Longtime family friends have a wedding on the horizon. Picture a large grassy knoll overlooking snow-capped mountains and sweeping views of the water. An intimate wedding at their island home, for fifty people.
Would I do the food?
I'm honored...and quickly agreed.
Over a series of e-mails, we hammered out the menu and now, a month before the wedding, I headed up to the island to see the space. Second refrigerator? Check. Coolers for ice? Check. Platters, bowls, the tent has been ordered...how 'bout flowers in these mint julep cups? (Goodwill fetish strikes again!)
Other than the usual home improvements gearing up for an event this size, there was just one obstacle: rabbits.
The resident coyote population hasn't been heard from in years, and without a dominant predator, rabbits were taking over the island! Father of the bride was experiencing a frustration on par with Caddyshack. Efforts to keep the budding rabbit population in check failed. Their landscaping was nibbled to shreds.
We watched as a family of rabbits came and went. The dog sat, unmoved. Father of the bride lowered his voice and confessed, "I shot two rabbits earlier today."
"Right off the patio." He pointed 30 feet out. "Spotted them with my morning coffee and grabbed my gun..."
In less than an hour, I watched no less than a dozen rabbits graze on the yard. It's debatable whether his efforts would have any impact but I had to know, "Did you eat them?"
"No, they're full of worms." He thought for a moment and said, "I suppose that's why the eagles don't eat them either. They hunt fish, mostly."
Over the past several months, I've been trying to reconcile my animal lover vs. omnivore eating habits. Emboldened with a pioneering food movement spirit, I ask myself, "How can I eat meat, if I'm not willing to kill it?"
As a kid, my father hunted deer, pheasant, and quail. He'd arrive with his haul and line up the kids in front of the plunder for a photo. I have vivid memories of him polishing his riffle at the kitchen table, and even then my aversion was clear. You'd find me...inching into the other room.
For years, our freezer brimmed with fish and venison. Avoiding any "Bambi" protests at dinner, Mom supplied us with her customary white lie, "It's beef."
So here I am. Rabbits all around us and a willing hunter by my side. As if on cue, I spot two rabbits several yards away. Father of the bride says, "I can't shoot them."
"The gun I'd need is too loud. The neighbors would be upset."
Ah, the neighbors! The lots were large, but yes, neighbors were clearly visible.
Minutes later, another rabbit approached the deck. With little encouragement, father of the bride dashed off to get his gun. I had handgun in mind, but what he produced was a long 22 riffle with a scope mounted to the top. A modern-era Daniel Boone, he gently opened the sliding screen door, splayed himself on the dining room floor and measured his shot.
Mother of the bride turned her back, but I forced myself to look on. Other than fish, this was the first creature I've ever seen killed.
A quick "pop" resonated through the air. It was a clean hit to the heart, right above the forelegs. But the rabbit didn't die. It scooted across the lawn in an erratic fashion, as if to scrape off the offender, and slid under the hedge.
I felt sick.
I thought it would die immediately, but nooooo! Cautiously, I approached the hedge. I laid on my stomach, trying to spot the rabbit hiding in the lurch, while father of the bride ran on the other side. By the time he caught up to it, the rabbit had mercifully died. He held it by the back two legs and I took a look. Oddly, it was the same size as my cat.
He laid the rabbit in the grass and riggor quickly set in. No longer like flesh, it was stiff...and fluffy. I took a couple photos and then the discussion began. What to do with the bodies? The current rabbit count was three. Dumpster at work? Burry them? What's the protocol?
The rabbits were bagged in a garbage bin. A decision about what to do with them...would wait for another day.
In the meantime, I wanted to know. What's it like to hold a gun? Without the magazine of bullets, father of the bride showed me how to raise the gun, and nestle the butt end just above my arm pit. Through the office window, I lined up the cross sight (+) on the taillight of his truck in the driveway.
I quickly learned, a steady shot with a gun is a lot like shooting photos with a long lens. The slightest movement makes a difference. He coached me on breathing. "Take two steady, deep breaths. Then another half-breath and hold it. Now take your aim."
Like a tripod mount, he explained the need to stabilize your shot. The gun was heavier than I expected and keeping it steady was difficult. What would I do in a life or death situation? "You could use a tree limb, or rock...anything will work."
And then he explained, "Most people think you squeeze the trigger, but you don't. The trick," he demonstrated with his palm facing me, "Is to squeeze your whole hand." (It sounded vaguely like Scott Bourne's photography tip: don't press the camera's shutter button, roll your finger across it.)
Lesson over, I crawled into bed with much on my mind. It's a shame the rabbits weren't worth eating and I found myself wondering, "What happened to the local coyote population?" Like anything without it's natural predator, the population was clearly exploding. I wrestled with uneasy sleep. Against all my previous convictions, today I had held a gun today AND witnessed the death of an animal. I came to plan a wedding!