Mike Wilson column: The hard way

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 22, 2021

By Mike Wilson

Sometimes I wonder why I have to learn everything “the hard way.” Like not trying to saw pine knots with a bow saw: a neat one-inch diagonal scar across my left forefinger from Boy Scout camp has reminded me of that one daily for half a century now. Or how about the time-honored “don’t go scouting campsites in March in New England state parks in a beater pickup with bald tires and a baby in the cab because shaded curves may still be icy and cellphones haven’t been imagined yet and the ranger locks the gate in fifteen minutes” principle? That one led to an urgent mile run I was no longer quite accustomed to nor fit for…

I suppose the most important lesson I have acquired in these threescore years would be the importance of freezing goose innards when the time is right.

I dusted off my field shells about 10 years ago so my buddies and I could try a goose hunt on a Thursday in early September. We had seen several flocks in the area, so we hit the field with high hopes. As the morning wore on and it got hotter and the guests of honor did not show, however, the crew gradually defected toward saner pursuits until only the DC and I were left on the field. Then his protégé, who had just wounded a doe with his bow, called him to come and help him track — and potentially drag — the deer. I was alone with the corn stubble at about 10 when The Flock That Couldn’t Be Discouraged came in. Over and over.

I will confess that I am not an accomplished wing shot and that I ran nearly a whole box of 3.5-inch BBBs through a pump to put five of them on the ground. (I paid for that with a jaw that felt like I had gone several rounds with Mike Tyson and a hard, sore lump on my shoulder that eventually evolved into a cyst!) Though the limit was 15, I felt quite pleased with myself; I loaded up the decoys and the geese and headed home. By then the temperature was getting close to 90.

I took them around to the shady side of the house — under the deck — and started plucking the sternums and breasting them out, working on my knees in the grass. (It was then that I realized that, if I did it on the tailgate instead, I would still be able to walk later…) I did not recall ever being plagued by bottleflies — the Jersey shore kind — while cleaning fowl before. I took the 10 breast filets in to soak in refrigerated brine and returned to load the remains into a big black heavy duty garbage bag, which I could barely lift! It was when I dropped the bag into the empty rolling container with a very heavy thud that I realized the garbage men had just come for their once-weekly visit. I had cinched up the ties extra tight, so maybe there wouldn’t be a problem…

On Sunday morning I took out a bag of garbage and gagged when I opened the lid.  This definitely smelled much worse than a dead cow my cousin and I found one time floating in the Buffalo River, and while I did not wish to inspect the contents at length, there was some evidence that the situation had gone larval. I began to worry that this could become a real problem since the forecast offered no hope for cooler temperatures and the ”package” seemed to have already reached near-critical mass.

On Tuesday, I donned a surgical mask dabbed with VapoRub to go hop in the truck — only a few feet away from Ground Zero — to go to school.  I noticed later that evening that neighbors had stopped taking their customary strolls around the loop in the center of our subdivision. I saw stray dogs downwind stiffen and flee. The shrubs on that side of the house began to yellow; I thought I saw paint beginning to blister on our van. Perplexed vultures occupied our roof ridge, scanned the vicinity in vain, and flew away hungry. Then an innocent house finch crossing our pestilential airspace gave up the ghost and plummeted onto the driveway. I knew then that things had turned truly desperate. I recently saw the daily job environment of sanitation workers described in a highly respected newspaper as a “miasma of stench.” I actually served in that capacity for a very long summer in Memphis during grad school, and I can tell you with great confidence that it is a veritable Parisian parfumerie compared to 40 pounds of sun-baked goose entrails in a closed space.

We are enjoined to place our containers at the end of our driveways the night before our scheduled pickup in case the crew starts early. Wednesday evening I manfully stuffed my nose with cotton and put on a scuba mask and pushed our receptacle down the driveway with a 10-foot pole — the real thing, borrowed from my pole saw. I was mighty glad to be away at school when those good-natured public servants stopped by the next morning. I caught the eye of one of them the following week; I would have sworn there was something malevolent there. Ever since that fateful week I have carefully frozen game and fish remains, to be discarded on Wednesday nights only hours before the weekly visit to avoid the specter of advanced putrefaction.

Oh, and if you are going to start freezing packages of duck,  goose, and catfish guts, better be sure to label them, especially if you have company coming over! Another sad story…

Mike Wilson is chairman of Modern Foreign Languages at Catawba College.

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