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July 8, 2010

The Birds and the Bees

It's another rainy, cold July morning when I step outside at one in the afternoon. I come out onto the patio and birds just explode from the feeders. Why? I'm not clear. It's still early yet. I'm trying to focus. Trying to pull my thoughts together. Trying to separate dreams from reality.

I couldn't know what flavors of birds they were. I saw at least one woodpecker, which is odd as I don't have any suet cakes up just now.

And now something comes back to me. A dream. A memory. I can't be sure but it settles on me quickly. Last night there was something at the window. Something scraping the feeders and knocking over the trash.

I remember it now. And it wasn't a dream at all. Not really.

Something is scratching at the window and I roll out of bed with a Colt .45 in one hand and a flashlight in the other. I throw on the outside lights and swing open the front door to confront lord knows what. Come on, you bastard. Let's go. Stop tearing down my bird feeders or I'm going to shoot you so full of holes I could read a newspaper through you by the light of the moon.

Something's moving out there. The trash cans are turned over and the feeders are swinging. Are those eyes looking back at me? Or an illusion. Am I awake or am I dreaming?

The flashlight starts to fade. Why is it that the flashlight or the gun never works right when everything really hits the fan? Why is that?

Maybe this is a dream. The light is fading fast and now I'm standing out here in the dark in my underwear with a .45 pistol and honestly, a pistol is pretty much useless if you can't see. If it's a bear and he attacks me, I'd never get a shot in him before he killed me so I do a quick tactical retreat to the patio where the patio light keeps me remotely safe from a brutal mauling.

But that was then. This is now and I hear this buzzing inside my head. No...not that...it's outside my head. I'm surrounded by a swarm of buzzing bees. Not a dream this time. You are here. This is reality. Here...hold my coffee. This is may get ugly. Where'd I put that handgun?

For some reason, my hummingbird feeders are mobbed by bees. Someone dear to me swears that Colorado is overrun with "Killer Bees". I mean, it would be easy to think that...if you were to sit and watch the news shows.

Some people close to me encourage me to watch the television, for reasons not entirely clear to me. I just don't want any part of that. It doesn't affect me. I vote how I vote. Nothing that Obama does would surprise me. He told the head of NASA to reach out to Muslims. Who could possibly be caught off-guard by that? Some CNN news anchor tweeted how sad she was that her favorite terrorist had passed on? No one could be surprised by that. Surprised they fired her? Sure. Fair enough.

But I digress. Where were we? Oh yes. "Killer Bees."

These aren't "Killer Bees". These are Bud's European Honey Bees. For whatever reason, Bud's honey bees have decided to p0wn my feeders and each feeder is covered with bees. Something I've never seen before, of course.

So, I'm watching this. Trying to take this in. What does it mean? Why now? What's the occasion?

And now come the Bluebirds. This is getting weirder by the minute. I love the Bluebirds, don't get me wrong. But they don't come to feeders. They don't eat seeds. They don't drink sugar water. I even bought a meal worm feeder and they avoided it like the plague.

But now, the Bluebirds are perched on every available surface for reasons not clear to me. What is their goal?

They're not as afraid of the bees as one might think, apparently. The Bluebirds can hover quite well and now they're moving through the swarm, picking bees from midair, graceful as swallows. Who knew?

And now come the hummingbirds. They're not big enough to eat the bees, I don't think. They just hover off-line, just out of stinger's reach of the bees. Mad as wet hens, but what's to bee done? C'est la vie.

Just another rainy cold July morning. I dunno what to make of it...this day. They say you're supposed to "Seize the day"...to mold it like putty in your hands... to make the most of it so that, when you lie down to sleep at night, you feel you've accomplished something, and can rest easily.

I dunno about that. Dunno if I buy into that crap.

I go out back and sit on the deck drinking coffee. Not in my underwear this time. My kid's here. That's different. I'm wearing jeans and a t-shirt and sitting outside trying to understand what's going on around me.

Not what the media wants to feed me. I'm trying to figure out the birds and the bees. I want to see what's here. Sort of a "be here now" type of philosophy.

So, I sit here drinking coffee and shooting at the birds.

