I don’t think you have any perspective on your childhood until you’re an adult. When you’re a kid, it just is what it is (although instant worldwide access to everything may be changing this). When you grow up, you hear about different kinds of upbringings until, one day, it dawns on you that there is a wide spectrum of childhoods and yours fits in it somewhere. What just was what it was turns out to be conventional or weird, oppressive or indulgent, abusive or magical.
I’m not sure when my light went on, but I’d been an adult long enough to have heard many stories of other people’s childhoods. I was deep into my thirties, probably, when I realized just how much freedom I had as a child. I couldn’t remember my mother ever telling me I couldn’t do something I wanted to do. Not once.
My mother is a very sensible person, and I’m very sure she didn’t let me venture out of the house so she could have the freedom to score crack or hold Ku Klux Klan meetings. Although she was certainly a laissez-faire parent (“don’t get up until you smell blood”), it was a decision born of philosophy (“no child can withstand the full-time attention of an intelligent woman”), not laziness.
Still, it surprised me that I couldn’t remember one single solitary significant “no.”
So I called her up. “Mom,” I said, “I can’t remember your ever, over the entire course of my childhood, telling me I couldn’t do something I wanted to do.”
She didn’t even have to think about it. “You never asked to do anything unreasonable.”
And there you have it. I am an irredeemable goody two-shoes. I am a rule-following, line-toeing, convention-bound prig. And have been, from the jump.
This is not a decision born of philosophy. A slavish adherence to rules, even when they’re silly, stupid, or counter-productive, is silly, stupid, and counter-productive. I follow rules because I’m wired that way, and it is one of the many ways in which I wish I were wired differently. I believe it is sometimes reasonable – even optimal – to break the rules. I just have a hard time doing it.
Besides, there’s cachet in being a rule-breaker. Goody two-shoes? No cachet.
Kevin has plenty of cachet. A slavish adherence to rules has never been his problem, and he is gently and patiently trying to ease me over to the dark side. To show you just how far I have to come, I still remember as a red-letter day the day he and I ate sandwiches on the Low Library steps at Columbia University when there was masonry repair underway – inside the yellow tape that said “CAUTION: DO NOT ENTER.” Inside!
I swaggered for a week.
Since then, I’m sorry to report, I haven’t made all that much progress. It’s hard to stop a lifetime of rule-following. Today, though, I knowingly and willfully broke the law. Sort of.
It was because of the turkeys. Those of you following along at home know that this year’s turkeys have been nothing but trouble. Our source of poults fell through, so we took a chance on some fertilized eggs. Only one of the six hatched, and we ended up with a neurotic and alarmist singleton of indeterminate breeding. The hatchery poults we bought to supplement the flock got injured in shipping, and we ended up with only three healthy birds to keep our poor one-off company.
The older bird is much larger than the younger ones, and is an excellent flyer. I think she’s been giving lessons, because the little ones fly much better than our previous flocks did at that age. They fly so well that they can reach the turkey pen roost bar, six feet off the ground.
The way we’ve managed the flocks in the past is by locking them up at night in the treehouse until they’re big enough to fly to the roost bar. At that point, we figure they’re too big for a predator to go after (we’ve had raccoons come in the pen, but only for the feed), and can fly away if some ballsy predator decides to have a go anyway.
Our little turkeys are only five weeks old, but the first night we found them lined up on the roost bar with their big stepsister, we left them there overnight. And they were fine.
The second night, they weren’t. Something (we suspected a raccoon) got into the pen and managed to take one of the birds. The other three escaped, and we found the big one in a tree and the two little ones under a rhododendron, on the wrong side of the fence, in the morning.
We went back to Plan A – locking the little ones in the treehouse at night (by covering the door with the compost sieve). And we put the VarmintCam out to see what was going on in there.
Sure enough, it was a raccoon.
Last fall, when raccoons were trying to break into our chicken coop, we borrowed a Hav-A-Hart trap and had a series of discussions about the best way to kill a trapped raccoon. We concluded that a gun to the head was best, and bought a very high-powered 22-calibre pellet gun (it’s illegal to discharge a firearm on our property) for the purpose. Because we didn’t catch a raccoon – only a hapless opossum – we never put our method to the test.
We stopped trying when hunting season for raccoons came to an end but, when the raccoons invaded the turkey pen, out of season, I decided I was willing to color outside the lines.
I am both a law-abiding citizen and a conscientious hunter. I never take an animal’s life without careful consideration, and I am scrupulous in obeying hunting regulations. But, in this case, other considerations trumped concern for the raccoon season dates. We raise turkeys for food, and the raccoons are clearly a threat to them. The raccoons themselves can be food, and to make dinner out of something that’s threatening your livestock seems like a win-win.
We set the trap. We caught a raccoon. Kevin shot it.
It was only after the fact that I learned it was perfectly legal. According to the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Chapter 131, Section 37, “An owner or tenant of land … may, upon such land: hunt or take by other means, except by poison or snare, any mammal which he finds damaging his property.” Ripping down our nets and eating our turkeys definitely qualifies. And we have photographic proof.
The law requires that we report any mammals taken this way to the environmental police, which we will do. And that will put us in full compliance. We are, still, law-abiding citizens.
But here’s the thing – I still want the cachet. I don’t want to lose on a technicality. I thought it was illegal, and I did it anyway. That counts, right?
What I’m afraid of is that it makes me the goodiest goody two-shoes of all time. Even my law-breaking is so damned reasonable that it turns out to be legal after all.
We tied our legally acquired raccoon to our official skinning tree (it’s where I skinned the rabbit, and it still has the rabbit feet on it, for good luck), and removed the pelt. I gutted it, cleaned it, and put it in a brine of vinegar, salt, and sugar.
Tomorrow, I’m going to cook it, and Kevin and I are going to eat it for dinner.
That has cachet, doesn’t it?