Friday, January 29, 2021

A Chipmunk From Long Ago

       When a twelve-year-old boy becomes a hunter he gets to where he longs to shoot something! When I was 12, I started tying my single-shot16-gauge Iver Johnson shotgun to the handlebars of my bicycle, stuffing my pocket with a half-dozen shells, and peddling down some gravel road to a patch of woods near the river, where my only goal in life became the collecting of two or three squirrels to bring home for supper.


       There were many places I had permission to hunt, where the squirrels were drawn to the oaks and hickories, along draws or small creeks which fed the river. I would find a nice big flat rock to sit on, and watch and wait. Squirrels were plentiful along those woodlands where I hunted. 


       Always before me lay the best of God’s creation, whether it was a deep draw with a creek below, flat woodlands along the river bottom, or a scenic ridgetop. I always felt that God was there with me, either behind me or above me, watching, letting me see something different on every trip. There or on the river, I was always talking to Him in my mind, asking questions. At the age of twelve, it doesn’t matter if you get all the answers. I figured that I’d know it all in a year or two if I just kept watching and listening.  


       Getting closer to everything was the problem. If only I could get closer, closer to see a passing grey fox or a hawk that is winging away with a mouse in it’s talons. If only I could get a better look at a pileated woodpecker or a screech owl. That’s why, on that one afternoon which I will never forget, when I saw a flash of red among the rocks below me, I wished I was closer. I knew it wasn’t a fox squirrel, but I shot anyway. And moments later I held it in my hand, lifeless and bloodied, the only chipmunk I had ever seen up close. It was beautiful, with those stripes of black and beige, almost white, but not quite. I couldn’t stop looking at it.


I was so fascinated, and then so plagued with guilt. He was far too small to eat, and the rules were, spelled out so many times by my dad, that you shoot nothing you do not intend to eat. I left him there on the rock, so no one would know. But as I peddled home with no squirrels, I wasn’t happy at all. I just wondered if that chipmunk had a family somewhere that depended on him, and if God would ever show me anything again for fear I would shoot it.


     It just kept bothering me. I had to tell someone what I had done, so I confided in Jess Wolf, one of the old men who sat on the front bench of my father’s pool hall, where I worked after school. 


     “They’s lots of chipmunks,” he said, stoically watching a game of snooker which interested him a great deal more than me and that chipmunk. “Reckon it won’t make a whole lot of difference…. exceptin’ to you. I ‘spect you won’t shoot but one yore whole life. That kinda thing happens, you bein’ a boy. Boys do such things.” And then he just sat there. I needed a better answer. I asked him if he thought God would be mad at me for killing one of his creatures for no reason.


     “I ain’t got no idee what God would think of such a thing,” he told me. And it was quiet but for the clack of billiard balls. Finally he added, “I reckon you’d have to ask God about that.”


     That was a powerful answer. I knew Jess wasn’t a church-goer, but he was a religious sort of man, because he never swore much like Ol’ Bill and Ol’ Jim, and he never came right out and lied about fishing or hunting, as far as I could tell.


     But right then, I promised God I would never kill another one of his creatures for no reason, and I felt so much better. I felt a lot worse about things when the next spring I killed a robin with a homemade sassafras bow and arrow, just to see if I could hit something with it at such a distance. I never meant to do it… I thought I would miss. I most always did when I shot at anything with that bow. That chipmunk vow was the first of a lot of promises I made to God which I broke in time.


     But you know, I still go out into the woods figuring the Creator is going to show me something I have never seen before, and it seems He always does. Even now, I see marvelous, fascinating things, floating down a river in the summer or standing in the water up to my waist in the dead of winter, watching duck decoys whilst I’m about half frozen.


After all these years it is still no less of a wonder to hear and feel a new season coming with all the wonders of it. It is winter now and I am busy hunting ducks and thinking there ain’t no better time than winter. But I can feel March coming, and when it gets here I’ll be just as happy catching a walleye or two about the time spring peepers begin to be heard. The wonders of those dwindling lonely wild places are the greatest reward in life for me. Every now and then I see a chipmunk!


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