I had never killed with any of the weapons from my brother’s collection.

I fired at lizards and missed. I aimed at rabbits and missed. Most memorably, I once squeezed off several .22s at a jack rabbit who stood upright on his haunches, ears pointed toward the sky. From between two cacti, he stared and stared at this odd little kid. Only when I winged one of his ears — it bent in half — did he bolt.

But I had never killed.

By the time our family made the trip to Aunt Margaret’s mountain cabin, I was vying for worst marksman in the world. At fourth, maybe fifth grade, I felt eager to claim my manhood.

The forest behind the cabin stretched forever, and gave meaning to the clich√© “carpeted with pine needles.” But I had to walk only about ten steps before I heard the singing.

High on a branch.

Staring at me now.

Silent now.

I put the pellet rifle to my shoulder (unsupervised, I couldn’t carry the the big guns). Using its open sight, I centered on the bird’s breast. I fired. The bird fell to the ground. I walked over quickly. Did I kill it? I nudged it with the rubber-covered toe of my sneaker. No movement.

Nudge, nudge.

Song over.

I have never, ever, pointed a gun at any living creature since.

On The Thing With Feathers

June 1, 2008