Monday, January 22, 2007

Venison (6)

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In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some "zeds". Or "zees" depending on what part of the world you hail from.

Domesticated animals, even those that are let to run feral are one thing. But two exotics are part of my memories of David as well. Deer. And Pigs. We were always scanning the hills for deer but they were far too cunning for noisy kids. But on one occasion I went out with David and my father after a hind that had come down close to the house but had moved on before David could grab his rifle. A quick call to Dad and we were off up the valley to David’s place. I was twelve or thirteen and was soon left behind as we climbed up into the high country. They had spotted the hind as she propped on a high point and watched us approach. Their hearing and eyesight are acute so there was no possibility we could approach her from the front. So we dropped over a ridge into a parallel valley and hiked up there as fast as we could. Soon I was on my own as David led the hunt back over the ridge and the last I saw of them on the climb were two bobbing heads vanishing through the snow grass. I assumed they were still climbing but had a wary sense they might have stopped to sight her up, and the last thing I wanted to do was walk into their field of fire. So I walked on and on until I was so far up the mountain I was sure I was safe. Carefully broaching the ridge I looked down but couldn’t see the two of them. Let alone the deer. Just as I was thinking I needed to get back into the neighbouring gully least I get a hole in the head, far below me three cracking booms split the air. In that open air position the rounds seared the sky for ever and I could hear them rip the air apart as they scorched down the mountain. Followed by faint stains of white smoke which flowered from the tussock below. The hind was still watching her front and never saw the rounds coming from behind, one breaking her back but not stopping her launching into the air and propelling herself downhill for a few hundred yards. David had loosed the first round but it had been deflected by the top wire of a three strand fence which he had not seen. Two wires makes for a low step obstacle for cattle so he no choice but to repair it. It was along walk up there and he spoke for years afterwards about the need to go back and rewire that fence the next day. We ate venison rolled with seasoning for a while after that. David wanted to know why I was perched so far above them and was puzzled at my safety reasoned response. I thought his effort with the wire more than justified my care.

As a minor aside the occasional deer would turn up in winter time seeking forage around the house David shared with his brothers. If that careless they were shot from the kitchen window. A booming domestic .303 would have been quite something. I never did see that. But I did witness something similar years later when David was married and the house renovated. On a November 5th evening as the fireworks were being fired off by the youth group in his backyard a number of extra large explosions got our attention. Those quick enough saw the shadow of his .303 being withdrawn from the louvers of the toilet window. He really was a bad example. Inspired by that, and freshly arrived at a new congregation in 1983 and invited to a fireworks night I took my own .303, pulled some rounds and fired ten cartridges inside a small aluminium garden shed. The effect was thunderous, I suspect my hearing was impaired for a while, I would have been a classic gunpowder residue CSI case, but a few of the matrons were appalled. I don’t think I have seen them since.

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