THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- GRACKLED

by: Wes Ishmael

“More ammo!” screamed Aunt Pinky when she heard Hooter and Cousin Charlie come up behind her.

There was no telling how long she'd been out of shells, but she continued to pump the shotgun, mechanically, calmly drawing a bead where she saw birds or thought she saw them, squeezing the trigger, hearing the empty click, repeating.

She was sitting at her picnic table; had two sacks of dog food stacked together in front of her to use for a gun rest. There were at least three saddle blankets draped over her right shoulder serape-style to absorb the kick.

Hooter gently took the gun from her. It was the old Stevens 20 gauge pump-action he remembered as a kid. His late Uncle Franklin bought it mail-order through Sears and Roebuck way back when.

If memory served, the gun held five shells. Judging by the colorful assortment of hulls and boxes littering the immediate area, Aunt Pinky had been at it for a while.

Pájaro diablo

As Cousin Charlie led Aunt Pinky to the house, Hooter surveyed the carnage.

There's just something tragic about a ripe pumpkin—still on the vine—spilling its seedy guts from a jagged hole blown through its orange skin. They were everywhere. The corn in Aunt Pinky's garden hadn't fared much better. Of course, her usually pristine garden was already looking ragged before the shooting spree.

Aunt Pinky's young oak trees were riddled with shot, too. These were the ones planted to replace the old ones that died out after Aunt Pinkly peppered them relentlessly in order to get rid of a couple of woodpeckers.

Her prey this time around were the Great-tailed grackles, pájaro diablo—devil bird. If you've ever experienced them, then you understand that they're more than an irritating nuisance. They can cause a fair bit of damage to crops, never mind the deluge of excrement. They've got a bully's attitude, too.

Some usually showed up in and around Apache Flats at the onset of fall for a week or two, then moved further east or south. The relative few that marauded Aunt Pinky's trees always seemed to leave a few days after she hung some homemade contraptions in the trees that she called googeldy-eyed varmints. They were round, plywood cutouts painted to look like two giant, scary eyes. Two pinwheels were attached to each one, which spun in concert with the breeze. Aunt Pinky didn't know whether it was the eyes or the sound of the pinwheels, but she was convinced that her varmints were doing the trick.

Until this year.

The more googeldy-eyed varmints she hung in her trees, the more winged rodents descended on her place like a plague of locusts. Thousands of them flew, dove, perched and harassed.

Hooter looked over to Aunt Pinky's new and highly polished Lincoln, which had been pelted with a barrage of thick Grackle droppings. He knew that was the last proverbial straw for Aunt Pinky, the final indignation that sent her looking for Uncle Franklin's gun.

Even as Hooter surveyed the damage—including too few grackle carcasses—flocks of the horrible creatures were already coming back, landing, strutting, puffing out their chests and fairly well thumbing their beaks at the world.

Bang, bang bang!

Hooter and Charlie had already tried the solutions they'd heard about.

They hung metal buckets in the lower branches of the trees, loaded them up with firecrackers and assembled a long fuse so that each bucket-load would go off one after the other—bang, bang, bang!

All that happened was that they blew the bottoms out of three good buckets and started one small grass fire, which was, thankfully, contained in short order.

They'd heard that red and green laser lights confused the birds and made them want to leave. They didn't have any laser lights, though. Instead they strung together some of Aunt Pinky's Christmas wheels—basically spotlights with revolving multi-colored lens covers—that cast intermittent shades of red, blue and green. The birds seemed to enjoy the festive array.

They even went as far as making a special trip to Fort Worth for some grape seed extract. They'd heard that grackles disliked both the smell of the stuff and how it felt on their feet. They loaded the soap tank of a power washer with the extract and sprayed the trees. If anything, it seemed to attract more birds.

Aunt Pinky was growing more impatient.

“I'm just about loaded back up,” she told the boys as they sipped tea at her dinner table following their most recent failure. “You've got one more day, then it's my turn again.”

“Huh?”

Aunt Pinky swung open a cupboard door. The inside looked to be bulging at the seams with shotgun ammo.

“You boys likely don't remember who did the reloading for Franklin,” she said. “I'm pretty good at it. Remember, one more day.”

All that was left in their bag of tricks was a propane cannon. Cousin Charlie researched them on the Internet. The cheapest one they found cost hundreds of dollars.

That thing about combustion

“I'll bet half the cost in those store-bought contraptions is for the regulator valve,” Hooter had reckoned.

Now, there wasn't time to order one if they wanted to. They knew that their “one more day” had begun as soon as Aunt Pinky told them.

“If we do it right, one big boom in each tree ought to do the trick. So, all we have to do is figure out how to seal up some propane in a tube, in which we can cause a spark,” Hooter explained as he and Charlie trudged to the shop.

They settled for a 3-ft. section of 4 in. PVC pipe with caps on each end. They drilled a hole in one cap for an inlet valve and a larger hole in the center of the pipe for a spark plug.

“We hang this in the tree,” explained Hooter, holding up the empty pipe. “We hang this old ignition coil near it, which we hook to the spark plug with a plug wire. Then we run the coil leads to a 12-volt battery. Touch the positive wire to the hot post and you've got yourself a spark inside that propane gas tube.”

The design was elegant, in a primitively simple kind of way.

It's not that Hooter and his cousin doubted the likely success of their experiment. But, they did start with a tree in the grass trap near Aunt Pinky's house rather than one right next to the house. They did use 50 ft. of wire for the leads to the ignition coil. And, they did take the time to dig a bunker five feet deep from which they could ignite the tube.

All of their safeguards proved to be the smartest parts of the experiment.

Hooter held up the positive lead, peered through his chipped and scarred safety glasses at Cousin Charlie: “Ready?”

Charlie stared back through is own wrecked safety goggles and nodded.

Hooter touched the positive lead to the positive battery post.

KaaaaaaaBooooooooom!

The ground shook. Dirt, bark and leaves showered down on the occupants of the makeshift fox hole. They peered out. The tree was mostly gone.

“Maybe a little heavy on the gas,” Hooter muttered.

“Or the electricity,” Charlie said.

“Look,” said Hooter, pointing through the settling dust and smoke. The grackles had flocked together and were heading north. Then they circled around, came back and crowded into the trees close to Aunt Pinky's house, cackling, chattering, scratching and pecking.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom

Aunt Pinky waved.







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