The joys of youth come with painful cost

Apoignant piece in the newly minted July edition of National Geographic magazine left me pondering the barbaric nature of the human animal.

"Last Song" by talented writer Jonathan Franzen provides a sober, sad portrayal of our continuing urge to wantonly kill songbirds around the world.

Although some are killed for food, many continue to be shot simply as sport. Rather, what some perceive as sport.

Unfortunately, few of us are innocent of bad behavior. The article reminded me of my transgressions as an urchin reared in Southern Oregon.

I hailed from a hunting culture. When our family gathered around the campfire, hunting stories were the main fare.

No sooner than I was allowed outside on my own, I could hardly wait until I could make my own slingshot and venture forth.

In my small mind, you didn't earn your hash marks in the local brotherhood of other prepubescent rogues until you bagged a feathered creature with a slingshot. Only then were you on your way to becoming a regular Davy Crockett.

Yes, it was a dumb rite of passage.

For those who are slingshot challenged, the homemade one I'm referring to consisted of a Y-shaped frame with rubber inner-tube strips tied to the uprights. The other ends are tied to a leather pouch.

You placed a projectile — usually a round pebble the size of the end of your pinkie — in the leather pouch, then held the slingshot with one hand while pulling the leather pouch back with the other. You sighted down the middle of the "V" and let fly.

Although there were powerful commercially made slingshots available, they were beyond the economic reach of many rural Southern Oregon youngsters in the late 1950s and early '60s. So were projectiles in the form of steel ball bearings and marbles whose flight would have been straight and true.

We would scour the river gravel, filling our pockets with serviceable candidates that would sail somewhat forthright through the air. Round rocks made the best ammo.

Our Y-shaped handles came from forks in willow branches; our elastic strips were made from black inner tubes whose stretchability was lethargic at best.

My rowdy generation happened along when the natural vulcanized rubber inner tubes with their incredible elasticity were already defunct. As a result, we didn't shoot a projectile through the air so much as we lobbed them.

Still, I became somewhat of a sharpshooter with my pebble thrower. No can perched on a fence post at 50 paces — we're talking small feet here — was safe from my trusty slingshot. Any bottle not yet broken was shattered within my slingshot's range.

Cows, horses and a few bipeds felt the sting of my slingshot on their hind quarters. Regarding the latter, I was fleet of foot, so punishment was seldom more than shouted words questioning my parentage.

Even though our firepower was relatively weak and our missiles wobbly, they could strike a small bird with deadly force. After all, the little guy's only protection were light feathers over hollow bones made for flight.

For a humanoid, it would be akin to being struck by a flying stone the size of a large watermelon. You most likely wouldn't be walking away. If you did, there would be no spring in your step.

I don't recall having much success when it came to birds, but I do remember one incident in which a little brown fellow not much bigger than a mouse was flitting among the branches of our apple tree behind the house. He kept chirping as he peered down at the little biped peering up at him.

I let fly perhaps a dozen salvos before he was struck, toppling over backwards off a branch onto the ground, lifeless.

I recall picking him up, wishing he was back in the tree, chirping. That day the fire went out of my belly for killing songbirds.

However, I later became proficient with a rifle, killing an eight-point buck — eight on one side, nine on the other — in the fall of 1968 while a junior in high school. But I didn't experience the elation I expected to feel.

I quit hunting years ago, largely because I no longer found it fulfilling. Yet I have no bone to pick with others who hunt for food, providing they respect guns, their quarry and other humanoids.

But killing helpless little animals for no reason is a sad commentary on us all. We can do better.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.


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