The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Value Of Life

By Wm. Axley Allen © 1985

Issue: June, 1985

When I was 12 years old, I would accompany my 20 year old brother and one or two of his friends to a pine thicket across the pasture from our house. The trees were growing so close together that in order to move among them, we would have to get on our hands and knees and crawl. The trees were not over 15 feet tall and each evening at sundown, hundreds of birds of all kinds would descend among the branches to roost for the night. It was at sundown when we would move through the thicket with .22 caliber pistols killing the birds. As it grew dark, the birds would become too confused to seek shelter elsewhere and we could only fire at their silhouettes against the darkening sky. The fluttering wings of dying birds echoed beneath the pines as it grew too dark for us to see our targets and we made our way out of the thicket and headed home.

Killing was neither new nor a novelty to me at 12 years old. By the time I was six, I owned a BB gun and soon thereafter I had begun to kill. In the beginning it was only small birds because they were all that were vulnerable to my weapon.

By 12, I had been given more powerful weapons and my ability to kill had greatly increased. With instruction from older friends and relatives, I learned to shoot straight and from birds, I graduated to rabbits, squirrels and eventually deer. Not once did I have any consideration for the life I had taken. It was sport and killing was applauded, even taught to me as a child. My actions of those years appall me now and it is with an almost unbearable guilt that I look back to those times of death and destruction. Into my 20's I continued to hunt and kill wildlife. As I neared 30, an event happened that changed my outlook on life and especially the taking of any creature's right to live.

I had a dog named Jason, a Great Dane, that I loved. He watched after my children with more devotion and love than most humans would be capable of. He was old for a Dane, but as a companion and friend, I never had better. In the face of trouble, he would spring to the defense of my family or me and when it counted, we could depend on Jason. Ours was the epitome of a loving relationship between a man and his dog.

As he grew older, his movements became stiff and toward the end, the mere act of standing up was pure agony for him. Finally, one day his back legs refused to support him any longer. Trips to the vet left little room for hope and on his last visit, I had been told that he should be put to sleep if he wasn't better by Monday. That was on Thursday. By Friday, Jason was in such agony that he cried and whimpered all night long. Early Saturday morning, I called the vet after resigning myself to the fact that an easy death would be mercifully easier on Jason than the agony that was racking his body now. The vet's secretary informed me that the doctor would be out of town until Monday and no one else was available who could administer the injection to stop Jason's suffering. After hanging up the telephone, I went to Jason and knelt beside him and caressed his head. His eyes had a questioning look as if they were asking, "Why are you not stopping my agony?"

With a lump in my throat that hurt, I went back to the telephone and called a friend and asked if he could bring his truck and come over to our house. In a few minutes he was there and helped me lift Jason onto the truck. We drove in silence to a grassy knoll where a lone apple tree stood watch over the surrounding mountains. My friend helped me get Jason off the truck and at my request, he drove off, leaving Jason and me alone. We had lived in a mobile home not far from the apple tree and many times Jason had run and played there with our family.

He whimpered with pain as I dug his grave and while you might find it hard to believe, I honestly believe he knew why we were there and why I was crying. With the grave dug, in the shade of the apple tree, I hugged my old friend one last time and through eyes filled with tears, I took aim and ended his life and suffering. Then I lay him to rest in the meadow where we once had romped together.

I made a vow then to never take another life. Over a 25 year span, I had brought death to many of nature's creatures without once contemplating what I was actually doing. As hard as it may be to believe, from childhood to adult, killing in the form of hunting, whether it be birds at sunset or a deer at daybreak had been instilled in me as a social and sporting event. Only by being forced to take a life I did not want to end, did the full impact of my previous actions come home to me. Now it is with shame that I recount the roosting place at sundown or the majestic eight-point buck at dawn.

Jason left a legacy that has extended itself to an entire family, for now my children as well as I, hold the life of all nature's creatures in reverence. Whether it's a bird or a deer, it has a place and a right to live as much as any other living creature.

Today a portrait of Jason hangs in my living room, not so much to remind me of Jason, for I will never forget such a wonderful friend, but he's a reminder now of what I was before I knew him. When I pass on the road by the apple tree in spring, the blossoms seem brighter than ever now, and birds constantly nest above his grave.

An old Great Dane named Jason had an impact on the lives of countless creatures, not the least of which was my own. He taught me the value of life in a way I will never forget. It was a lesson of love learned the hard way; love and appreciation not only for Jason, but for all creatures great and small.