Buzzards & A Well Don’t Mix


( Unintended Consequences )

Sometimes, things do not work out the way we planned. Or, more correctly, we do stuff without having any plan at all. And, certainly, with no thought as to the possible outcome or consequences. Stuff just happens, they say.

The truth, though, may be more complicated than that. Thus, we have the realm of “unforeseen circumstances”. Beyond the realm of probability and predictability. We encounter those situations that “just could not happen that way”. “There is no way that could happen”.

I was witness to just one of those situations down in Sandy Point many years ago.

In the rural south in those days kids were mostly out of the house doing stuff. Riding bikes, playing ball, fishing, roaming in the woods. Or, believe it or not, working on jobs around the farm or house. No TV, video games, iPads, etc.

So, lacking those pastimes, kids were left to find things to do when the work was done, on their own. Unsupervised!

My Uncle Ray is just 3 years older than me. So we did a lot of “stuff” together.

We went squirrel, rabbit, quail, and snipe hunting, for example. We had access to the .22 cal. rifle and the 12 Ga. single barrel shotgun. It was respectfully referred to as “Smoke Pole” due to the 34” barrel. I do not remember the brand of gun. But for knocking a squirrel out of a 100 foot tall tree it could not be beat!

So, one hot summer afternoon, we were sitting on the back steps. As was often the case, there was one of the South’s notable creatures, a buzzard, riding the thermal currents with almost no effort as they are prone to do while looking for an easy meal, usually provided by a car running over a rabbit or a carcass being thrown out in the woods.

To set the stage, my grandmother’s house was where she had lived most of her life. An old southern farm of 300 acres with a house, a barn, a smoke house, a “car shelter”, a storage barn, a cow pen, a hog pen, a chicken house, and a well. And, like most wells of the time, it was an open well about 4 foot square with a pump installed but still with a chain and pulley for “drawing” water.

That water was always cool and refreshing when drawn up in the metal bucket. All the water we had came from that well.

Buzzards……well now that’s another story. Ugly, smelly, and always seen dining on a decaying carcass. If anything was more repugnant than a buzzard, I don’t know what it would be. And, we were told to never get close to a buzzard as they would puke on you! Ugh!!! So you can see why no one wanted to have anything to do with a buzzard!

According To Wikipedia:

The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion. It finds its food using its keen eyes and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gases produced by the beginnings of the process of decay in dead animals. In flight, it uses thermals to move through the air, flapping its wings infrequently. It roosts in large community groups. Lacking a syrinx—the vocal organ of birds—its only vocalizations are grunts or low hisses.] It nests in caves, hollow trees, or thickets. Each year it generally raises two chicks, which it feeds by regurgitation. It has very few natural predators. In the United States, the vulture receives legal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Well, the trouble began when Ray made a “bet” with me that he could hit that buzzard with the “Smoke Pole”. Of course, I bet he could not hit a buzzard or anything else that looked to me to be at least a mile high. Appearances can be deceiving so I don’t really know how high this buzzard was but it looked to be about a mile. I was pretty sure my “bet” was safe. Even the “Smoke Pole” couldn’t reach it. We, also, were not aware of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918!

So Ray (I want to be sure that everyone knows Ray was to blame for the situation that developed, especially as related to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act Of 1918) went in to the house and got the shotgun from the corner and a “high brass” shell. He popped the gun open, inserted the shell and pointed the “Smoke Pole” skyward. Then things kind of went into slow motion.

My Grandmother was doing something out at the clothes line. I believe she was using the solar dryer on some clothes. I was standing beside and slightly behind Ray. The gun made a loud boom.

Nothing seemed to happen for what seemed a long time although it was probably only a few seconds. Then, the buzzard’s wings folded up and the buzzard started a downward spiral, again in slow motion. The Smoke Pole had lived up to its reputation! It had hit the buzzard “a mile up”. Incredible!

Now you will recall that the farm was about 300 acres. That’s about 13,068,000 square feet. So, you would think that we were pretty assured that the buzzard would land harmlessly and go relatively unnoticed. Ray and I watched as the buzzard fell. So did my Grandmother.

You will recall the well was about 4’ X 4’ and open with a wooden frame built around it. An opening of 16 square feet or so situated among 13,068,000 square feet of land. By now the picture may be emerging. The disgusting buzzard fell dead center in the 16 square foot well!

I never saw my Grandmother really mad but twice. Once when we took the dog, Prince, cotton mouth hunting and he was bitten a number of times and his head swelled up (we would have said “swole up”) the size of a basketball, (That’s another story, though) and at the other was the moment the buzzard went in the well. At about 98 pounds, Mike Tyson would have had his hands full with her! That saying, “Stuff Happens” was certainly true. The odds of winning the lottery 5 times were better than the chance of even first hitting the buzzard and most certainly having the dead buzzard fall in the well! Vegas would have loved the odds.

No water could be used from the well. We were in trouble.

We got the well bucket and retrieved the dead buzzard from the cool water in the well. But my Grandmother was HOT! This was not over yet.

My Grandfather was at work when all this happened. He had taken a job to supplement his farm income and worked from 3:00 until 11:00 at night and got home a little before 12:00 midnight. We were asleep when he came in.

At daybreak, my Grandfather, whom I never heard a cross word from, awaken me and Ray. Why he did not just wake up Ray, I don’t know. As I pointed out, this was all Ray’s fault. But waiting for us were some jugs of bleach, some clean rags and brushes and a couple of buckets. It seems we were going to be given the task of disinfecting the entire interior of the well. This included pumping and drawing out the water. And, to do this, we had to climb down the well curbing inside the well. (And, we had to come out the same way!). We were to do this under the close supervision of my Grandmother who commanded the operation by looking over the top of the well. I believe some child welfare laws were probably violated during this procedure but, after all, we were already in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918! The possible fines and prison terms were mounting by the minute.

After some scrubbing, pumping, drawing of water, and using a lot of bleach, the well was deemed sanitary and the water usable although my Grandmother would boil the water for the next several days that she used in food.

We learned several things from this experience. Included in the knowledge was the need to place a screen wire top over the well to keep the next buzzard from falling in. We learned to never shoot a buzzard flying anywhere around an open well. I learned to never bet against the “Smoke Pole” again. Sometimes the unexplainable “stuff” happens. And, most of all, never make my Grandmother mad or you could end up in the bottom of a well.!!

© 2015

Sandy Point Times

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