Awesome # 138: The Sound of Ptarmigans

Sometimes the kids here hunt ptarmigans with rocks. While I’m unsure whether this is a cultural thing, or just a boy thing, I have seen this happen a couple of times.

The first time I saw this happen was last spring I was on recess duty, and I saw a group of students crowded around a scene. I couldn’t see what was happening directly – all I could see were tiny white feathers floating up into the air above their heads – but I instantly assumed that a fistfight had broken out during which some poor kid’s parka had acquired a hole. Only I didn’t hear any yelling or verbal commotion whatsoever. I only saw feathers floating, and a dozen or so kids watching something intriguing.

I hurried over, both out of concern and curiosity, and found that the students had crowded around one the grade 5 boys, who’d killed a ptarmigan with a rock and was plucking its feathers.

When the bell rang, he carried it inside by its feet and kept it in his desk until the school day was over – then he took it home for dinner.

The last time I saw kids hunting ptarmigans was a few weeks ago. I was going for a walk to the airport and back and, when I’d gotten to the top of the hill, I saw 4 boys on bicycles about 20 metres ahead of me. Just moments after I spotted them, they dropped their bikes and tip-toed onto the tundra. I knew what they were doing, so I made sure to walk lightly on the opposite side of the road as I approached, as they snuck up on a small flock of oblivious tundra fowl.

On my way back, all but one of the boys had gone home. Whether or not they’d actually succeeded in killing ptarmigan, I’m unsure, but just before the post office, I passed T, who kneeling down beside his bicycle, was nearly finished pulling the feathers off of 2 dead birds with excited determination and experienced know-how. As I approached, he looked up with a beaming smile and told me he’d killed them with rocks. Then, he hopped on his bicycle and raced home – one hand steering and one hand carrying the 2 ptarmigans by their feet.

I was inspired to write about the sound of ptarmigans as my awesome today after a friend and I went for a walk last night. On the tundra along the road to the airport, ptarmigans were scattered, but plentiful. They were significantly more visible because much of the snow had melted (and, thus, no longer camouflaged) and they were significantly more vocal.

Some day before I leave, I want to go out onto the land and, with genuine effort, try to hunt ptarmigan with a rock. But last night, in a vain attempt to try my rock hunting skills, I picked up a few rocks and chucked them at the closest ptarmigan to me. It uttered a sound that suggested mocking, that sounded like laughter. All around, a similar sound reverberated, as if they were making fun of my weak throw and terrible aim. I would have been offended, had I known that that’s just the sound that ptarmigans make, and it’s awesome because it’s just so entertaining.

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