that, i looked in the bag and found that the bird was indeed as dead as a coffin nail.

5 comments:

Elizabeth said...

I couldn't bring myself to do either. I would have taken it to my vet. I'm a real wussy when it comes to killing things.

Trey said...

Better than I could have done, I'm sure. Although we have discussed offing the rabbits that have been eating out of our garden.

At first I thought this post was going to be about George Carlin.

Daniel said...

Mercy killing is harder than it should be. Why is it so hard for me to kill a rat that I've trapped and rendered helpless, yet when the rat is free and I'm hunting it with an improvised weapon, I'll behead it with bloodlust joy? A quick twist on the neck of a doomed bird ends its suffering, but the feel of its fluttering heart in your hands is a feeling of such dread and sadness.

And killing kittens? Forget it.

jaz said...

I'm of the "fastest is most merciful" school of thought.

A shovel does the deed quite efficiently.

And, yeah, I feel awful after. But less awful than if the animal was still suffering.

another Elizabeth said...

my dad used to kill pigeons to eat on rare occasion when he and his other roommates at a Texas A&M research farm were out of groceries (he doesn't recommend them unless you're *really* hungry and haven't got a lot of other options). of course, that's different than mercy killing.

sucktacular as it was, you did the right thing, and i'm sure your mourning dance of the "ewwwww...aughhh...ughhh" variety was appreciated by the powers that be.

- b