November 29, 2012

Item. Since this is early winter, it’s time to kill some birds. Saturday, December 1st is the day. I shall set off with my son, two shotguns, orange vests, and earplugs into the wilds of Pennsylvania to commit some serious ornithocide.

A slight change of plans this time out. On previous expeditions I’ve taken the family shotgun, a pump-action model I immortalized on this very website four months ago.

However, needling from friends and readers has gotten through even my thick hide. Pump-action is for home defense and law enforcement, they’ve been telling me with barely suppressed sniggers. For the field, you want a REAL shotgun.

All right, guys, I’ve got it. On Saturday I’ll be shooting a fine sleek old side-by-side, product of the Ithaca Gun Company of Ithaca, NY, borrowed from a neighbor. If I’m happy with it, I’ll buy one and keep the pump-action for burglars.

Item. Birds aren’t only for killing and eating. You can just look at and admire them, or you can train them to hunt.

If either of those is your thing, I have the perfect Christmas book for you: Steve Bodio’s An Eternity of Eagles, subtitled The Human History of the Most Fascinating Bird in the World.

Steve knows everything about eagles and has hunted with them (as, by the way, has Mrs. Taki Theodoracopulos). Did you know that the fierce martial imagery associated with eagles applies mainly to the female bird? Steve:

I once asked an eagler in Mongolia if he ever hunted with males. His somewhat unkind reply was that he didn’t hunt mice.

An Eternity of Eagles is superbly well produced. I keep reading articles about the death of books, how flat-broke the publishers are, and so on. Well, no expense was spared on this one. Almost every other page has a beautiful color picture. The typography is flawless, the paper fine. If printed books are on the way out, on the evidence of this one they’re going out in a flourish of loving craftsmanship.

Item. What’s happened to all the mad people?

The common wisdom is that back in the evil intolerant days of the middle 20th century, anyone even mildly unhinged was locked away in an institution surrounded by barbed wire. Then the “rights” lobbies and the “new psychiatry” came up, Jack Nicholson got everyone’s sympathy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the mad folk were all given their freedom.

If that’s right, there should be mad people all over. To the contrary, it seems to me there are far fewer mad people around now than in my childhood fifty or sixty years ago.

I recall knowing lots of mad people back then. They were an accepted part of the world’s human furniture. The headmaster of my secondary school was noticeably mad. An elderly female relative of mine was mad: She would sit in her armchair carefully plucking invisible objects from the air above her head. The reading rooms of public libraries were full of mad people muttering and squawking.

Now there are no mad people at all among my acquaintances. Patrons of library reading rooms read in silent concentration.

I suppose medication has something to do with it. Or perhaps they’ve all gone into politics.

Image of eagle courtesy of Shutterstock


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