I killed a bird this weekend.
I’ve killed a lot of birds over the past few years, but this one was different.
I should probably give a little context here, lest you think I’m another Jeffrey Dahmer in the making. Let me first explain why I’ve killed so many birds, and the sense of purpose & hard truth that comes with this act:
I have a hunting dog, aka, a gun dog. Moose is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. This is the least common and known of the retriever breeds. While Goldens and Labs have sadly had their amazing qualities diluted out of them by unethical breeders, Chessies were saved from the same fate. They’re less popular due to having a bit of a bad reputation (undeserved, in my opinion).
Moose is my hunting partner, and we hunt both Waterfowl and Upland game birds. Anything we kill when hunting, our family eats. Nothing goes to waste. I don’t take this lightly, and the act of killing is not the reason why I hunt. It is simply part of a greater construct, and it is the part of this endeavor that I take the most serious. It is an irreversible act.
What I enjoy, is getting outside with my dog, and seeing him realize his true potential and purpose. These retriever instincts are in his blood. When I see him out there working with me, whether it’s flushing a Pheasant from deep cover, or busting through icy water to retrieve a downed Mallard, you see an animal feeling true purpose. In that moment, he knows that this is part of what he was born to do. It is a beautiful thing to see, and makes me sad for the countless dogs and humans alike who will never experience this feeling.
In addition to being a hunting dog, he is a family member, and protector of our pack. While he views Michele and I as the alphas of our group, he knows he is our sentinel. Our first line of defense. Our dog is happy and fulfilled. Our dog is happy and fulfilled because he has purpose.
Hunting allows me a sense of purpose too. I am in nature, deeply connected with it. That fulfills me, and gives me a reminder of how infinitesimal I am in the grand scheme of things. I like that feeling. Hunting allows me to provide food for my family. As simple as that idea is, it gives me considerable pride to be able to do that.
To accomplish this, I must kill an animal. I must take a life. There’s no way around it. It’s a necessary part of the process, and forces a confrontation with a hard truth: Death, begets Life. But this death, this killing, has purpose.
When I hunt, I am directly involved in the process, rather than paying someone to kill by proxy. That’s what we do at the supermarket every time we might buy any sort of meat. Part of the cost of that meat went to paying the salary of the person who had to kill that animal. We are culpable in that process, even if we don’t want to believe it. While the typical grocery store allows us a disconnect, I think most of us would be much less wasteful, if we felt the full weight of what we were participating in.
Now, let’s get back to this weekend. This bird that I killed. A bird I didn’t eat, nor did I ever have any intention of eating. But still, I killed it with purpose.
That purpose was mercy.
We spent the weekend with my wife’s family, up in rural Wisconsin. Her parents have a lake house that they are slowly turning into their forever home. It’s a wonderful place, and was made even better by the company of her entire family.
When we arrived on Saturday, I saw a sparrow a bit further down the path, fluttering around on the ground. I decided to give it it’s space. Sometimes, a bird may have hit an object at a weird angle, and only needs to recover before it can fly off.
An hour later, I heard the sparrow had met its end. A couple, driving a golf cart, had accidentally run it over as it had then worked its way into the path. They turned around, saw what they had done, and tossed the bird into the grass, near a pine tree. My brother-in-law and a few others saw this happen. As sad as that was, they assumed the ordeal was over.
Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there.
Hours later, my brother-in-law went to take his dog for a walk. Going by that same pine tree, he saw that the bird was in fact still alive, but it was suffering greatly, and would not make it through the night.
He came and got me, explaining the situation. He knew that while I would take no joy in this, that I understood the hard truth before us.
I will spare the specific details, but I went out with a shovel, ended the bird’s suffering, and buried it under the tree.
If you had come to me that morning and said; “hey Ross, do you want to go kill a bird later today!?”, I’d turn down your offer, and probably ask what the hell is wrong with you.
But if you gave me context, and I understood what the alternative was, I would respond just as I did in this moment. This isn’t a story I will proudly tell years from now, nor is it something I will reflect on and smile. It was simply a thing that needed to be done. That was the hard truth of the moment. In no way does that make me heroic. It simply makes me someone who is no longer willing to lie to themselves.
My sense of purpose, duty, and responsibility outweighed my desire to turn a blind eye and go to sleep with warm fuzzys, telling myself that the bird is probably fine. That its absence in the morning meant it flew away in the night, rather than being torn to pieces by one of the many animals in the area.
I knew better.
I bet you’ve had instances in your life where with enough self-talk, you convinced yourself that your inaction was acceptable.
That you had no business getting involved in that difficult situation.
That simply because you didn’t witness an inevitable negative outcome, that it probably didn’t happen.
But you know better.
We tell these lies to ourselves all the time. Sometimes little and benign. Sometimes large and impactful.
Understand that part of your purpose is to do what others won’t.
Tell yourself the hard truth.