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BANG!!!!……You're not DEAD!
by Jeni DiSalvo


I married him in spite of his hobby. A classic Bambi-ist, I have trouble dealing with the idea of the big, gentle man I love roaming the woods killing trapped creatures. But, the contradiction works for Michael, and I love him. I threw prejudice aside and tried to find some aspect of his hobby that I could enjoy with him-perhaps hiking through the woods with the kids.

The first day of trapping season found the DiSalvos gathered in the front yard at dawn. The unusually warm fall day allowed us to wear tee shirts; but, the boys, eleven and eight, were too excited about wearing their new camouflage clothes. Their four-year-old sister stood pouting by the car until they finally gave in and allowed her the privilege of wearing a camo hat. Four months pregnant, I was lucky to find a pair of jeans that still fit-forget the camo! The boys had to ride in the truck with their new dad with my daughter and I following in the comfort of the family mini-van. Being a former girl scout, I had packed sandwiches, snacks, drinks and lotions (I'm also a Mary Kay consultant and won't leave home without it!). "Got enough food?" he asked as he rolled his eyes. "You've never dealt with three hungry kids when you're in the middle of a cornfield." "You expect to feed them a five course dinner in the middle of a trapping line?" "Not necessarily. But, I can always tell them that once they get back to the car they can get something to eat," I reasoned. "That usually holds them off for a few more minutes. But, they won't buy it if they didn't see me haul it all out to the car." Our first stop was a farm (later anointed "the 'possum farm") just a few miles south of our home. Our caravan rolled into the farmyard and the DiSalvos bailed out in full camouflage regalia. Michael began handing the boys buckets loaded with trapping materials (I refused to look too closely at the contents) and, of course, Teagan had to carry something if her brothers did. I carried the most important items of the trip-camera and camcorder. Properly loaded with trapping gear, we trudged off across the rolling hills of the central Iowa farm. Up and down the hills, through tall weeds, along the edges of harvested cornfields, and along trickling streams we walked carrying buckets, stakes and smelly concoctions that were designed to attract the poor critters Michael was targeting. Teagan chattered constantly, as most four-year-olds do. "Can I carry the buckets now?" "Daddy, why does the 'coon need bait?" "Can I have a fox coat like the one in the book? Can I wear it to church this week?" "Do 'possums eat squirrels? Cuz, I like squirrels and I don't want the 'possums to eat them." "What noise does a 'coon make?" "Does a rabbit run faster than a 'coon?" "Why do we catch 'possums?" After the first fifty questions, or so, Michael resorted to answering her with grunts and "Ask your Mamma." Through some sixth sense known only to trappers, Michael selected the ideal spots to place his sets. He told the boys that he selected these trap locations based on points of interest, commonly traveled paths (what exactly qualifies a path as "commonly traveled"? Or, for that matter, what qualifies it as a path?), and topographic features. On these ideal spots, he knelt and placed the device and carefully covered it with a precise mixture of dry dirt (he even used what looked like a flour sifter), grass and a twig or two from the surrounding area. Each step of the process was accompanied by a long discussion with the boys on the reason and exact method of setting the trap. I found myself wondering why the boys found it so fascinating to listen to a discussion of setting a trap for a raccoon, but could hardly stand still when I tried to give them directions for warming a can of spagetti-o's in the microwave. "Put this little pile of twigs on this edge to get their attention," Michael explained. Something a little different will make them want to investigate." "Why that side?" Jamison asked. A long explanation of the topographic features around the set and the curious nature of animals followed. The procedure was repeated until the buckets of traps were empty and the children were drooping. We had covered four farms and what seemed like hundreds of acres of pastures, cornfields and timber. There was no fighting about who got to ride with daddy in the truck--each child fell into a predestined seat and rode home in exhausted silence. Supper was quickly made and quickly eaten without discussion; and, for once, there was no argument about an early bedtime.

The group was more subdued the second day of trapping season. The only family member who had enough energy to dance her way out to the car was Teagan. The camo clothes were all dirty from the day before; so, the boys wore sweat pants. I packed only pop-tarts and a few drink boxes. Even Michael lifted the trapping supplies with tired arms. The dirt yard at the possum farm rolled dust as we shut off the engines. They boys waited for Michael to lift out the trapping buckets, and Teagan tried to carry the gun before her daddy caught her. I wadded up my cherry pop tart wrapper and tossed it in the back of Michael's truck before shaking off the residue of morning sickness and trudging after the parade of critter catchers. The first three traps were empty. The kids were disappointed, and I think I could see frustration creeping into Michael's shoulders. We rounded the hill along the rocky creek and Teagan gave a squeal. Jamison stopped dead in his tracks, but I couldn't tell if it was apprehension or just plain shock. The fourth trap held an enormous raccoon. I felt the rock in my stomach grow and get heavier as I watched the poor frightened creature struggle against the metal jaws of the trap. Pulling away from Michael's approach, it jerked on the chain that held the trap to a stake deep in the dry dirt. Then, he changed his tone. A deep growl erupted from his rounded belly as he lunged at Clayton, my oldest son, who had been brave enough to try for a closer look at the catch. I lost a couple ounces of pity for the 'coon as I screeched at Clayton. "Get away from that thing!" "It's not going anywhere," he argued. What is it about eleven-year-old boys that makes them offer argument for any comment a parent makes? "I don't care if he's blind, deaf and has four broken legs! You need to get away from it." Didn't he realize that I'm the mother and I'm always right--even when I'm wrong? He took one small step away from the frustrated package of growls and hisses. "I wouldn't let him get that close to me." Always the last word-kids! Michael loaded a bullet into the rifle and gestured the kids away from the raccoon. I felt sick. I reached down and turned Teagan around so she couldn't see the "dispatch." I turned around myself and put down the camera and camcorder so I could plug my ears. Gazing off to a hilltop to the south, I tried to forget what was happening behind my back. BANG! I jumped a little when the gunshot sounded. I jumped again when a small brown package immediately dropped at my feet and lay there twitching. What the heck? The squirrel twitched for several heartbeats. I gasped. Then, he jumped up and shot up the ravine to the top of the hill. As we watched, the poor creature seemed to take mental stock. Toes, legs, back, neck and head. All intact. No blood. No pain. No gunshots. What the heck? The DiSalvo family burst into laughter. I have never seen such embarrassment as we did when that squirrel looked down the hill at us laughing at him. Poor squirrel will probably count himself as one that got away.