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Arts and Culture

The Telling Room: 'In the Blind'

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Courtesy the Telling Room
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Every Friday this summer, we're featuring the work of young writers, in partnership with the Telling Room In Portland. This week's entry is a piece called "In the Blind" by Noah Williams.

In the Blind.

He seemed happiest afield, and never before had he seemed so immersed in reality. At

home, he could stare off into space for hours while children climbed all over him, and my

mother tried to talk to him about some schedule. His belief that nothing was as it seemed

drove him into such deep, swirling, and mysterious places within his own head that

perhaps it was truly impossible for him to remain present at all times. But in a duck blind,

wearing an enormous olive green overcoat and with a shotgun in his the crook of his arm,

he was all there. His eyes never left the birds as they circled overhead.

He’d planned the decoy spread thoughtfully, placing the foam replicas in a

pattern that made our stretch of shore seem more appealing to ducks overhead. My

brother Gene and I would stay in the blind with whichever dog had accompanied us on

this trip, watching him carefully place each decoy in a half circle, leaving an open area for

the ducks were to land directly in front of us. We sat there, in frozen silence for what

seemed like days, punctuated only by the faint whistle of various species of waterfowl

passing overhead.

He could name then all, mallards, teal, widgeon, black duck, and the odd pintail,

but sadly his powers of identification were woefully unnecessary in the marshes of

southern Maine. He lifted the call to his lips, and gave a loud hail call, signaling to the

group above that we ducks below wanted their company. They circled again, lower this

time, and as they wheeled over us the third time we could pick out the green heads of

individual male mallards in amongst the drab brown hens. The dog whined, and flicked

her head from the ducks to my father, who, with one hand motion, silenced the animal

and then motioned for one of us to hold her still.

A fourth time, the wary group circled us above, and my father gave them

encouraging chuckles. Suddenly, they started to bank, and the whole flock of them started

to slide through the air into the “pot” my father had created for them to land in amongst

the decoys. As the black shadows of the birds turned into the rising sunlight, their green

heads glistening in the frosty dawn, my father breathed, “Take ‘em.”

Gene and I sprang from the hard wooden seat of the blind, the barrels of our guns

pushing away the sparse web of branches that concealed us. The birds stalled in midflight,

their wild brown eyes glittering in surprise. I distinctly remember looking over the barrel

of my Remington 870, which my great grandfather had given to my father, and watching

the drake mallard flare upward, his gray belly pale against the orange horizon. I

remember, too, the bang, and shock of the gun going off, the duck folding in mid air,

almost like a paper balloon when the winds turn it inside out, and the limp body

plummeting into the dark water below.

Gene had shot twice, I had shot once, and each of us had killed a bird. The dog

plunged into the icy water, grateful for this opportunity to do something. My father was

laughing, as he reached over and clapped us heavily on the backs. When the dog brought

the first duck back, my father took it from her mouth, and sent her out again, and handed

the bird across Gene to me. “That one’s yours,” he said quietly, his face beaming, his

mouth in the thin, closed lip smile that was so characteristic of him whenever he shared

what he believed was an important moment.

I held the little body in my hand, amazed at the extreme beauty of the pencil gray

underbelly and patches of iridescent blue on the wings. They had seemed bigger flying in

over the decoys. Two thin trickles of blood flowed out of the duck’s breast, and dropped

onto the floor of the blind. I turned it over in my hand and admired the yellow bill, and

dark green head. I gently stroked the duck’s delicate cheek, ruffling the feathers, and as

carefully as if the bird had been sleeping, I pulled down on the fuzzy gray eyelid and

exposed the dark brown eye that moments before had been burning with the intensity of

life.

“He’s a beautiful bird, Ernest,” my father said quietly.

I just smiled and nodded my head, still in awe of the bird in my hands.

My father knew that not everyone loved to kill things as much as he did. And he

also knew that if you were to take children hunting, you must let them have their own

moments, completely separate from the group, from the hunt, from everything, and

absorb the experience they’ve just had. I never took killing lightly like Gene did, and I

never embraced it with the enthusiasm of my father.

My father had tried so hard to instill in me the fact that all life had meaning, and

death did, too; so that hunting and killing were not the same. These ideas made me stop

and pay solace to this incredible animal. My father had been taught as a child that killing

was wrong, yet as he grew older he said, it seemed as if that became less true, and for

some period in his life there was no worth at all to a living being.

But where do you draw the line? Does a woodchuck’s life have less meaning than

a human’s? How do you assign meaning to something so abstract? What is worth

something, and how much, and what has value?

A photograph captured the day. All three of us are sitting on the tailgate of the

truck. My father is in the middle wearing an enormous smile on his unshaven face. He

has a hand on each of our shoulders; I am on his right, and Gene is on his left. Gene and

I are holding our guns crooked in our arms across our chests so that the muzzles are

pointing skyward. Gene is holding his duck by the neck and grinning with predatory

pride, something my father would later come to regret. I am holding my duck in two

hands, supporting its head. Its wings hang down below its body, covering my other hand.

Although I am smiling, it is not a smile of pride or excitement like Gene’s or my father’s, but a quieter one.

Noah Williams is one of 26 student writers whose work has been published in the annual anthology of the Telling Room in Portland - a non-profit writing center dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural story tellers. The audio version of his piece, "in the Blind," was edited for time.