The DNR trail camera for the Snapshot program arrived in the UPS box. I simply needed to select a tree, set the clock and turn it on. I set it unopened knowing that I would need a weekend to be able to walk out to the back of our field and secure it to a tree. When the first opportunity came, I counted too few hours.
“I passed the test and everything. Got 18 out of 20 like you need to, but I forgot to put the batteries in the charger. Spaced it out.” I broke into one my dad’s for the hundredth time tales to explain to my aunt why we were here on this familiar road instead of the grove of trees and tall grass.
“Sounds neat,” she responded swinging her arms and leaning into the wind.
“There’s all kind of signs,” Dad broke into our conversation. “Deer rubbing.”
“Good. You can pick the spot.”
A damp, February wind now cut less on my cheek on the way home than it had on the way out. The wind spun the windmill. For no apparent reason than the catch of the sound in his near deaf ears, my dad glanced upward to the windmill in front of the out of place expanse of house set on the hill top.
“Shot a hawk that landed on our windmill once. My grandma was carrying on. All worried about her chickens.”
I knew they used to shoot hawks. Only two years before we had saved one. Driven for miles to meet the rescue organization who nursed the wounded foot for weeks before it was released once again.
“Yep. My dad grabbed the gun,” Dad continued. “Found it had a tag on its foot. Grandma said she’d give me a Sun Drop if I buried it. So, I did it.”
“Why didn’t you just rip the tag off?” my aunt asked.
I knew there had been no second guessing. No sadness. Indifference to life and death on the farm, offense for those animals deemed problematic.
“Sure wanted that Sun Drop. Probably didn’t do a real good job though.”
“No. I would imagine not. Like all the other things you ‘bury’ in the cornfield that the dog turns up again,” I meant to dig, but I wasn’t sure where.
The hawk had been counted, but still didn’t count.
The difference between 24 and 48 hours of charging meant one more week for the UPS box to remain uninvestigated except for the batteries and their charger.
The second week after the box arrived, I counted too few batteries. Diligently Thursday night I connected the charger. By Saturday morning, four batteries were fully charged, but still plugged into the outlet. I spread the remainder of the materials from the box mailed to me: canvas bag, camera stand, camera, two memory cards, instructions to recall the videos I had watched. On Saturday afternoon, I began to read.
“Crap.” I tugged my legs in and folded them underneath me, settling myself an inch higher to survey all that lay in front of me.
“What?” Dad asked.
“Look.” I showed him the open camera. “There’s space for eight. I only charged four. That must have been why they said two days. One day for each four. I can’t set this up today.”
“Eh. Tomorrow’ll be fine. I’ll call your aunt back and tell her we’ll be on the road today in case she wants to change her shoes.”
“What about the snow tomorrow?”
“Won’t matter much. Bet we only get 2 inches.”
The walk that Saturday down the road and back was as dull as last week except for my dog’s unexpected romp in the mud where swift water had pooled and flowed from the field.
“They shot a wolf once,” Dad mentioned to begin another hundredth time story. It was only slightly easier to hear this acceptance than to watch his interest on every PBS nature special.
“Threw it in the river. Had a tag. Bet they watched. Figured, ‘Hey-that guy’s really moving’”. He laughed.
The wolf had been counted, but still didn’t count.
The difference between four and eight batteries added up to one more day. I reread the instructions. I wrote preliminary information on the set up sheet. I practiced with the GPS points on my phone.
Eyes shaded from swirling snow, three humans and one dog plunged to the back fence line on Sunday afternoon. I wanted it finished. Done. And done with no more stories about backyard animal control. Bullets and traps and fireworks and loud music and poison meant to wall out woodchuck, raccoons, mice.
I removed one mitten and set it on the space made between two low branches. I eased my phone out of the inside pocket of my coat and attempted to load the Google map program like I had in the house. No numbers appeared in the search bar. I reset it. Tried again. I downloaded two compass programs. Both told me that the phone did not have the sensory capacity to do this. I was still getting it all wrong even when I was in the middle of it. What was I doing with these strange tools to count someone else’s numbers? GPS and compass points. Why on earth did they need to know those points on earth for animals that as far as I could see, were not worth the time it took to take such measurements.
The dog waited not too patiently seeking out his own trail beyond the crossing now caught in the crosshairs of the camera.
“It’s a nice spot. A quiet spot. Not big enough for real habitat though.” Dad plucked at errant branches on suckers he’d have to clip in spring.
Frustrated. I put the phone away. “I’ll get the numbers another day. Let’s just get the camera set up.”
Maybe I would worry about getting those numbers right and maybe I wouldn’t. The program already knew which section the camera was in after all. How much could those smaller details matter? We save so much and yet we still make exceptions to rules. Snap judgments. Crack shots.
Maybe the question isn’t, “How many?” But, if they want to be counted.
Maybe the answer won’t come with “Where?” Instead, whether, they want to be found.
I consider again my suggestion of prairie conservation acres and all the numbers in the way of implementation. Time. Cost. Words. The thought scarred a little with the slow twist of my dad’s wrist cutting the camera stand post into tree bark.
“It’s easier, live wood than dead.” Dad pressed and leaned in further for one last rotation of his thumb.
Hurts more too.
You can’t scar the dead. Nor do they count.