Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Shooting Salmon

There is an excellent book that I read called The Tracker by Tom Brown, in an effort to research a book idea I had about a boy who learns to track from an old Indian. Coincidentally, Tom Brown had nearly that same experience with an old Apache. A particularly interesting passage was about a wild pack of dogs the old Apache called the Guardians, who attacked and killed intruders that happened into their space. As a boy, Brown would occasionally see a tame dog running amongst the wild pack, acting just as vicious as the rest. But that same dog would go home again for a scratch behind the ear, a warm meal and a soft bed.

I don't like fishing, hunting or camping. And let's face it; I don't enjoy getting dirty either. That's not to say I won't do it, but I certainly won't suggest a plan that puts me in a situation where I have to do any of the above. You could say then, that growing up in Juneau was completely wasted on me.

My dad always had a small arsenal of guns--shotguns, handguns and rifles of various calibers. And if I do say so, I'm not a bad shot. Dad (also see, nightmare tenant) once set up targets in our duplex basement. The landlord was apparently out of town that weekend. The backdrop was a stack of plywood several sheets deep, such that a .22 couldn't penetrate. My brother and I dug the lead out and kept the slugs in a bucket.

When I was in high school, Mike Marlin and Chris Clarke talked me into hiking with our guns deep into the woods, where the salmon came to die in a stagnant pool at the end of the river. For those who don't already know, salmon swim upstream from the oceans to lay their eggs and die. Each has a biological program that drives them with eerie ferocity to travel to the end of their known world. And once they've performed that imprinted duty, the light turns out and they simply die in what can be described as a mass grave with a smell to match. We found such a place that day, littered with salmon in various states of repose--floaters in beds of foam, stragglers on the shore like shipwreck survivors, others biding their time below decks, awaiting the inevitable.

Chris had a semi-automatic .22 rifle, most likely illegal at the time. Probably still is. His target was still alive near the opposite shore, just below the surface. I can still see the smile on his face and the gleam in his eyes. I can hear the repeating pop of the gun; see the tiny sprays of water like that of a handful of thrown pebbles. The big fish fled in such a panic that it literally swam up the beach and into the woods while Chris kept pumping the lead into its body, laughing with the glee of a television mad scientist.

The others had shotguns and high caliber rifles, which joined the volley. Fish heads and fish tails flew every which way.

The roar was deafening.

We were killers of the gangland variety--bored kids gone temporarily insane, in the grips of our basest instincts. I'd like to report that I walked away, put my own rifle away, and walked home alone. But I didn't. I'd also like to tell you that I was mortified, that it wasn't in the slightest bit fun. But I have to admit that it was.

24 comments:

Flood said...

It's not lost on me that a guy named Marlin was hunting salmon.

Kathleen said...

You're so good with imagery, Scott. I totally could see that poor salmon trying to escape from the gun. And it was a most unpleasant picture for me.

Janie said...

Now that's a story, and a good one.
I'm with Flood, there's a bit of irony in there.

Scott said...

Flood - I never thought of that before. Good catch!

Kat - Thanks, and I know what you mean.

Janie - The new improved anonymous Janie. Where oh where has your little blog gone? I know actually, but I couldn't resist the play on words. Thanks for the compliment. The first paragraph was an afterthought. How about that irony?

mr. schprock said...

Your comparison of the domesticated dog going feral reminded me of another good read, "The Call of the Wild," by Jack London. And the shooting scene with the fish reminded me of an elephant slaughter in a book called "She," by H. Rider Haggard, yet another good read.

And speaking of good reads, great post!

mr. schprock said...

Wait, not "She," it was "King Solomon's Mines." Got them confused.

Bailey Stewart said...

I'm not much on hunting either - I mean I accept the hunting for food, I like meat - I can't understand how anyone can enjoy killing another living thing. I mean enjoy it like the gleam in Chris' eye.

Bernita said...

On a tangent...made me wonder why the tracker-trainer seems frequently to be a native.

Writing Blind said...

This is why I will never have kids. Or at least not boys. Good story though.

Scott said...

Mr. Schprock - I loved The Call of the Wild, but the other(s) I haven't read. Could be an opportunity for me.

Bailey - A friend of mine at college had an M16 in his closet. There was a certain feeling of power you got holding it. Kids and young men can get carried away very quickly.

Bernita - In Brown's case, it was a personal recollection. On my part, it played into the larger theme. However, your point is taken. Got to be careful about stereotyping. Taking your question literally though, I would say that is because many of the native americans I have known still live close to the land, hunting and fishing, riding horses and such. I would sooner learn the craft from someone like that than some beer bellied white guy.

Rebecca - Be careful what you wish not to have. My wife wanted a little girl. Now she is surrounded by men!

Moni said...

Ah ha! Mr. Schprocks...King Solomon's mine!

Don't feel badly about it, the hunting instict is inbreed in all men I believe. A throw-back from the caveman days.

Scott said...

Eh? What her talkin bout? Unkh!

Beth said...

I can't hunt. I feel bad for the animals. I can fish, but I can't eat them. It's weird. I'm not a tree hugger or a member of PETA either. =/

Flood said...

Just a small point:

Young men can be cruel to animals, but young women can often be cruel to each other.

Moni said...

Sorry I was confuzzled. I thought Schprock was making a joke. I guess I should read the responses more thoroughly. ooops!

jason evans said...

Whoa. That's a quotable quote from Flood if I ever saw one!

Many boys do cruel things. I'm guilty too. Hopefully, we grow out of it. But when you look at the atrocities committed in the world, you realize, no, some of it lives on.

Scott said...

Moni - You were right. I was replying like a caveman. Hardy har har har.

Moni said...

Ah ha...Ah hahah..ah ha...ha...;)

magnetbabe said...

Would you and your friends still be so gleeful if you realized you were simply mercenaries spaing the poor salmon from a slow, writhing painful death? You were all actually quite sensitive...

Scott said...

Beth - I'm pretty much the same way. I catch a fish, I throw it back.

Flood - So very true.

Jason - You know it. I don't think we ever grow out of it. That little killer is in each of us if the situation were right.

Nat - It would have made me feel a whole lot better, that's for sure. They were popping like water balloons.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

This has an air of 'Stand By Me' about it.

I used to be in the Air Cadets and we used to go shooting targets. I used to have a marksman badge.

I could group 5 shots within 3 inches from 50yds.

But I never shot a living thing.

Bernita said...

It was quite a barrel after all.

Kathleen said...

After reading Schprockie's comment, I realised it reminded me of The Lord of the Flies.

Toni Anderson said...

ugh! Boys! And I have one :-?

I also grew up with guns, I remember my dad shooting a rat that ran along between our neighbor's and our garden wall.

I had a whole bunch of friends playing French cricket in the garden. My dad shot this running rat through the eye. My friends all just dropped their jaws. It isn't like we usually saw rats and never had one shot dead in front of us.

But it was cool. My dad just shrugged and said he had to be careful how he shot it with all the windows in the background. This was a split second thing. I assume the kids, neighbors were so high up in his thinking he didn't even bother to mention them.

Never knew how cool he could be until then.

He was a seriously good shot in his day.

So I can understand the excitement but even as a kid I couldn't shoot a live thing.

BTW--not all salmon die after spawning :) Depends on the species (don't get me started).