Wednesday, November 2, 2011
My father was a hunter. He wore a red and black plaid shirt and I think he also wore a red wool hunting vest with matching pants. It was mandatory for all of us to wear something bright red during hunting season so that we would not be mistaken for a deer and shot. I never thought much of it at the time. I would simply pull on a red sweater or bandana – whatever I could find – before running off to play. It wasn’t a big deal.
It finally occurred to me just how dangerous this whole hunting business could be when I had my own children. We lived on top of a remote mountain, on a rutty dirt road, surrounded by a good thousand acres of national forest.
I would not allow my children to play in the woods during hunting season. It isn’t that my parents did or did not permit us to go in the woods. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad; it was a different time, back when Daniel Boone (Fess Parker) was my hero. Other than the mandatory red in the dress code; there was no distinction between hunting season and any other season.
Not only did I insist that my kids wear red; they were to stay in the yard. I even put red collars on some of my goats. Of course the Nubians wouldn’t keep theirs on; they are impossible. However, the Toggenbergs were agreeable, which was a good thing; their characteristics are quite similar to the White Tail Deer.
Whether it was a 21 gun salute at a ceremony where I waited patiently to play taps on my trumpet, a full blown Howitzer in a Civil War Reenactment, or cannon fire aboard the USS Constitution, I had a tendency to feel gunshots in my chest and the pit of my stomach. Even when the shots are far away – like in the woods during hunting season – I feel it.
I know that there are many people who hunt to fill their freezers with meat, which is honorable. In addition to hunting for food, my Abenaki ancestors used hides and skins for clothing, shelter, and for making various items from bones and other parts. Nothing was wasted. They asked permission before hunting and they gave thanks upon killing. Whatever was left over was ceremoniously offered to the fire with the understanding that the animal spirit(s) would return to the hunting grounds.
Personally, I struggle with consuming meat. It is my understanding that animals are here for sustaining life, however I do not feel right about farm animals (even those that are treated with care and although they are here for a short time, live a humane life). There is something underhanded about taking an animal as a baby, providing it with food, water, shelter and earning trust as a caregiver, just to turn around and slaughter and eat it.
There is a vast difference between hunting and raising animals for meat. I am still working this out in my heart, which is where I do my most important thinking.
I have been integrating more plants into my diet and gradually pulling away from meat. It is a spiritual, emotional and lately a physical choice, as meat has become unappealing. I know that last year was the final nudge that confirmed this way of thinking and being. After nurturing two pigs (while making minimal eye contact in order to alleviate the weirdness after slaughter), I fell flat.
Although I arranged to be out of the viewing range of their execution and stuffed in my earplugs, for some reason, at the last moment, I found myself looking out the window as the scene unfolded. I perceived missing this experience as missing an opportunity. Opportunities come with a price. As unpleasant as it was, I wanted to witness this act as an artist. I wanted to be able to write about the raw experience of watching pigs get shot point blank in the head. It was powerful and has served me well in the creative sense; however my perception of being a carnivore has shifted dramatically. (No more bacon).
The pig incident occurred a little less than one year ago. Much has happened in such a short spell. Throughout it all, I have preserved my essential bond with Our Mother and her inhabitants. I have maintained several feeding stations for birds of all seasons and a Monarch Waystation; I revel in Wildcraft, Herbs and a plentiful garden. I sit outside at night and watch the sky while listening to peepers, owls, coyotes, baby moose and a myriad of other voices. By day I view the winged ones, gaze out over the pond, sit in stillness and consider an unfamiliar sky that has lost its innocence with manmade clouds that fail in the way of integrity and art stuff.
I have come within a few feet of two bears – an adult and a yearling that I caught on camera. I have re-established my friendship with a chipmunk that I call Yeshua just because that is the name that fit when I lived on another great mountain prior to this rambling valley.
Just after hearing the first gunshots that heralded the beginning of deer hunting season, I was outdoors collecting red clover when I saw a four point buck meandering through the bushes in the back yard. Instead of leaping and running as deer often do, he paused and looked straight at me. In fear of frightening him, I held my breath; I wanted to connect. We both froze and continued staring at one another with wide brown eyes. I exhaled. He jerked as if he was going to bolt, but he changed his mind and took a few steps towards where the pine grove once was. I sensed his urge to flee; he resisted. I appreciated that about him.
In my mind I clearly stated my intention, please stay…you are safe here…you can trust me. He gave me one more curious glance and then took his time walking up the hill, stopping to nibble on the random new growth that found its way through the ashes of old. I watched until he disappeared into the shadowy darkness of the giant pines beyond the mossy stone wall.
Last night, just before sunset, I went outdoors. After careful thought, I decided which areas were favorable to scatter carrot and apple peels and cores. I overlooked the two established compost piles because I intended for these scraps to be specifically for the deer. The wind blew hard; the pine boughs waved recklessly while the remaining leaves clung tightly to the branches of the hardwood trees.
I emptied the bowl of scraps and looked up the hill where the buck had gone a week earlier. I scraped the carrot peels from the bottom of the bowl, took a deep breath and thought, this is for the deer.
The wind blew harder; I pulled my hood up over my head and returned to the warm house where the fire was crackling in the woodstove in the kitchen. I stood at the sink and rinsed the bowl as I looked out the window, pleased that I had put the scraps where I had a good view.
The next morning as I was pouring a cup of coffee, I had a sudden impulse to look up. Standing outside of the window was a young buck fawn – a yearling. At first I thought that it was a doe, but then I saw the little nubs of starter antlers. Again I held my breath and watched. He knew that I was watching, even though I was indoors. He was as aware of me as I was of him.
Like the grand elder that walked before him, this buck trusted me and the land. He explored and took his time moving up the hill, paying homage to the remains of a once majestic pine grove whilst nibbling on new growth that could only come after a death of such magnitude.
The joy that I felt within is almost indescribable. I intended to provide trust and compassion with deer. I expressed this clearly as I scattered carrots and apples.
After he vanished into the woods, I went outdoors. He didn’t eat the carrots and may have eaten the apples, I am not certain. However, it is not about carrots or apples; it is about intention.
Journal: 'Scarlett Lily'- (High Souled Aspirations)