A Child’s World of Animals

Nested Owls on the Ranch

Victor Davis Hanson // Private Papers

 Part One

One of the problems of the modern world is our helicopter society of well-meant, but over-parentage.  Or is it the belief that the more we shield and protect our children, the safer they become, as if a houseplant carefully tended can survive when thrust outside among weeds and thistles. Do orphaned doves who fall from the nest survive better (if at all) when we take them inside and nurse them for 3 months?

I was blessed to have grown up free-ranged on a farm in the quiet time of 1950s and early 1960s, and I think probably grew stronger even for the occasional scary brush up. 

I remember that lost world as a cosmos of animals, everywhere as we ranged at five and six: Blue-belly lizards at our feet. Millions of tadpoles, pollywogs and frogs when the pond rose and flooded the canals. Hordes of June bugs we feared were poisonous during the Late Great June Bug Scare, and such. A white heron on the water, raccoons like hobbits staring out from the cottonwoods, even a slimy salamander on the pond’s edge.

My mother said when we were freed on Saturday mornings to explore the farm, “Ok, walk the alleyways to your grandmother’s. No bare feet. And don’t go near the paved road.” And she teased, “Wave to those weasels by the lower orchards. Don’t kill a snake.” (Rattlers were long ago exterminated in the 1880s and forced back into the Sierra foothills, by farmers who did the same with jack rabbits.)

We were well acquainted with pellet and BB-guns by six, and 22s by eight.  I was a loud mouth at seven who drill-billed my poor father nonstop, “But dad, is the .22 Hornet better than the .22 Long Rifle, and which beats the .220 Swift? And what are centerfire bullets?” He smiled and said “Whoa, son, slow way down, and learn. Don’t talk when you can listen.”

Dad barked shooting rules and commands: “Don’t shoot anywhere but down or up.” (e.g., if the cotton tail rabbit is on a crest of a hill, let it be.) “And don’t even think of shooting that red-tail or mocking bird. Why would you ever shoot a finch or robin?” That left innocent blackbirds and harmless scrub jays.

Sometime he wrote his edicts in jest and, then again, not so much in jest, and posted them on the kitchen door:

“To the boys of the Tinian North Field 313 Bombing Wing, Orders from Staff Sgt William F Hanson, CFC gunner: 

  • Pvt. Victor: scrub bathroom floor, then windows, then clean toilet and sink.
  • Pvt Alfred: sweep patio, squirt it down, prune bushes; 
  • CPL Nels: monitor your command and vacuum the rugs.
  • All report to me in main mess for postop briefing.”
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