I'm driving down a country dirt road to visit friends, a couple who live near a lake. I park my rusty pickup in front of their house and the dogs come running out, barking to greet me. I reach down and pet them, an old retriever and a mid-sized spotted mongrel.
Dave walks out from the back yard. "Hey Dan, how was the ride up?"
"Not bad, the road's in pretty good shape," I reply.
He offers me a beer. We kick back on old wooden lawn chairs to talk, catch up things. I notice the dogs over by the corner of the yard, growling, fighting each other for posession of some ragged treasure.
"What they got over there?" I ask.
Dave jumps up and rushes over to the dogs. "Gypsy! Gimme that!" he yells at the retriever, as he pulls something from her mouth.
As I approach, I can see Dave's holding a dead bird. "Acid rain's killing them, lately by the dozens. Don't really want the dogs eating them, don't know what it might do... Looks like it's time to make a sweep of the yard again. Wanna help?"
"Sure," I say.
We walk the yard looking for dead birds. I find a half-eaten starling, looks like the dogs already got to it. I show it to Dave.
"When I first started finding 'em I used to bring them to the game warden," Dave says. "But Jim says he don't want to see them no more. He knows what's killing 'em, acid rain. Just toss 'em over the fence where the dogs can't get them."
We continue our sweep. I find a few more dead birds, and some small bones that might be from birds. I toss them all over the fence.
After we finish, Dave says "Let's take a walk down to the lake."
We follow a small creek towards the lake. I see a couple of ducks lying on their sides next to the river. Their feathers are bleached out, and they look dead. Dave picks up one of them, it's barely alive. It moves it's beak a little, a feeble attempt to nip him in defense. Dave takes the bird's head in his hand and quickly snaps it's neck, killing it instantly. He picks up the other one and does the same. He tosses both of the small bodies into the bushes.
"They were too far gone... Put 'em out of their misery, kindest thing you can do," he says.
We arrive at the lake. I notice even though it's a hot day, there are only a handful of kids in the water.
"Not much like the old days, is it? You wouldn't catch me swimming in there now. Last time I tried it I had a rash for a week," Dave says.
I see only one small boat on the lake, a couple of older Mexican guys fishing. "Not many boats out there either," I say.
"Some folks still eat the fish, but I wouldn't risk it," Dave says.