Life and Death on the Lower Pecos River

 

I killed an enormous carp on my first river trip. With a spear I chased her from one patch of reeds to the next: finding her, losing her, finding her, missing her. She retreated back into the muddy roots, lurking. Eventually the carp fled down a small rapid. I got out of the water to search along the bank, disheartened. Just before resigning, the sun setting, I spotted her in a shallow pool near the shore. The refraction of the dying light skewed my aim, and only one prong managed to pierce through; I struggled to hold her as I waded excitedly back to the campsite. Cleaning it was messy and all we had to fry it with was old Italian dressing. As I chewed on the rubbery meat, the taste of victory more than compensated.

I’ve killed billions of microbes, boiling them as I purified cooking water. Their bodies heated slowly, proteins denatured, and insides diffused. I consumed their lifeless husks along with the couscous.

I don’t know if I killed the turtle. A companion speared it in the leg by accident, so we decided to make turtle soup. It was still alive. Wanting to keep it fresh through the long distance to our campsite, we tied it to the front of my kayak, upside down. The turtle struggled periodically, its nails scratching the plastic boat in spasms. At camp, just above a calm pool, I tried to crack its sturdy shell with a large rock. A misplaced blow jettisoned the unresponsive turtle into the river. I dove in and searched for over half an hour, but with no luck. Maybe I glanced over it amongst the rocks and debris on the riverbed, maybe it floated downstream, or maybe it reanimated and writhed away, fighting to keep its shell and insides together.

The boar did not kill me, though I feared it would, as I scrambled up the dry creek bed. While exploring up the tributary with campers, at the head of the group, I saw the bristly mother with her bristly piglet. I stopped silently, raised my hand silently. A camper behind me noticed neither signal, and instead cried out when she saw the boars. An instant of fear seized my body, my forearm hair raised, and then the pair scampered off.

I killed another large carp on a subsequent trip, but, finding no one willing to clean it and having no desire to go through the trouble myself, I pried it off of my spear and threw the lifeless thing back into the river. 

I killed two white bass and three catfish, illegally. Spearing on the Pecos is only allowed for carp and gar, invasive fish, but it being my last river trip I wanted good food and good memories. The cooked meat melted on our tongues. No one asked any questions, and I told them nothing.

The wild horse did not kill me either, though I feared it would. On the shore, I awoke in my kayak to the stars and heavy breath on my face. Through a somnolent haze I realized its presence and shouted it away. The horse trotted off indignantly. 

I’ve killed billions of microbes, in the ritual purification of drinking water. Two drops of sodium hypochlorite per liter: the toxins disperse in the liquid, the bacteria breathe its pollution like gas, and exterminated microbial corpses pile up in the chamber of the water bottle—their chambers, in turn, emptied. I consumed their lifeless husks.

Nothing killed anything as I lay in my sleeping bag, surveying the light-speckled sky, listening to the chorus of mating calls from dozens of different species. It seems as if some things in the universe, at least, are still in order—be fruitful and multiply.