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Rant #229
(published June 2, 2005)
by Fritz Swanson
My father, before he retired, had been a game warden, which meant that more than even cops in Detroit he ran into men who were intoxicated and well-armed; men who knew how to gut large animals with the easy, casual twists and pulls of a long blade; men who were used to the smell of blood, and to the feeling of warm dying meat. But my dad never walked out the door afraid. His chief comfort, however, was not the 9mm pistol issued by the state, or the old Remington rifle he had under the seat of his pickup. It was instead an old 19 1/2 inch MagLite (the 6 d-cell model) that he had bought the second year he worked for the Michigan DNR.

With a luminescent intensity of 20,000 candles, the MagLite was one of the brightest most reliable flashlights a cop could get. And because it was 19 1/2 inches (and 50 oz.) of machined aluminum, if the search-light intensity of the light didn't keep the disoriented hunters frozen, then a quick swing of the light-cum-club would.

But typically, brute force was unnecessary, and the light was all my dad needed.

In Michigan, it is illegal to hunt before sunrise. It is illegal to hunt after sundown. If my dad saw a truck pulled off the road by a stand of trees and it was dark, he'd pull over and quietly stalk out to find the truck's owner. When he would come within a few feet of the hunter or hunters he'd click on the high beam of the Mag and flood the forest with a fire of light.

The scene as he usually found it: two guys in orange on fold out camp stools, a Coleman cooler full of ice and a six of Labatt's, rifles slung across each man's knees, usually with his shooting arm laced around the barrel. But the light cut so quick through the night that it caught other things as well. Leaves. Toadstools and shelf fungus. It caught stubbled salt-and-pepper chins, sleepy eyes with irises so shocked by the light that they closed down to pinpricks, hot dog packages wet and freshly cut, the men gnawing on cold frankfurters as pink and as thick as a thumb.

I've always felt it was the hot dogs that did it. It's one thing to approach a man who is breaking the law and announce your self. The man has time to marshal his own indignation, his own public front of defense. In the seconds between your announcement and his reply, he can formulate an unending set of personal justifications for his crime. At best the CO will get an ear full of excuses, at worst he'll get a bullet. In the Upper Peninsula, that's what happens to game wardens all the time.

But my dad had a MagLite. He snaps the light on and the scene freezes like a photograph. And in paralyzing light, the hunter is forced to live in the moment that he has created without justifications or imaginations of what might have been excusable. The light comes on so quickly, so sharply, and with such power that everyone present is forced to see exactly what they have become. It is a still image of men squatting in the nighttime forest eating cold hot dogs and drinking cheap beer in the hopes of catching some lonely buck unawares and sleepy.

It is illegal to hunt when there is no sun, and when the MagLite snaps on there is no question about what is day and what is night.

Exposure is the key. Exposure that is quick, sharp and relentless. It gives the moment no time to compose itself, to clean itself up for public viewing. In doing this, the MagLite reveals details which are wholly unexpected, wholly humane, and entirely essential to understanding the truth.

My dad told me that 90 percent of the men look up when he lights up their camp. They look up and sheepishly smile.

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