Snipe Season

Will and Scott met in a dusty New Orleans bar on a wet November afternoon and shortly fell into a discussion of favored bridge abutments in surrounding states. Neither in fact were vagrants, both family men: Will an attorney, Scott a businessman, both Mississippians in NOLA for the wedding of mutual friends, Will the bride’s, Scott the groom’s. In time they found ethanol, automobiles and tall women in common too, but not hunting. Scott had never taken the field for game.

“Let me take you hunting,” Will said.

“Okay,” said Scott. “For what?”

Will looked him dead in the eye and said, “Snipe.”

“That’s not funny.”

“I’m serious,” Will said.

“It’s still not funny.”

. . . . . . . . . .

They left Jackson in the darkest dawn, drove through for coffee and biscuits, then went up 49 watching the earth settle, fall away and go somewhere else.

Clambering from the truck with gear, they sank ankle-deep in muck, slugged first to one patch of mud just above the pooled water to another atoll of broken grasses, the Delta sky pushing distance to the rim of a tall lens, bringing all else into focus, amplifying sound. The rattles of the brittle grass echoed into the distance, across the river, all over the world. The mud was as old Egypt’s, deeper and richer than sin itself.

That close to the river, the land is a matter of water–making it, shaping it, teaching it–letting earth absorb all light, all air, all crisp, cold and fragile, brushing a thin bitter crust on a north Mississippi morning with clouds coagulating white and gray atop a steady northwesterly breeze.

Furrowed and churned, dead with intention, the field was a patched mat of pale brittle stems that collapsed hither and thither, hiding muck, confusing footwork and sheltering snipe, the being itself, a will-o’-the-wisp the very color of winter—white, grey and black fading to or from indiscriminate brown, beige or buff in indifferent patterns on insignificant substance—a bird of earth without place in air where it seeks in fits to find a place and failing, furtive rustles back to the tussocks.

. . . . . . .  . . .

“Here we go,” Will said, stepping into the muck and pointing out into the water-mirrored field. “The birds hide up in piles of grass near water. They flush easy, so ease up before you move in.” The grass in front of them rustled and set alight two birds, translucent in the sun trailing faint alarms before they lit in another field.

“Can’t even see them mid-air,” Scott said. “They’re too light and grey.”

Will grinned. The sky was a blinding blue that dribbled down in pools and puddles. The only wind blew way above under a small cool sun, moving shadows of blades, leaves and stems. They walked, guns at their hips, talking to fill the void.

. . . . . . . . . .

“You don’t talk much about over there.”

“Not a lot to say,” Scott said. “It wouldn’t make sense to you.”

“Does it have to? Did it to you?

“Some of it did.” Beside them a clump of cattail folded brown and enclosed exploded into a busy ball of air. Scott crouched and shot, the sound bouncing across the field, the bird falling, twisting, one wing still struggling for buoyance.

Will found the winged bird, wrung its neck, put it in the sack on his shoulder and said, “I want to know what it’s like to kill someone.”

“Why? You gonna kill somebody?”

Will grinned. “Maybe. Maybe I just want to know what it feels like to point a gun at a man and pull the trigger and watch him fall.”

“They weren’t men,” Scott said. “Not to me. They weren’t even enemies. They were just things in the distance. Dark shapes that moved. I never killed anyone. I just shot things and watched them fall.”

“But didn’t they shoot at you?”

“Yes, dammit! Sure they did. You know they did, and I got hit, too!” Scott said.

“I didn’t know that,” Will said.

“In the fucking back,” Scott said. “Shattered my shoulder blade. It’s a steel plate now. Went right through. Bled like a motherfucker.”

“Can I see the scar?”

“It’s too cold to take my shirt off, man,” Scott laughed.

“You don’t have to. Just let me feel it,” Will said.

Scott stopped walking and rubbed the tears off his face. He cradled his gun in the crook of his left arm and with his right unzipped his jacket. “It’s on the left side,” he said.

Will took the glove off his right hand, turned and moved his hand into the jacket, beneath the shirt to the skin, the hair, gently probing, pausing, feeling.

“That’s not it,” Scott said, “That’s my . . .”

“I know what it is,” Will said.

“Up,” Scott said, “There.”

“Yes. Does it still hurt?”

“No,” Scott said. “Not any more. It’s still tender, but you’re not hurting me.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Will said. “I just wanted to feel the scar.”

“You’re not hurting me, Will.”

“It’s okay, Scott. It’s okay. Why don’t we call it a day, have a couple of drinks on the way home?”

. . . . . . . . . .

They moved towards the ruts atop the dam that passed for a road, their steps less measured, more insistent, no longer stalking, but in pursuit, the sinking sun reddening, silhouetting the distance, a glittering planet punctuating the blueprint heavens.

They climbed into the truck. Will cranked it up and turned on the lights.

“We can grab a bottle and go to Smitty’s cabin on the Big Black. I’ll call Beth and tell her to call Ann,” Will said. “We’ll tell them we didn’t kill anything, be home tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Scott said, wiping his face. “I’m just tired.”

