Breadcrumbs

(This is part of the Growing Up In Utah's Dixie series, by LaVarr B. Webb)

 

Throughout my younger years, I was an avid hunter. I

cringe now, physically and emotionally, as I think of the

ignorant and wanton destruction of life that I participated

in.

 

Now I wish someone would have taken me, as a boy,

out into the natural world as an observer rather than a

hunter - would have taken me out to teach me about ecology

and the balance of nature - would have taken me out

to teach me about beauty, uniqueness, and reverence for

life.

 

When I was a boy, no one seemed to understand the

relationship between lizards and crawling insects, between

bats, swallows, and kingbirds and flying insects, and be-

tween linnets, song sparrows, juncos, and white crowned

sparrows and weed seeds. To me, reptiles, birds, and small

mammals were there, available for me to shoot, trap, and

kill.

 

The first gun I ever owned was a Daisy lever action,

repeating BB rifle. A friend and I, in Virgin, would sit in the

neighbor's grape arbor and shoot sparrows. To us, all spar-

rows were alike, other than the coloration of their heads.

There were brown headed sparrows, white headed

sparrows, black headed sparrows, and red headed spar-

rows. My friend and I placed values on the birds.

The brown sparrows, which I now realize were English

sparrows, and the females, that we could not recognize, of

a host of other birds, therefore, making them the most

numerous, were worth one point. Those with white heads,

which I now know as white crowned sparrows, the white

throated, and even black throated sparrows were worth

two points.

 

Red headed sparrows that I now know as linnets or

house finches were worth three points. Once in a while we

would even bag a black headed sparrow, those that I now

know as juncos, and they were worth four points. We considered

ourselves very lucky when we killed the larger birds

that we knew, the robin or the meadow lark, because they

were worth five points.

 

So, we would sit in the grape arbor, taking turns, alternating,

one shot each, the birds piling up in front of us,

the points to be tallied up at the end of the hunt.

Now, I hang my head in shame because I not only can

put names to all of those birds, but I know them, love them,

and appreciate them not only for the insects and weed

seeds that they consume, but also for their voices, their

songs, and their friendly chirps.

 

That white headed, two-point sparrow, is the one that

I now know congregates on winter evenings in scrub patches

such as wild rose and Himalaya bushes and sings a good

night song--a chorus, a choir of indescribable beauty and

good night cheer.

 

The red headed three point sparrow that I now know

as the house finch or linnet is he that I listen for every

spring. In large cities such as Salt Lake, he sits on power

and telephone lines, window ledges, gable peaks, power

poles, and TV antennas, his red head and red breast stained

by smog and soot, and sings as if he were perched in the

sun on a favorite limb of a flowering cherry tree.

 

In the rural areas, he is found around the houses, barns,

and orchards. He likes fruit orchards, especially, because

he loves those first bites of pungent, cherries, apricots,

and peaches.

 

The linnet is the red headed, brown bodied bird that

expresses his love for life by singing while he flies, undulating

in lazy flight from pole to tree, from tree to shrub, and

all the while, singing his "Spring is here song."

 

The black headed four point sparrow, that I now know

as the junco, does not have a cheerful song, but he is the

best harbinger of winter and spring. He announces winter

by his presence. He comes down out of the mountains,

gathering in flocks, flitting here and there in his earnest

search for food.

 

He loves dooryards, where children have played, leaving

scraps of food on the ground. He is one of the first

birds to come to feeding stations, and his black head and

the two white shafts in his tail feathers, that become obvious

when he flies, make him easy to recognize.

 

The junco announces spring very silently. One night

in the spring he just disappears, heading back to spend the

summer months in his beloved mountains.

 

Now, again, I hang my head in shame and sorrow as I

realize how many voices I stilled, how many songs I cut

short, how many vital lives I destroyed with my Daisy, lever

action, repeating BB gun.