Thursday, February 07, 2008

Frankly, Scarlett, I Just Don't Care Very Much

Murphy’s Chessie “Rommel” farted again, drawing tears that blurred a sky full of chill rain but no ducks. My prospects for roasting a fat mallard any time soon had been flimsy to begin with. On recent Niagara River hunts, Rommel had retrieved ducks successfully; not whole ducks, though, just duck parts. Too bad Rommel doesn’t eat beaks or guts first. Neither do I.

Half an hour after the rain turned white, so did my toes, nose, and fingers. Noticing me shivering glumly, Murphy asked if I wanted to pick up and have a hot breakfast. The hairs on Rommel’s nape bristled when Murphy reached toward the decoy sack.

I chattered through lying teeth that I didn’t care. Maybe I didn’t, but getting the hell out of there had definitely crossed my mind. It was after we collected the dekes and began schlepping our gear back to Murphy’s pickup that it hit me. The phrase “I don’t care” is often about as genuine as one of Murphy’s rubber ducks.

Like a puppy’s growling during a game of tug of war, “I don’t care” can be a soft-pedaled misdirection from the actual “I’d be delighted.” When a young Nimrod's eyes first start to shine on grandpa's well worn scatterguns hanging on the wall, the twinkle is contagious. When the boy finally asks, his grandfather might tell him to take down any gun he wants and to go enjoy himself; grandpa doesn’t care. But the old man’s faint smile tells a different story.

Most commonly, though, “I don’t care” is intended as a literal declaration. For example, Angler B might tell Angler A he honestly doesn’t care which pond they try first on a pleasant summer morning. In this particular case, Angler B should refrain from expressing a geographical preference, such as for casting from the pond’s rocky-bottomed western shore, lest his initial declaration become littoral.

“I don’t care” has a salty side, too, and is versatile enough to use when the gloves come off. A hunter will occasionally float a harebrained scheme – like hunting turkeys with beagles, or making coot jerky – past a buddy, looking for some encouragement. Saying that he doesn’t care what his pal does slams the door on that conversation. If needed, emphasis can be added with a well nuanced eye-roll.

Chillier still is this response for a guy met now and then in camp. He habitually carries his gun with the safety off so he’s ready for a quick “sound shot.” His companions bob and weave every time his gun barrels trace through their torsos in merry arcs. When the host asks whether it’s OK for this jerk to hunt at camp next weekend, the nays are phrased to spare the host’s feelings, but just barely. Even in the funny papers, the thrust of “I don’t &%#@$ care” is crystal clear.

While the example above crashes on the ear, the most ominous expression of not caring is delivered less with a bang than a whisper. Imagine a sportsman receiving an email from his buddy who’s discovered a pond stiff with foot-long brook trout just north of Saranac Lake. Better still, the region was logged about 6 years ago, leaving the cedar and birch clumps that remain a bonasa bonanza. His buddy wants him to drive up late in September so they can enjoy an early season Adirondack cast ‘n blast. The sportsman is excited, and hurries to share the good news with his wife. He thinks better of it when he sees her enjoying herself on the riding mower out back, and so, not wanting to interrupt her fun, he decides to wait for a more opportune moment.

An hour later, still in her sweaty work clothes, sipping a lemonade, she smiles happily at him after hanging up the phone. Now is the time, he senses, to announce his plans, and he does so with breathless enthusiasm. What he’s forgotten is his promise, made after his salmon fishing expedition last September, not to miss their wedding anniversary again this year. What he doesn’t know is that her phone call confirmed reservations for a romantic anniversary dinner on the very night his buddy expects him at camp. He watches as his wife gently sets down her lemonade, walks toward the bathroom to shower, and sweetly tells him to do whatever he thinks is right. She says she doesn’t care, then quietly clicks the door behind her.

This fellow has just heard Bad News, just like the deer that’s heard the snick of a 12 gauge slug being chambered in a pumpgun nearby. For both, any hope of a long and happy life depends on their responses to these dangerous environmental sounds. Even if they both scoot at just the right moment, only the deer can hope for a bloodless getaway. Heck, it’ll even be safe enough one day for the deer to come back.

If Murphy ever invites me back to hunt with Rommel, I’ll probably say something like “Sure…OK... I don’t care... Or maybe we could hunt with my dog this time.” And if Murphy says he doesn’t care, either, maybe I’ll be enjoying that roasted mallard after all.