Every Good Morning

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I am not much of a killer. I did shoot a skunk once years ago. He was out in mid-day, wandering shakily through a field we had let go wild. He was lost to view in the high grass. He looked sick. We had a dog. Children regularly came to visit.

I am not a marksman. I shot him seven or eight times with a .22. I wanted to make sure. I kept thinking of Hemingway’s great story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and Macomber going into the high grass to kill a wounded lion. Seriously. Sometimes literature can make one stupid.

I will kill mosquitoes, the ticks in the grass and fastened onto my dog (or me), the bloody biting flies, and the two foot across pussy willow that I am determined to uproot. I set traps every fall for the mice in the basement. Over the last two winters I’ve killed over 60. They can run at speeds of eight miles per hour. When you are watching TV and that shadow flits along the baseboard so fast that your eye denies the evidence of movement, better get up and check. An adult female can produce six to eight litters a year, each with as many as seven young. They don’t stop coming.

When my wife and I first married, we rented an old farmhouse that was infested. We would walk into the kitchen at night and watch them diving into the stove. I set a dozen traps at a time. From the living room, we would listen to them snapping shut.

I will avoid killing spiders. In my favorite chair on my front porch a spider twirls above me. I’ve looked at her through a magnifying glass – she is a common house spider (the males are much smaller). Their spiderlings (isn’t that a perfect word!) emerge from egg sacs in early spring.

Standing on slippery rocks in the middle of a nearby creek recently, trying to photograph my dog as he waded without dropping my phone, I suddenly became aware of movement directly in front of my face. A red spider, ½ the size of a fingernail, slipped straight down one thread of silk.  She caught the light out of the west and glowed red. The nearest branch was 50 or 60 feet above me. Just as suddenly, she glided up, taking the strand with her. I think it was an orb weaver.

I feed birds year round, less so in the summer, but come a snowstorm, titmice and chickadees and white-throated sparrows, jays and mourning doves, goldfinch and nuthatches, starlings and cardinals and crows all come calling.

I’ve been known to pick up a caterpillar and carry him to the side of the road. I will not let a turtle alone on a highway, even if it is a snapper. I’ll move them, carefully.

On a summer afternoon on a back road in the wild mountains of north central Pennsylvania, I almost hit a large rattlesnake asleep on the yellow lines. I had to stop. He was asleep. How could I let that go? I found a downed branch about 15 feet long and began to push him toward the margins and the forest. My wife was next to me, as rapt as I was. I spoke to him as I pushed: “C’mon Mr. Snake. Move before a truck hits you.” He struck at me again and again, but 15 feet was a good length. A black phase timber rattler, he never took his eyes off me and slowly twisted over to where he disappeared into underbrush.

If he showed up in my yard though, well, either the .22 or the shotgun would be called into service. More life, yes, but the good nuns always warned us not to tempt the devil.

© Mike Wall

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