Sunday family dinner was a cherished ceremony when the boy’s mom was young. Her own mother insisted on seeing everyone at the table, well and happy, and therefore well-fed. In fact, she supervised every bite and made sure there was dessert.
Things had changed now that the family was down to herself, her sister, and her deceased husband’s father. Everyone else had moved away or had other priorities. Even her sister was so absorbed in groups, movements, and adult learning classes that it was hard to know if she would come. If she said she would, it was a menu problem since she was prone to food fads. Vegetarian or not? Gluten or not?
Lately her thing was learning to fly cast for trout, so trendy, but she was so preoccupied with making her line trace the perfect sunlit arc against the sky, just like Brad Pitt in the movies, that she didn’t catch any fish, which would have been good for the Sunday supper. Fishing is about habitat and thinking like a fish, not just being attuned to the universe in one’s own mind.
But Grandpa was always there, always at the head of the table, always ready for meat and potatoes, always fierce, and sometimes willing to pick up a little bill or two for the good of the commonwealth.
The boy loved sitting at the table to listen. He didn’t say much, which was an advantage in life. His mother told him that. Now she said, “A man is coming next week to electrify the fence and install a strobe light we can control from inside the house.”
“How much is THAT gonna cost? Is the government gonna pay for it, since they don’t seem able to get grizzlies under control? When I was a boy, we solved our problems ourself, with a rifle if necessary!”
“I’m gonna kill that bear!” the boy spoke up.The boy’s mom knew very well where the boy’s threats to kill that grizzly came from. He was too young to recognize male threat rhetoric.
Her sister chimed in, irrelevantly but forcefully. “Killing bears is bad karma. The Blackfeet considered bears sacred, a kind of person, and I agree. If you behave properly, they leave you alone.”
Grandpa roared, “So what do you think that calf was doing wrong? Being alive?” He redirected attention to the boy. “Don’t expect to get any livestock compensation for a calf that age, but some people might feel sorry for you and send you some money. Hell, they might send you to Disneyland, since that’s supposed to compensate for everything.”
“I don’t care about Disneyland, Grandpa. My calf was sacred, like Aunt Bett says.”
Grandpa took note and in the next week — AFTER the corral was electrified, he would supply a replacement calf. But danged if he’d pay for the electricity.
“I suppose this fancy fence will cost money to keep hot.”
Mom passed the vegetables again, in hopes of them being eaten. “Nope. Solar panel power. They use them even for sheep out on the range. Movable versions.”
Aunt Bett was moved to comment that sheep on the range were invading grizz territory and had no business being out there. It was just taking advantage of government land for practically no cost, a subsidy.
“Electric fences are so effective that they use them to protect bee hives.” She was hoping to divert Bett from sheep, which were a touchy subject, but she hadn’t been keeping track of the issues.
“Bees are dying,” Bett declared dramatically, “And no one knows why but they suspect insecticides. Humans are the deadliest predators on the planet, killing all other life forms from insects to mega-mammals!”
Grandpa was talking with his mouth full, partly so Bett wouldn’t hear him — maybe. “You left out plants. What about chemical fallow?”
“What was that? Come again?"
Mom had heard. “Tell us, Bett. Where will you be fly-fishing next week?”