Spoiler alert! - Read Chapter 8
When they heard the helicopter the pigs would startle and run for safety. Fortunately, the island was relatively barren, and according to Hugh, with his ranch experience in the Northern Territory, killing pigs was “easier than shootin’ roos in the Never Never.” But it wasn’t that easy, Simon felt, because the pigs were fast and unpredictable in their efforts to escape. Meanwhile, the Aussies dropped them one after another as they had done on previous days, and then it was Simon’s turn. If he thought target shooting cans drunk was difficult, it paled in comparison to hunting in a moving helicopter with pigs scattering from their wallows and feeding forays through the brush on variable terrain. While the Aussies dispatched their prey with single shots, Simon was forced to fire five rounds to kill his first pig. The first shot missed, the second hit and caused the pig to race around at twice the speed in an arch at the foot of a hill, the third missed, the fourth dropped him and then he got up again and continued to run, this time limping, until the fifth shot finished him for good. Hugh lowered the chopper and they got out to have a look. The wounds were as follows: in the ribs just behind the front leg, another in the left hind leg, and the last in the head.
“Not the prettiest job, is it,” Lionel said.
“No, I don’t reckon it is. Look at the blood trail,” Hugh commented, indicating the clearing stained red like an abstract canvas, and the blood pooling underneath the expired animal and running in rivulets through the cracked earth.
“That one in the ribs must’ve scrambled his guts to a bloody mess.”
“Filled his lungs with blood.”
“Punctured his stomach.”
“Ruptured his spleen.”
“Yeah, terrible way to go,” Keith said, taking his hat off as you would out of respect for suffering.
“Clean shot to the head or heart would’ve been more humane.”
“Yeah, I don’t like to see an animal suffer.”
At this point Simon was feeling terrible for what he had done. As he was about to open his mouth to apologize, Hugh asked him, “First kill, is it?”
Simon nodded, looking at the mess he had made of it. The men all broke out laughing.
“Well, now you’re no longer a virgin. Good on ya, Simon! Truth is you got him on your second shot. Right through the heart. You’re a natural. You see when he starts running frantic, it’s the death throes, muscle reflex and that. He’ll run around for a minute or more sometimes before he dies. So maybe it was good to have another go at him, this time in the head. Two kill shots out of five. Not bad, mate, not bad at all considering the movement and the distance.”
• • •
At one o’clock they stopped for a lunch consisting of what else but pork sandwiches with flesh that had been simmering in an enormous pot on the fire since breakfast, plus beer and bananas, so, as Hugh said, they wouldn’t get scurvy. In addition to the hunting, the men were curing and smoking a large amount of pork.
“You see, Simon, we’re not just hunters, we’re buccaneers,” Lionel said.
“What do you mean?”
“Boucan is an old French word for smoked meat. That’s where the word buccaneer comes from. In addition to being pirates, buccaneers smoked meat for a living. This island is a buccaneer’s dream, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let all this good meat go to waste.”
As camp cook and butcher, Lionel brined the pork and put it in the smoker where it cured over the thick, earthy smoke emanating from the shavings of oak wood administered to the hot coals. Meat was smoking every day of the week Simon spent with the Aussies. Once a day they would chopper carcasses in a cargo net down to the harbor to be picked up by boat. In spite of their own dietary needs, a small-scale bacon production, and regular transport of the still fresh, top-quality meat, many of the carcasses were simply left to rot in the sun.
By this time the island smelled of blood, fear, and burnt and rotting flesh; the landscape was stained red, and it was only going to get worse. Of the estimated five thousand pigs on the island they had so far eliminated a little more than a thousand. By the end of it they would likely be wading through blood and walking on carcasses with every step they took. No, invasive species extermination wasn’t what Simon had expected. While he understood that the pigs were destroying the ecology of the island, Simon felt uncomfortable with the task of exterminating an entire population of wild animals. Now, no matter how much he washed his hands, it seemed they were always stained with blood. In spite of cold dips in the ocean, he smelled like the pigs he was shooting and eating.
Throughout the day, Simon found himself looking across the channel to Santa Barbara. Though UCSB was close by, what he was doing was far removed from the lives of his fellow students, including many in his own major, who would have found his current work repulsive. Most of them would likely never set foot on any of the Channel Islands, hunt or kill for their own food, nor truly appreciate that life fed on death. The situation in which he found himself was excessive in every way, and it had changed him. While his first kill was accompanied by guilt and remorse, he had also felt something else stirring deep inside him. The Aussies had taught him to kill and through the killing he had earned their respect. He was no longer one of those soft city slicker Americans they consistently mocked: no longer a civilized poser disconnected from survival. In killing he had discovered his true animal nature, the nature everyone pretended to ignore through their daily rhetoric and compulsive lying, all to gain an advantage they would otherwise have pursued by force or violence. To kill, once a repulsive thing, now became a source of strength; Simon realized that with just a rifle and the clothes on his back, he could survive; what’s more he could defend himself.
Looking back at the mainland, Simon thought how he preferred this life in the wild to the endless theories of the classroom and the social posturing of society. After that first kill, it got easier to pull the trigger. Still, in spite of his newfound confidence and more pragmatic view of life, or rather death, Simon found himself haunted by the pigs in his dreams. Their bloody carcasses would rise up with stares of death and tortured squeals, and maul him, drowning him in their blood and burying him in their entrails. So while the act of killing was easy, the memory was a burden that forever joined predator and prey. Seeing and participating in so much death had traumatized Simon; the young man who left for the island and the one who came back were not the same. The Aussies who had seemed so primitive before, now resembled apex predators who had earned their position at the top of the hierarchy of survival. They were warriors, and Simon was a novice in their charge who had passed his first rites of initiation.