Ghostwood Farm


I kill with my heart.
May 24, 2016, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I do not aim with my hand; He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.

I do not shoot with my hand; He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind.

I do not kill with my gun; He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart.”

(Stephen King, The Gunslinger’s Creed from The Dark Tower series)

I am late to the party  when it comes to The Dark Tower. I have been reading King since the mid-1980s (my first book was ‘Salem’s Lot at the age of 12). I tried The Gunslinger not long after it was released, but the style was so different from King’s other material that it put me off. I came back to it about six months ago. I am now on Book Five.

The Creed speaks to me on a couple of different levels, and I have been formulating how to express that over the past several weeks. However, something has happened in the past few days that has brought it into sharper relief.

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The most interesting aspect of The Creed is the inherent dichotomy: The first two tenets are mechanical. When learning to shoot, particularly a handgun, hand/eye coordination is incredibly important.

Tenet One: The hand must point where the eye tells it to. The hand must follow orders from the eye. Mastery of the firearm is not gained until the eye can pass orders to the hand without intervention from conscious movement. Learning to do that is (incredibly) difficult. I am not sure that I have, and I am certain that most casual shooters have not.

It’s worth noting that this is vastly easier with a revolver than with a pistol due to the shape of the grip. The pistol, with its nearly vertical grip, does not allow the gun to point as naturally as the curved grip of the revolver. A revolver lends itself to being pointed like a finger, aimed with the eye.

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Until very recently, I had 29 hens. I hadn’t lost any to predators in quite a while, primarily because the birds stay locked up most of the day since The Great Dog Attack of 2015, when I lost 40+ birds in one day to a neighbor’s dog. I let them out for a few hours when I get home from work, and they are usually out all day when I am home on weekends. Last week, though, a quick head count revealed 27 hens.

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Tenet Two: The hand has done what the eye has told it to, where exactly to point. The next step is for the mind to tell the hand to fire. There are good reasons for this to be a not-quite-conscious action. Many people will anticipate the recoil and jerk the gun upward at the instant the trigger is pulled, thereby shooting high. Others will anticipate the recoil in another way and push the hand down in a sort of bracing motion against the recoil, thereby shooting low. Personally, I tend to push my hand slightly to the right when I pull the trigger, a very common reaction among left-handed shooters. The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to squeeze the trigger without pulling. When I am teaching people to shoot, I like to tell them that “you should be a little surprised when it goes off.” Another way to put that is that your mind shoots, not your hand. King nailed it.

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IMGP8774Yesterday, as I planted tomato plants, the chickens freaked out in that very specific way that tells me something bad is happening. Sometimes it’s just a snake in the coop, but often that sound means someone back there is dying. I grabbed my shotgun (which I only had handy because I have some house sparrows in one of my bluebird houses that I’m trying to eradicate) and ran back there. The turkeys were on alert and the chickens were absolutely screaming. A brief walk revealed the scene pictured above: the recent demise of a Rhode Island Red hen, with nothing left behind but a trail of feathers.

So, I locked up the birds, set the live trap (baited with dog treats), and went back to planting.

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Tenet Three is the most interesting, both in terms of The Creed separate from the story as well as in the context of the books. It is the tenet that is not mechanical but emotional. It warns the gunslinger-to-be, and reminds the mature gunslinger, that to be a gunslinger who is a force for good, killing must not be easy. It must be easy to perform the action mechanically, certainly: A gunslinger must be practiced in the craft of death, to inflict it where needed quickly, to protect the lives of self and others. But it must not be easy on the spirit. A gunslinger must kill with his heart, and every kill must kill him a little, too.

This tenet speaks to me for obvious reasons, if you have read some of my stories here. Killing is hard for me and it should be. I hunt, I slaughter animals for food, but every kill leaves its mark on me. I would have it no other way.

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This morning, of course, in the trap, was a raccoon. A juvenile female. I have no way of knowing whether she killed my birds, but I know she would. As always, I was crushed to find something in the trap, knowing I had to kill it. We looked at each other for a long moment. I turned my back for a longer moment.

It was my decision to raise chickens that brought us to this point. The raccoon did what raccoons do. It was not her fault, per se. “I do not hate you, and I am sorry,” I said, out loud. But to do what I do, to raise birds for eggs and for my family to eat, to save other birds from the horrific lives of the commercial chicken house…well, shooting this raccoon was, in this moment, the culmination of those decisions. The greater good, in my mind.

I aimed and shot. The gun went off (I am always surprised by how loud a .22 pistol is). The raccoon looked at me, surprised but unharmed.

(i aimed and shot with my hand i have forgotten the face of my father)

With tears in my eyes, I did it right the second time.

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Maybe you’re the kind of person who would have opened the trap and let the animal out, who couldn’t pull the trigger, who couldn’t possibly kill that raccoon because your heart couldn’t bear it.The kind of person who recognizes that this animal doesn’t deserve to die because of a decision you made to keep chickens. The kind of person who thinks back over what it takes to make that animal, to give birth to it, raise it, for it to forage and survive, only to be reduced to component parts in an instant by a chicken farmer and a small piece of lead. You know what?

I envy you.

I still wish I could have let her go. I don’t wish I did, or I would have done so, in the moment. I wish I could have.

Or maybe you’re the kind of person who could shoot a raccoon without a second thought. It’s just a raccoon, and there are a blue million raccoons out there, seven more waiting in line just out of sight to take this one’s place. That’s completely true, and that animal ate at least one of your birds and would do it again. It’s not a big deal to kill a common animal to protect animals for which you are responsible.

Part of me wishes I could think like that. It would make my life easier. But in the end, I don’t envy you if you think like that.

I pity you.

You do not kill with your heart, and you have forgotten the face of your father.

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