“I know you are,” Will said.

 

“Shoot him in the head!”

President Theodore Roosevelt, a hunter of note, visited Mississippi in 1902 in an attempt to bring the South into a more cordial orbit with the rest of the nation. The South was not alone in its outrage over Roosevelt having Booker T. Washington to dine en famille at the White House the preceding October, which still rankled the following November, when Roosevelt came to Mississippi on the invitation of Governor Longingo for a hunt. Bear in mind that formal hunts in those days were often orchestrated slaughters; in Europe deer were rounded up in droves and herded into an enclosure to be massacred by royalty.

So it was that when the President of the United States came to Mississippi to hunt bear, it was made certain that he would have one to shoot and either skin or mount, but the end result was an altogether different type of stuffed bear. Roosevelt hunted, yes; but he was also a conservationist, a naturalist and an outdoorsman as well as a sportsman. After the gamesmen had hunted down and beaten a bear into insensibility, they tied it to a tree and urged Teddy to shoot. He refused. The incident was the subject of a Clifford Berryman cartoon in The Washington Post in November, “Drawing the Line in Mississippi”, which depicts the bear as a cute little cub (something of a slap at the barbarous South), sparking a craze for cuddly toy bears that endures to this day.

 

Love a Duck

Those rascals in the Greater Belhaven “There Goes the Neighborhood” Association plan on holding their annual White Trash Bash as soon as it gets warm enough to wear a wife beater, so before long the middle stretch of Poplar Boulevard will fill with the odors of heart-hindering foods cooking over carbon footprints.

Billed as a Pothole Primary in a nod to the election year, this, the third Bash, is the successor to last year’s celebrated “Low Rent Luau,” which caught the attention of a slew of sleepy neighbors as well as a few law enforcement professionals. This year word has it that the boys have plans to convert Mona (the avocado Frigidaire who made a big splash last year in her coconut brassiere) into a four by six version of Wonder Woman if they can’t steal enough chicken wire and a tiki torch to make her into an appliance replica of the Statue of Liberty.

Any successful gathering includes food, and the Bashes are no exception. This year’s patriotic party will feature that most American of foodstuffs, the hot dog. Those at last year’s luau enjoyed spiced rice with pork and chicken, which would have passed as an excellent jambalaya in most local circles, but the best dish served so far at a Bash has been the Dirty Rice Duck Hunting Club’s grilled stuffed breast of duck.

If you don’t know a duck hunter, befriend one; they always have extra ducks in the freezer, and they’re more than happy to give you a couple. They also can be insistent when it comes to telling you how to cook them. After all, they shot the damn thing, and they’re going to make sure you don’t treat it like target practice. Most hunters are good cooks. Those hunters and fishermen who can cook really well – like Billy Joe Cross, bless his soul – should be designated national treasures. Heck, if the Japanese can festoon a tofu maker, we ought to be able to buy Billy Joe a Cadillac.

Culinary skills aside, hunters and fishers in general endear themselves to me by playing an important role in environmental protection. Sure, they have a vested interest in the preservation of forests and wetlands, but the fact that they want to protect these areas so that they can go into them and kill selected species should not detract from their efforts. The income states derive from hunting and fishing licensures not only helps preserve natural areas, but also helps protect critters nobody would put on their grill: Salamanders spring to mind. As a matter of fact, because fewer and fewer people are taking to fields and streams these days, these declining states’ revenues from hunting and fishing licenses mean that many programs initialized to preserve and protect wildernesses and wildlife are now in danger themselves.

Brad Norsworthy and Ken “Sugar Bear” Carver came up with this recipe. Brad, like his quarry, is a bird of passage, shuttling between his home in Jackson and his job in Louisiana. Both he and Sugar Bear grew up in the metro area, and though Sugar Bear now makes his living in Florida, they still get together every year to hunt in Arkansas.

Like many game recipes, this one involves a marinade. Some marinades, especially those involving acidic ingredients such as citrus juice or vinegar, act as a tenderizer, and are primarily reserved for use with larger game such as deer or boar, but since this recipe uses only duck breast, the marinade is for flavoring. It’s also very simple: one cup of soy sauce, one half-cup of brown sugar, two tablespoons olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, finely minced, and a dash of black pepper. (While the boys didn’t specify their ingredients, let me be so bold as to suggest  using “lite” (low sodium) soy sauce and light brown sugar in this recipe; if I’m in error, they can keelhaul me later.)

Marinate the split, boned breasts of duck in this mixture for three hours. Then comes the fun part; slather each individual breast with cream cheese, and wrap it around a one-inch square piece of onion and a slice of jalapeno. Wrap each stuffed breast in bacon, secure with a toothpick and grill over a steady, low heat for about an hour.

These morsels are succulent, perfect for any outdoor gathering where folks meet and greet, rant and rave and try to rise above their raising.