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Hunting Season, a short humor story by Ostap Vyshnya
There are two officially permitted hunting seasons in this country — one that begins in early August and gives the hunters a go-ahead for hunting birds, and the other one that begins in early November and permits hunting large game*. But traditionally, it is the beginning of the bird hunting season that is considered to be the actual, “solemn” opening, when, after a long break, you can hold your favorite shotgun in your hands, and when you can find satisfaction in being a nature lover, a naturephile, so to say, a sportsman rather than only a hunter-provider of food who makes a contribution to the state’s efforts to provide enough meat for the population.
Hunting, as you see, is not an important trifling diversion but a respectable occupation and a matter of high importance, particularly for citizens who are highly conscious of their civic duties.
* * * * * *
As the opening of the hunting season draws nearer, you find yourself in the grip of anxiety — there are so many things you have to take care of and put in order: your gun, your ammunition, your hunting gear and clothes. There are so many things you have to have to make sure your hunting, which is a serious affair, is successful.
One of your hunting friends calls you and asks,
“So, where shall we go to?” and he offers a destination.
You make a counteroffer. He comes up with still another option.
You reject it.
“I’m not going to hunt frogs and toads.”
“What are you talking about? What toads? We are talking about hunting ducks, aren’t we?”
“That’s exactly my point. And at the place you suggest there’s hardly anything but frogs.”
And the argument continues for some time.
But it’s not only where to go which causes a controversy — it is also making the choice who to go with that comes with difficulty.
On the one hand, is there anyone among true hunters who would be a poor company for the opening of the hunting season? Is there anyone among them who do not like quiet evenings at the shore of a lake, who will not say in anxious whisper, “Shshsh! Don’t breathe! Or they’ll hear us!” Who will not enjoy the booming cry of a bittern spreading over the water as much as a music lover enjoys a famous Italian opera singer’s vibrant high Cs? Is there anyone among them whose heart will not race when he hears soft splashing of a wading bird? Who will not tell tall stories of hunting successes? Who will not admire the stars blinking above their heads after dinner at the end of the hunt in the wonderful stillness of the gentle night? Who will not quote a poet, “Oh, stars in the night, Shine on me so bright!”
Everyone of them is worthy to be your company for the hunt — and it is what makes the choice so difficult.
If you chose, say, to go with Ivan…
Then, you are sure to hear his stories about his dog Jack for the umpteenth time. You’ll be sitting on the carpet of green grass under a big willow, and the drone of Ivan’s voice will be putting you to sleep, “No, you can’t find dogs like Jack these days!... Once, on a hunt, he stopped dead in his tracks and froze immobile pointing at a woodcock that was hiding in the thicket. He stood there as though made of stone. I could not see the woodcock clearly, and at the same time, I was afraid to make a slightest move too and so we stood there until the darkness fell. And we stood there through the night and in the morning… in the morning some circumstances made my departure imminent and inevitable… Jack remained where he was, standing immobile, pointing… I came back to that very place a year later, and what did I discover there? The skeleton of my Jack, standing in the same position, one leg raised! What a dog he was! No, you can’t find dogs like him these days!.. I used to give him a note that said ‘A bottle of such and such wine, please,’ and money for it and tell him, ‘Jack, go get me a bottle of wine,’ and he would bring it in his jaws in no time. There was a slight hitch though — you had to give him the exact sum. He never brought the change back — he must have been spending it on a glass of wine…”
Listening to Ivan, you drift into sleep, you stop hearing the sounds of the forest around you, you find yourself in the world of dreams and then you see Ivan’s Jack lapping up wine from a big glass…
If you choose to go with Petro, you’ll be obliged to hear his story about his greyhound Flute with the same generally soporific effect, “No, I don’t usually go for birds, I’m a big game hunter. Why did I join you for bird hunting? Just because of tradition… My dog Flute — what a terrific runner she was! She could chase game for days on end — and nonstop! She was not afraid of anything, though, at first, she was afraid of wolves. The first time she ran into a wolf she ran back to me, trembling, and white as chalk with fear… Once there were about a dozen wolves chasing her and me…”
“A dozen? Really?” you would ask emerging from your doze.
“Yes, a dozen! And both were grey!”