It's sort of half-raining on and off. The ground is very wet. I should mention that, I think. There is that.

I try to listen a lot. Normally, you tune these sounds out. But now, I try to tune them in. Try to focus on the sounds of the woods to understand what's going on.

I can recognize a few birds by their songs. The Chickadees, the House Wren, the Magpies, the Cordilleran Flycatcher. A few of them I know. So, I try to listen to the sounds and identify them.

I try to make some of the more complicated identifications....Crow vs. Raven. Downy Woodpecker vs. Hairy. House Finch vs. Cassin's Finch. Things like that.

I've been re-reading my Owner's manual for the Canon EOS 50D and I'm slowly working through a book on Ansel Adam's photography. I read the books, take a few shots, suck them down into the laptop. I'm trying to get better, but it's intuitively obvious to the casual observer that my photography stopped improving some time ago, as did my writing.

I'm deliberately trying to spend some time outdoors. I'd be in the garden or mowing or weed-eating or running the chainsaw if it wasn't so damp and ghastly outside. Sitting outside and shooting seems reasonable to me and I'm reading my books when suddenly there's movement in the woods.

Now, I'm in a tree stand hunting deer with Sam out at the 'light plant' many years ago. Hunting deer is fun for about 7 minutes, and after that, it's pretty much sheer monotony. Trying to stay warm. Trying to stay awake. Trying not to fall out of the tree stand.

Today, North America is overrun with deer. But when I was a kid, it wasn't like that. There were no deer back then. They had been hunted very close to extinction in this country. The game wardens didn't' start taking their jobs seriously until the late '60's and only then ded the deer begin to return, albeit very slowly.

Back then, hunting deer meant "hunting", not "shooting". I hunted for years and never saw a deer.

After a matter of hours, there's a very strong desire to fire the weapon and anyone that tells you otherwise is either lying or they're not of this earth. If you've been sitting in a deer stand for three hours, you start wanting to put a few rounds into something, no matter what. As in, "if I got up an hour and a half before dawn and came out here and sat in this tree stand for three hours, something's gonna haf'ta die."

It's just as simple as that.

So I'm sitting in this tree-stand and it's wet and nasty and you're supposed to barely move at all and turn your head slowly and all of this guff and now, somehow, I see some movement through the trees right beneath me.

This is alarming because, whatever this is...this unexplained flashing of color between the limbs and leaves of the forest...this thing is very close to me. Much closer than one might imagine possible. How did it get here without making a sound? It's like my ears have ceased to function. They have failed me.

But the eyes see something...this unexpected movement. It's scary, in an odd way. So unexpected. So close. What could have moved in on my position without making a sound? How could it be there...this unexplained object moving just a few yards away from me?

It made me realize that all of the time I'd spent hunting in my life, expecting to hear something before I saw it, was complete folly. My entire hunting resume was nothing more than a Quixotean charade. Absolute bullocks.

Whatever this thing is, it must have come in via a teleporter or something. It must be able to fold time and space. But however it got here, we now have this object here way into my personal space that needs to be dealt with...and maybe it needs to die...I have this gun after all... this is where we are.

The adrenaline floodgates open and, if you've never killed anything with a gun, well probably you need to. It's like nothing else, I can promise you that.

I move my head suddenly and these deer going bouncing off into the forest, disappearing immediately so that you're left wondering what just happened.

But that was then and this is now and while I was reading page 147 explaining in excruciating detail how and why the camera can't be made to do anything remotely close to what I want it to, my old nemesis has silently teleported once again into my field of vision so that I'm sitting here thinking that I must be insane.

How can animals move in this manner? And more importantly, where are her fawns?

I put down the owner's manual and make so many adjustments to the camera and lens that it would take a lifetime to explain them all...I do all of this before I even raise the camera. A rifle is easy...you just raise the gun...take a breath and hold it, aim at the target, take the safety off, relax, and squeeeeeeeeeze the trigger.

But this camera has more controls than the space shuttle and I change about 13 settings before I even bother to raise it because the idiots at Canon have no clue what people need the camera to do...they really don't. If I ever ran into one of those bastards in a dark alley, I'd stand on his throat and ask him what he was thinking when he decided that "Auto ISO" should mean "use 400 ISO". Then I'd fillet him and throw his carcass in the sewer, but I digress.

