By Bob Quarteroni
It was the moment I lost my humanity.
It happened 50 years ago but it’s still seared into my memory as perhaps the most shameful thing I have ever done.
I was duck hunting late one October afternoon – a sport that came with the cradle for me since my dad and his two brothers owned the biggest hunting and fishing store in the area and were widely regarded as the finest hunters around.
Where other kids got baseball gloves and kites, I got pistols, rifles and shotguns.
I didn’t question hunting, it was just there: like the trees and the rocks and the air.
And killing animals was not only good, it was what got you applause and cheers.
I just had to look at the two dozen deer heads on the walls of the store’s beer garden (yes, they sold guns and beer in same building) to know what I was supposed to be doing.
So I hunted.
But on this particular day, the hunting ended.
I shot a wood duck, that improbably beautiful bird, but had only broken its wing. If flopped around in a field and I went to get it.
I didn’t want to shoot it but had to do something to stop its frantic, manic flapping so I started stomping – hard – on its head.
Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
And it would not die. It. Would. Not. Die.
More stomping, more agonized sound from the duck and finally it was done, dead, the once iridescently beautiful bird reduced to a pulpy, bloody mass.
I had finally killed it. And I had killed my soul in the process.
That was the last time I ever picked up a gun and the last time I ever hunted.
And I’m still haunted by it.
I don’t believe in an afterlife but if there is one I think this incident alone would send me to the darkest bowels of the slimiest hell imaginable.
So why am I telling you this now?
I’m not writing an anti-hunting diatribe, not in a state with as rich a hunting tradition as Pennsylvania.
And I’m not trying to convince others to stop hunting.
I did something awful, it seems to me. I put a crack into my moral firmament that is still not healed, and I’m trying to make sense of it before whatever-it-is turns me into the wood duck and stomps me out of existence.
I just want to confess my sin.
For that’s how this act feels to me, atheist though I be.
And to try and make sense of this, I need to do what I’m doing: confess, getting it out in the open because, as Oscar Wilde said, “It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”
So I bare my soul over this deed that would not be considered criminal and, by other hunters, might even be considered just something that had to be done.
But for me it’s been a dirty little secret that I’ve carried around for half a century.
And that’s a very heavy weight, especially now as I strut around purporting to be a decent (in both meanings of that word) amateur naturalist, with all my nature articles, and photos for sale on Adobe Stock and nature blog (bobqnature.com).
Yes, I might not even kill spiders now and try not to disturb the plants that I photograph and take pride in feeding chickadee by hands.
But coloring all that is the wood duck that would not die.
So, pathetic as it was, I need to come clean. As Jean-Jacques Rosseau knew, “It is not the criminal things that are hardest to confess, but the ridiculous and the shameful.”
I wouldn’t disagree with you if you said this was self-centered, juvenile pabulum. Of if you thought I was a snowflake cranky because a Bambi with wings was dead.
Or that I need to get a life. Or that I’m shamelessly pretending to be “noble” by confessing this transgression. Or that I’m taking up valuable space that could be better filled by almost anyone else.
I wouldn’t argue with you on any of that. I would plead guilty to all that and more.
But, at 70, with more and more body parts telling me I need to get my affairs in order, this was as crucial as making a will or making sure “do not resuscitate” orders were in place.
So an effort to finally come to terms with this was necessary, because as Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “A confession has to be part of your new life.”