I think the first real experience with death was when my father shot the crow.
Dad used to hunt birds quite a bit. Poor as they were on the farm, it was one way to bring home a bit of extra bacon. As a young boy, he once shot a canadian goose that was as big as he was and brought it home. It was quite a day, that day. Right out of a movie.
But by the time I came along and we were on Allen Point, he has mostly stopped hunting. Too much to do, too expensive, too far away. But he still had his shotgun, and every once in a while he brought it out and fired it into the air to scare the crows away from the fruit in the orchard, especially as the cherries got ripe.
Crows love cherries. But they are also smart enough to remember and anticipate danger. They can recognize a gun, and they remember who shot at them. So firing at them kept them away for a while, longer than a plastic owl did. There were more drastic measures one could try. My grandpa told me that if you killed a crow and hung it up, the rest of the crows would stay away from where it hung; but they would raise such a ruckus over the person who did it for so long that it wasn’t really worth the trouble.
Besides, as birds and as sacred creatures in myth, crows and ravens are nothing to mess around with. They’re amoral tricksters; sometimes benevolent, sometimes malevolent, and always something to be careful of. Clever as they come. Solvers of problems. Users of tools. Imps, rogues, and thieves.
There was a time at Allen Point when the oystermen came to get a crow. There was a nest in one of the tall fir trees just off Shell Beach, and the men had permission to go up after one of the chicks. This was something that they, apparently, had been allowed to do before by the Allens. The men were all swarthy. They looked like carneys and talked in a strange language. I’ve always thought that they were Roma (Gypsies). That was back after most of the Japanese had been mostly driven out of their oyster businesses by internments in WWII and before the influx of Hispanic migrants back into the Puget Sound area.
One of the men, stocky with curly black hair, put on his climbing belt and spikes and started started up the tree. A murder of crows, cawing wildly, was gathering. About twenty feet up, the man stopped and looked down at me staring up at him from the road. He grinned, ragged as a Jack-o-Lantern. It gave me the willies. He disappeared into the branches. Soon, far above, there was a terrible ruckus. The crows were gathering in an ever larger and deafening black cloud. Some broke off from the cloud to swoop in at him, others sat on the branches howling like an enraged black-robed jury. Eventually, he shinnied down with a chick and the oystermen took off in their boat. But the crows kept after them all the way across the bay. I’ve sometimes wondered what magic that crow got up to, and whether it turned out good, or bad, for its toothy captor.
Anyway, one time I begged Dad to shoot one of the crows instead of just firing into the air. I wanted to see him shoot, really shoot, something. Maybe it was some old inner childhood voice brought back by mine; maybe he wanted his son to see that he really was a good shot; maybe it was something else. He took aim at one of the crows as it winged away, and with a bang it fell, suddenly and ungracefully, in tatters. I ran over to it to see when it would get up again. It didn’t. It was bleeding, unblinking, and going cold.
Now, my father could do pretty much anything. He was a Nelson, after all, and used to doing practically anything with virtually nothing. But when something is dead there is nothing to do. He couldn’t bring that crow back to life, no matter how much, how tearfully, or how sincerely, I begged him to do it. It was one of those traumatic parent/child moments, with enough shared guilt and remorse to go around several times. He wasn’t the kind of person to kill something needlessly like that. I really didn’t know what I was asking for.
Not long after, Dad was splitting wood for the winter. The rounds were from the huge tree that Byron Knapp fell on the Green Gate Road, and so he had to use wedges and a maul to split them. An large iron shard flew off a wedge and struck him in the leg. I remember the hole staring out from his bruised and bloody thigh like a dark, unblinking eye. “Just like a bullet,” the doctors said. I never should have egged him on.