Where were we?

Oh yes. I see the doe and I've got the camera all dialed in and I'm waiting for the fawns to teleport in. This time, I'll set new standards in wildlife photography. I'll be the first human to get that one singular photo showing the fawns folding time and space and teleporting into 3 dimensions. I'm not sure what it will look like, but I'll get a shot of it in any event. Maybe it'll look like something from Stargate, Tron, or Space Odyssey. I dunno, but I've got my finger on the trigger and I'm ready.

The adrenaline comes to me now in waves. I'm waiting for the Rocky Mountain Barracuda to materialize in the meadow and suddenly, I have second thoughts about my settings. I start changing every setting the camera has because I don't trust it and I don't trust me and I feel everything slipping away.

I'm pointing at this little patch of grass out back, wiping the adrenaline from my brow. I see the doe but I couldn't care less about her. Where are her fawns?

Maybe something killed the them and she's here alone, skulking through the stubbled field of Russian thistle, knap weed, and wild roses, despondent and not overly concerned with survival.

It wouldn't be unheard of. We have mountain lions up here that eat dogs off their leashes while they're being walked in broad daylight, I kid you not.

Maybe this is a different doe...one that doesn't have any fawns. There are scads of deer out back. It's not like I can tell them apart.

I fiddle with the camera some more. I'm changing it to shoot 7 frames a second when the fawn explodes across the field in front of me. A blur of legs and spots and now he's gone again and I got nothing. Not a single shot to show for it.

The doe ignores the fawn. She doesn't flinch.

She's just standing there, nibbling at the fresh shoots coming up from the soaked earth. The deer don't like to eat just any type of grass. They prefer the young, green shoots that are just emerging from the ground. She's found some nubile sprouts and junior can do whatever he chooses.

There were two fawns last time I saw them, but now there's only this one and he's moving like mad from field to forest and back, just tearing it up. But the camera is useless under these conditions. I'd pay good money to have those mental dwarfs from Canon standing beside me. I'd look up at them say...you see that? You see why your camera is as useless as tits on a bull?

I blow through a few dozen photos and get nothing but tree trunks and stumps and grass and smears that might be deer or fingers.No one could say.

As they cross the field again, I see that there are now two fawns when before there was one. Where'd the second one from from? No one knows and no one can say but there are two now and they're bouncing around like ping pong balls in a dryer and I just grit my teeth and squeeze the trigger like a soldier in a machinegun nest raking the beach.

I'm back in the woods with Sam and those deer have bounded away from me. I'm sitting here, treading water in an adrenaline pool. My mouth is dry and I'm like "Horse feathers!...those were deer" and nothing makes you feel dumber than getting schooled by a creature in the woods. But now I see something still moving in the same general vicinity from where those deer just bolted and I pull up my shotgun and I unload it in the area of the movement. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!

Now, let's be clear on this. I have no idea what I've just shot. I shot at movement in the trees and if you read this and think "I'll never hunt with him," well I can't say I'd blame you. But God as my witness, that's what happened and now Sam appears...he must've scampered out of his tree stand and raced over and he's looking up at me asking "was it a buck or a doe?"

I'm still in the stand holding a smoking 12 gauge - three spent shells of double ought buckshot on the forest floor. Ears ringing. And I'm like "You're asking me? How the hell should I know?"

I start climbing down from the tree stand and now, I'm kinda getting worried. I have no idea what I've killed, but I killed something. I heard it go down. Was it a trophy buck? A doe? Another hunter? No clue.

So, I start climbing down the tree stand as Sam goes over to inspect it. Somehow we both get to the lifeless carcass at the same time.

"Oh man," he laments, "it's a doe."

He's totally bummed out and I'm so happy it doesn't have boots on it I could jump for joy. We're seeing things totally, he and I.

And as suddenly as the deer appeared, they were gone. And where the mom went with her fawns, I have no clue. No clue.

Posted by Rob Kiser on July 8, 2010 at 2:51 PM


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