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HUNTING FOR PEACE
The inside of my mother's garage is hot and humid, especially in the deep, sweltering summer of Texas in August. Stacked neatly on pallets salvaged from the neighbor's curbside trash is a collection of cardboard boxes and plastic tubs that contain most of my worldly possessions. I've made an effort to label them all in blue Sharpie. Some of the S's are backward because I was writing upside down. I don't like having my things here. I'm afraid that, when I'm able to unpack them, they'll be moldy, melted, or mangled by the climate. It's mostly the books I'm fretting over. There are a lot of them, probably more than I technically "need," but it feels like I can never have enough.
I rarely sell my used volumes because most of them aren't the kind of stories that are experienced from cover to cover. They're books that tell me how to identify rare beetles or how to ask for the bathroom in Italian. I have learned how to repurpose t-shirts and decorate eggs with Ukranian designs. Clasped safely between their stiff covers are the secrets of Chinese calligraphy and forgotten miscellany that will, eventually, lead me to pub trivia fame and fortune. Someday.
Somehow, the carefully assembled cover of the Banker's Box that holds my knitting books has gotten flattened. The lip has been smashed flat and it can no longer cling to the sides of the base and hold itself in place. For now, its dysfunctional shape is convenient. It's a box I go in and out of often. I need to dip into my pattern stash to refresh my knowledge of cast-on stitches and cryptic abbreviations. There's a book in this box of knits and purls, one of cables and arans, one of projects suitable for constructing while socializing in bars, and another of saucy lingerie. A dusty pink one, its spine bound with matching pink canvas, has patterns for charity projects. Knit a beanie for an AIDS baby. Stitch a prayer shawl for a refugee. Purl a pair of mittens for a homeless person.
If I pull the pink book out of the broken box and run my finger from the textured spine and over the smoothness of the glossy cover, I can touch the white dove design centered there. A white dove, symbol of peace, suggests the mood the book's contents encourage; compassion and generosity. If I stand there and let the sweat bead on my skin and roll down my spine, I can even hear the coo of doves. Upstairs, sitting on the uncomfortably slippery couch near the window, I can hear them too. Downstairs at the polished wooden dinner table, I can hear them. From there, I can see them outside, pecking the ground underneath the bird feeders. Sometimes, they try to land on the little pegs that stick out from the feeder. But, finding that they're too big, they give up and settle to the ground or rise to a tree limb.
Mom doesn't like the doves. She calls them "pigeons," like it's somehow a dirty word. She doesn't like the squirrels either, because they dig up her plants. She's got a nasty term for them too - "tree rats." I like the rats and the squirrels and the doves. I'm happy that wildlife can still persist in the face of what we're doing to their habitats. It's nice, when I'm eating my cereal, to watch the animals go about their business in the backyard. Once, one of the doves, being chased by a hawk, slammed right into the kitchen window. For about a week afterward, a strange imprint of the bird could be seen on the window, like a ghost dove, frozen in its terrible last moments. Mom eventually washed it off the glass because it gave her the creeps.
Hawks aren't the only ones who hunt doves around here. Texas is the biggest dove hunting state in the country, taking a staggering 10 million of these birds out of the sky every year. The season for dove hunting is just about to begin. Starting September 1st, mourning doves, white-winged doves, and white-tipped doves are fair game. Then there are the "unprotected" birds like the Eurasian collared dove and the rock dove. There are three species of protected doves in the state. Ideally, the band-tailed pigeon, the Inca dove, and the common ground dove will survive. I wonder though, how many hunters shoot first and identify later.
There's a small billboard, on the side of a county road nearby, that advertises the sport. Above a photo of a dove's head and breast, fluffy with iridescent gray feathers, the simple words "dove hunts" are displayed in white text. When I first drove by it, I was surprised and disgusted, but ten miles down the road, the sign was forgotten. When I drove past it again, I remembered my disgust, but considered that maybe the doves are invasive or overpopulated. I'd been feeling generous. In all of my reading, I haven't come across either justification. All I've gathered from researching the pros and cons of dove hunting is that shooting is fun and there's not much meat on a dove.
That means the 300,000 Texas hunters who flock to fields where farmers grow bait crops do it just because they enjoy shooting the birds. It's been going on for over a century in this country. Mourning Doves - the ones that sound like they're crying for their lost loves - weren't, one article suggested, hunted extensively in the past because passenger pigeons were more conspicuous. Those birds are extinct now. As a species, human beings don't learn very fast. As a country, the economy has always been more important than lives - human or animal.
It's ironic to me that an animal so long considered a symbol of peace and altruism should die so violently and unnecessarily. Maybe it's all rather symbolic of the way our society operates. We value the aesthetically pleasing, the little cardinals and chickadees at our bird feeders. The larger, rounder, less colorful doves are shunned and shooed away and shot. Naive innocence is rewarded with physical assault, punctuated with the crack of a gunshot. If there are many, then there are many to spare, to consume and dispose of regardless of the consequences.
What's the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves? (Mental Floss)
Conditions Ripe for Prime Texas Dove Hunting (Front Porch News)
2019-2020 Dove Seasons & Regulations (Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Dove Management in Texas (Texas Cooperative Extension)
Texas Dove Hunter's Association
No Justification for Dove Hunting (Center for Wildlife Ethics)
Dove Hunting and Baiting (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement)
The Mourning Dove (All-Creatures.org)
The Enduring Symbolism of Doves (Biblical Archaeology Society)
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