Snipe Hunt

By Joy Brown

"Do you want to hunt for Snipe tonight?" Kevin asks everyone. It is a very warm, summer evening in Porterville, a small town nestled in the foothills on the edge of the San Joaquin Valley. The luminescence of the full moon - a perfect pearl, sitting in a black, onyx sky.  An interesting backdrop for the orange groves of Terra Bella, another small neighboring town which our cousins lived.

Our family has not been completely together for a long time. Our cousins from Massachusetts came down this year,  it has been fun learning about each other. Judy and Patty live in the city and they have never seen chickens or cows in person. Judy actually believes chickens lay eggs as shown in the cartoons, sitting on tall piles of eggs in big, soft nests of hay. She was shocked when she found out they only lay one egg a day, and she didn't know that different chickens could lay different colored eggs. We are all standing around in the parking lot of the Paul Bunyan motel and laughing at the differences in our cultures. Kevin, Jon, Judy, Laura and I are all the same age. We all turned fourteen this year. My boyfriend, David is also in on the joke and provides transportation to our Aunt and Uncle's farm.

"I wonder what is taking Patty so long?" Judy asks impatiently. "Let's go get her!" Kevin says. He begins walking toward the room and we all follow behind him. My cousin Patty is sitting at the desk writing a letter to her boyfriend.

Kevin explains how the Snipe live under the orange trees in the orange groves. He explains to Judy and Patty that the Snipe sleep during the day, and they only come out at night. When the moon is full, just like tonight it is the best time to hunt for Snipe. "They look a little bit like a squirrel, but without a tail," Kevin continues describing the Snipe, "They have beady little eyes and very sharp claws, and you have to be careful when you catch them because they bite."

"Hurry up, Patty, so we can go!" Judy says eagerly. Patty quickly scribbles out a message in her letter, then runs out and drops the letter into the mailbox. We all climb into David's pickup truck. Kevin and Jon are riding in the back of the pickup. The windows are rolled down and the wind is blowing my hair into my eyes. I look back to make sure Kevin and Jon are okay. We are going to ride out to my Aunt and Uncle's house in Terra Bella, a small town on the outskirts of Porterville. Their house sits all alone surrounded by orange trees. The air is filled with the sounds of crickets chirping, and the frogs join in with their baritone song. David slowly pulls up into the drive way of my Aunt and Uncle's house.

My cousin Laura comes running out of the house to meet us.  She is holding a small burlap bag and what looks like a small pitchfork. Patty is looking at Laura, and Patty's eyes are getting huge. "Oh my gosh! Laura, is that what you use to catch them?" Patty asks. "You have to stab them with the fork." Kevin says, "They aren't pets, remember they bite too." Patty is beginning to look as if she wants to change her mind. "What do we do?" asks Judy. We explain to them that you must go into the grove, and someone must scare them out from under the trees. The one with the bag throws it over them, and you stab it with the fork. I look over at Patty, and now she looks like she is going to get sick.

We all walk into the orange grove across the street. The full moon is shining down on us giving us plenty of light with which to see. It also makes objects in the night look strange. The quiet of the night intensifies every sound. The dry leaves crackle beneath our feet as we walk through the trees. It causes the imagination to run wild. Patty is already nervous and she keeps jumping slightly at every noise she hears. "I don't want to stab them!" Patty says, "I'll scare them and you catch them." Jon and Kevin are off to the side snickering to themselves. Laura says, "Okay, you scare them and we will do the rest."

Patty and Judy walk around the trees, and they begin looking underneath a tree. "I don't see anything," Patty says. Kevin looks over at her, and says, "Well just looking at them isn't going to scare them. You have to shake the branches." I look over at Kevin and Jon. They are trying to look very serious. Laura walks around to another tree while all of this is going on. We hear some noises behind us. "Gotcha!" Laura calls out, "I caught one." Judy jumps up and runs over to Laura. "Can I see it before you kill it?" Judy asks. Laura tells her, "It's just a baby." Judy peeks inside the bag and says, "Oh Patty, the baby snipe is so cute, come over here and look at it!" Judy has caught on to the joke. Patty walks slowly toward Laura, looking like she really doesn't want to see it. "Come on, Patty." Judy tells her. Laura turns around so Patty can get a better look. Laura opens the bag really slow, and just as Patty looks over . . . Judy taps on the bottom of the bag. Patty screams and begins jumping up and down. We all begin laughing.

Patty becomes more calm now. She begins looking at all of us. She is beginning to figure out that she has been caught in a huge joke. She looks over at Laura and says, "What's really in that bag?" She walks over to Laura, and looks inside the bag. It's only a rotten orange. We all begin laughing at her again. Patty looks at us and says, "I'm never going to hear the end of this when I get home." "Why?" I ask her. She explains, "The last thing I wrote in that letter was . . . ‘I have to go now, we are going Snipe hunting.'"