89. The Boneyard, 1961: Knives, Guns and Porcupines
While my father’s work for The Fisherman fatefully shaped my own relation to writing, I was meanwhile—knowing nothing of my future life, and only 11 years old, after all—much more interested in my pocket knife. It had a black shell handle and a single blade that folded in, with the blade perhaps 2 ½ inches long. It was my first pocket knife, a genuine tool, a real thing which could do real things. All boys, young and old, like real things which do real things even if they don’t have real things to do with them.
The pocket knife was passed on to me with a sense of ceremony, I recall. I remember walking along the railroad tracks aware of it in my pocket. My pocket knife. Its meaning and importance did not dull when the blade dulled. I remember the ritual of spit and carborundum, upon which my father instructed me, which made the edge sharp again.
Squires got a toy that summer too, with his share of the fishing money, I suppose sometime after the summer profits began arriving: a 30-aught-6, a rifle. I remember a lot of talk about the wonders of a 30-aught-6, which was a serious rifle like a 30-30, much more serious than a twenty-two, for instance.
Of course, I never saw that rifle see actual serious use. That narrow boundary of land—much of it artificially built up or reinforced—between the edges of the mountains and the Skeena estuary, that strip of land where the railroad tracks run, and where we mostly stood when we were not on water, is not really prime hunting grounds. Mostly Squires’ rifle was aimed at things in the water.
I suppose as with the relation of sheep herders to wolves, which go after sheep, fisher folk don’t like seals and otters, because those creatures go after the salmon. In the Boneyard, that animosity was mostly irrational. I saw salmon damaged by seals, the injury pointed out to me. We couldn’t sell them but we could still eat them. They tasted the same. Salmon was our mainstay meal that summer anyway, as often as we could stand it, since it kept expenses low. There were never more damaged salmon than we could use, and in fact most of the salmon that made it to the frying pan had suffered no injury at all, until meeting our net.
Nevertheless, the seals and the occasional families of otters were the enemy, and were targets thereafter, when Squires had his rifle.
One time, shortly after he brought it back to the Boneyard, I was permitted to fire it. I suppose he instructed me in how to use the sight, how to pull the trigger, where to place my left hand, how you always had to keep the rifle firmly against your shoulder—a ritual I have seen so often from Hollywood that Hollywood memories have since entangled with my own. What I remember clearly is how loud a rifle is when it goes off an inch from your ear. What a surprising kick it has against your shoulder. I can recall the splash where the bullet hit the water, several feet from my target, which was, of course, a seal. The rounded cone of a seal’s head sticking out of the water spied as we walked along the railroad tracks between Haysport and the Boneyard had no doubt inspired my initiation into firearms. The seal ducked with the rifle report and bullet splash, and did not reappear.
Good for him. Or her.
I did not then or later join the cult of the gun.
I don’t suppose Squires’ rifle ever succeeded in wounding or killing an otter or seal that summer, but he did kill a porcupine.
We were all of us walking north along the tracks on some errand or other, and we heard the porcupine rustling in the bushes to the left side of the tracks. When it came into sight, Squires lifted his rifle and shot it. It was dead instantly, its head blown completely off.
We walked further along the track, and I remember the conversation about how you could eat porcupine, and how somebody or other knew a recipe for cooking it, and how the technique was to burn the quills off with fire. But we didn’t eat it. We were done now with the porcupine. We simply left it dead beside the railway tracks and continued where we were going.