If you go with Pylyp, you’ll be obliged to hear stories about a myopic elderly clerk, a friend of his, who was an inveterate hunter and the butt of other hunters’ practical jokes. “And he did not like wearing glasses. Once, on a hunt — we were hunting rabbits — he saw a rabbit of an enormous size hiding in the grass. Little did he suspect that it was an inflatable toy that had been placed there by me especially for him. He shot at the rubber rabbit and, of course, it blew to pieces with a terrible bang. The poor clerk was so shaken he ran several miles, never stopping, to a railroad station to get back home quick… On a different occasion, we put a dead rabbit under a bush with a note pinned to the rabbit that said ‘What did you kill me for?’ During the hunt we steered the clerk close to that dead rabbit — he sees it, fires and runs to pick his prey. He sees the note and almost faints! That was a huge laugh!”
On one of the hunts I met an old man, a local of the village that was situated not far from the scene of the hunt. I couldn’t help laughing listening to his — evidently true — story.
“In my young days, I used to bring home wild ducks for dinner without hunting. I never had a gun, in the first place.”
“How could you get wild ducks without hunting them and without a gun?”
“I had a way. See that little island over there? It used to be overgrown with reeds. I would swim there and hide in the reeds. I knew when the hunters would be coming for hunting ducks. The moment they began firing at the ducks that were floating on the water near the bank I would scream at the top of my lungs, ‘Help, help, I’ve been shot!’ Hunters would run away thinking they’d hit someone, and then I would emerge from my hiding place, swim back and pick the dead ducks from the water!”
“Wasn’t it sort of dangerous?”
“Could be but I never thought of that. And we had a good meal!”…
…The first light of dawn begins to spread over the horizon in the east. The soft sounds of a water vole slipping into the river, the first movements and sleepy chirping of birds wakening up, a distant rumble of a train begins to fill the air.
Birds begin whooshing over the head,
Then comes a loud report. “Bang!”
The hunting season has been opened!
* * This story was written in 1945 and in the present-day Ukraine the hunting seasons open at other dates.
Ostap Vyshnya (1889 –1956) is one of the most remarkable Ukrainian humorists and satirists. His humor and satire exposed faults, failings, weaknesses, foibles and vices of Ukrainians. Particularly sharp criticism was leveled by Vyshnya against such features of the Ukrainian character as social inertia, lack of social unity, anarchic individualism, passivity and everything else that stood in the way of modernization and social progress. Ostap Vyshnya wanted to encourage the Ukrainians to embrace the European values and thus become truly European by castigating those typical features of the Ukrainian character which hinder Ukraine’s progress. To achieve his goal, he often employed a style of simple, countrified narration which proved to be highly effective.
Pavlo Hubenko, who wrote under the pseudonym of Ostap Vyshnya, was born into a poor peasant family of many children in the small village of Chechva in the Land of Poltavshchyna. In a humorous story, “Moya avtobiohrafiya” (“My Autobiography”), Vyshnya wrote, “In general, my parents were sort of nice people. I think they sort of qualified for being parents. In twenty four years of married life, God blessed them with only seventeen kids — they must have known the right sort of prayers and prayed regularly and hard.”
After completing elementary education, Pavlo studied at a medical school in Kyiv and in 1917 he matriculated at the Department of History and Philology of Kyiv University. He began to publish his short stories in 1919 but it was only in 1921 when he chose the penname of Ostap Vyshnya to sign his stories with. He published a lot of articles and stories in several newspapers and magazines and by the mid-1920s he had become a well-known and much sought-after author. Collections of his stories were released in many editions and each collection had several reprints.
Vyshnya called his stories “usmishky” — that is, “smiles”. As a writer, Vyshnya developed his own, inimitable style which made him very popular. His popularity, his Ukrainian spirit and his satire made him suspicious in the eyes of the soviet authorities, and in 1933 he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in a concentration camp. After serving his term in the far north of the Soviet Union, he returned to Ukraine, and, surprisingly enough, resumed his literary work.
In addition to writing his own prose, he did numerous translations; among the books he translated were works by Mark Twain, O’Henry and other English-language writers.
Closer to the end of his life, he was elected member of the Union of Writers of Ukraine.
“Give me, Providence, strength, skill and talent and whatever else is needed to make my people, who work so hard, who live in hardship and sorrow, who suffer from uncertainty and doubt, smile! Even if my people, reading my stories, do not laugh heartily, bless me with a gift to give people creases of a smile instead of furrows of worry on their brow, give me an ability to kindle a little light of joy in their eyes which are filled with grief and gloom.
And if I see such a smile on their faces and such a light in their eyes, it’ll be the best pay for my efforts, and I’ll feel happy in spite of all the hardships I’ve lived through,” wrote Ostap Vyshnya in his diary.