Ruthie’s Nature Lesson, by Daniel C. Lavery, an excerpt from All the Difference, Dan read at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena Sunday February 8, 2015 at "IWOSC Reads Its Own" presentation of various authors from 2-4 PM
Grampa found a large property he bought in North Miami he called “the ranch.” Mom took me there when I pleaded to take my new BB gun to use on a visit. I took target practice on mangrove and palm trees, rocks, and fences as I wandered around a few acres of undeveloped land with many trees, shrubs, and swampy areas. I imagined my adventure took me through a jungle.
Something blue covering the ground moved under some white mangrove trees near a saltwater swamp as I approached. Blue land crabs congregated there in the thousands appearing at first like a blue carpet. They frightened me because many had a large claw that looked dangerous, scurried around more quickly than I imagined, and resembled large spiders. Bigger than tarantulas, they had an outer covering that appeared a kind of armor. They scattered when I ran at them and shot my BB gun at the moving targets. War movies taught me about soldiers fighting with their rifles in World War II. Mom and grandmother Ruthie cheered me on when I marched around the dinner table singing military songs with my toy gun on my shoulder pretending I was a soldier. In the wild foliage, I carried my BB gun as if in battle and ran after the enemy crabs. They retreated lifting their claws in hopeless defense and scuttled under trees in a moist boggy area that reeked with an odd smell like dank garbage. Pursuing my fleeing enemy determined to win the battle, I aimed at these moving targets and learned to shoot ahead of the direction they scooted. Accurately killing many creatures, I stalked them around trees and shrubs in torrid heat. My face became sweaty and the putrid odor emanating from the wet marsh was annoying.
Backtracking in an easterly direction, I heard a lively chirping sound. The source came from a partially hidden small dark bird sitting on a branch in the shade. Silently creeping past a thick stand of hardwood trees about twenty feet away, I feared it would fly away soon so stopped my heavy breathing trying not to frighten it. With my rifle butt in my right shoulder and the barrel pointing at my singing target, I took careful aim and squeezed the trigger slowly when I saw part of the bird in my sights. POW went the gun. The bird fell to the ground without a sound from my direct hit. Silence followed. I raced for a view of the target of my spectacular shot.
As I approached the fallen bird, I saw his colors slowly display themselves, lifted his limp body in my hand, and held him in the light of the sun. He had a deep blue head, a blotch of bright yellow on his back, and green on the wings followed by a patch of black. His chest was red. An orange circle wound around his black eyes and his beak was white-gray. None of these colors was visible from a distance. My shot had killed the most beautiful bird I had ever seen. Sobbing because my shot killed one of nature’s most splendid creatures, and miserable for my cruelty, I stumbled home.
Ruthie saw the tears rolling down my cheeks and hugged me. “What’s wrong dear?”
“I just killed this beautiful bird with my BB gun.”
“Why that’s a painted bunting. I can see you are sad for ending its life. We must never kill anything nature created unless it is truly harming someone. That bird contributed his beauty and singing to our backyard. All living creatures have a place in nature we should respect.”
“I feel bad I killed it.”
“I know you do. Come, let’s bury the beauty.”
We dug a hole in the moist ground close by, placed his body in, and covered it with dirt. Ruthie put a tiny wooden cross on the spot from twigs to remember him.
“At first I used my BB gun just to take target practice, but then shot some blue crabs in the back pretending they were my enemy.”
The expression on Ruthie’s face changed. "Oh Danny!" She pulled out a book from her library, thumbed to an article: “You killed quite an interesting specimen that delivers its babies in salt water as larva who become baby crabs in forty-two days. The blue land crab determines direction using vibrations, landmarks, prevailing winds, and light during the day, and by identifying the brightest part of the horizon at night. Females carry their eggs on their skin for two weeks before depositing them in salt water. Aren’t they amazing? Promise never to mistreat our land crabs again.”
“I’m sorry I killed any.”
“Now look out the front window and tell me what you see between the rose bushes.”
“A giant spider in a huge web! It looks scary.”
“Use this paper, sit at the table, and sketch the Golden Garden Spider’s web.”
After drawing for a few minutes, I realized my fear of spiders might have made me kill it if Ruthie hadn’t caught my attention. Spending three hours depicting the web that wound in different directions and shimmered when the sunlight reflected off some of it, caused me to admire the fascinating insect. Ruthie saw the care I took in drawing the complex strands and patterns the large spider had woven.
“You have captured that Golden Garden Spider’s magnificent web. Let’s frame your drawing so we can appreciate what you drew. Now you won’t ever kill something man could not create.”
Knowing Dan had a life story with an important message of how one could change from a pawn in the military to a champion for the poor and powerless, motivation was never a problem. He retired as a civil rights attorney for farm workers and the poor from 1972 to 1976 and opened a private practice concentrating on civil rights, consumer protection, employment discrimination, and criminal appeals. Beginning with an autobiography for his outline he discovered from informal critique groups that he had much to learn about the craft of creative writing. This enhanced his understanding of authoring a book that would reach a wide audience. Creative writing classes at local community colleges enhanced his memoir as the writer developed his art from authors of many genres including memoir, poetry, and fiction. After five such courses he winnowed his sprawling story to a focused forty chapters and an "Afterward" that received strong support from writers, professors, friends, his editor, and many readers who wrote five star reviews. All the Difference will resonate with many readers, especially the baby boomers who lived through the same period, and is pertinent to all readers showing how a naval officer cheated death and defied the odds learning determination, integrity, tenacity, resilience, and litigation expertise regardless of what obstacles confronted him on his path to a productive life assisting others less fortunate.