Ursa Major, the Great Bear, and her son.
Orion rises over the mountain
The Great Bear races towards the northwest –
Deer are stalked in grim silence.
Bear pad soundlessly through bruised leaves,
dead branches, hyper – aware.
The birds are still except for black crows
whose shrill warnings track madmen.
The She Bear circumnavigates the night.
Her son is a compass pointing North.
The Circle of Life, Guidance,
Clarity and Compassion
are gifts offered by patterns
written into the stars overhead.
But where are the men who once gazed skyward?
Men who ritualized the story
of the hunter and his prey
taking only what was needed,
begging forgiveness from the animal
that died, people who gave thanks
for the gift of an animal body?
Today no one reads the night skies in November.
Instead, a human induced re-enactment –
blood orange and grim
plays out on the stage of the forest floor.
Humility has been replaced by Hubris.
Deer and bear are stalked and shot
not so that others might live, but
to demonstrate the loss
of human compassion and dignity –
to celebrate the sovereignty
of the right to kill.
The air is split by shrill blasts of gunshot.
Animals, young and old stagger and fall –
the wounded will suffer and starve in silence.
Others, more fortunate, lie dead.
Stuffed animal heads with horns appear on living room walls –
mirrors for crumbling egos – fractured self images.
The trees are keening for animals they lost.
Sapling children bend low in grief.
Frightening Old Women appear as Furies
turning red blood
into haunted night shrieks for Justice.
I screech obscenities or weep,
mimic the screams of
Great Horned owls.
When are these stupid men going to get it
that hunting is a “tradition” that is dead?
*Although the Great She Bear is chased by Orion as he rises in the eastern sky in the Northeast, he is never destined to catch Her. And as the season passes, Orion descends below the horizon while the She Bear continues her cyclic round.
Last week I was walking up a familiar wood’s road and noticed a tent – like structure hidden in low brush. When I went over to investigate I discovered to my profound distress that deer grain had been placed on the forest floor to lure deer to the spot. Worse, I knew that deer routinely crossed at this point. Then I saw the camera.
I concluded that a man I knew erected this tent as a blind for his seven year old son to help the boy shoot his first spikehorn (a young buck) because he told me that he was tracking the young buck’s movements for his son with a camera. But what stunned me the most was the presence of grain that was being used as bait.
Revolted, I kept my feelings to myself. This man’s grandfather was my friend, now 101, and when Roy was young he hunted to put food on the table retaining a hunting ethic of fair chase that I had grudgingly come to respect (my respect was forever tarnished when I learned of the white deer but that is another story). I believed up until last week that Roy’s hunting ethic had been passed on to his grandson. I was wrong.
Once, the hunter’s idea of fair chase pitted man against the animal without stacking the deck. Today, all hunting techniques do stack the deck. Web cams have become the eyes of the hunter. The masking of human scent is routinely practiced. An impressive array of technological gadgets are used to help the hunter achieve his goal. Instead of walking, men use four wheelers to reach more inaccessible places where animals might be hiding out. Every hunting season opens when the animals are at their most vulnerable either needing food in order to survive hibernation/winter, as is the case for bears, or during mating season when animals like moose, elk, deer are distracted by their own hormones. Bear hunters use bait, hounds and steel traps to ensure a kill. “Just knowing I can shoot an animal makes me high” one hunter told me without apology.
Gradually, as the knowledge of the use of deer baiting to satisfy a seven year old’s pleasure in his first kill seeped into my body, I began to boil with anger. It was illegal to bait deer with grain or food of any kind. Abruptly, I slammed the door on the circle I had once opened with such difficulty. I was a naturalist who loved all animals, wild or tame. When I moved to these mountains thirty years ago I was confronted by the realities of routine animal slaughter each fall. Deer and moose hung outside hunters’ homes on nearby trees bleeding out. Stunned and repelled on a visceral level, I struggled hard not to become as militant as these men apparently were. I made friends with hunters and tried to see their point of view. I learned to respect some although as an animal lover I never surrendered my personal stance. I continued to side with the animals, but I also created space for the hunter’s perspective and in that process surrendered my hatred for these men choosing tolerance instead.
With this vignette I come full circle returning to my original position that killing of wild animals is morally and ethically wrong. But what I had learned by painfully traversing the circle is that although I could feel rage without censor on a temporary basis, I couldn’t allow myself to stay there. To do so would align me with animal killers, inside and out, albeit unconsciously (it takes two halves of love/hatred to make a whole). I needed to open and step outside that circle long enough to attempt to include the “other,”
While the hunting season continues I feel hopeless rage and grief that so many will die to boost faltering male egos. I make the choice to create space for my hatred of these egregious practices and when the time comes I will also let that hatred go – not for them but for me. This is perhaps the most important lesson I have learned from living in these mountains.
I hold the following position without apology:
There is absolutely no reason for any person to kill an animal or bird even to put food on the table. We have supermarkets for food and programs to assist those who need help with feeding their families (unless that changes no one has an excuse to hunt). Killing any animal for “sport”(a euphemism for fun) or the hunter’s addictive “high” is totally unacceptable because it supports the belief that humans can kill without negative consequences, including the development of potentially lethal addictions the most serious of which is an addiction to war.
Although hunters rationalize that that many of them eat what they kill I say – so what? When they whine that hunting is an American tradition I state “change is the only constant.” And when they speak of their “right” to kill animals I know that permission has been tacitly given to kill all other forms of life including humans and that permission is passed on inter –generationally from father to son.
Think about my closing sentence the next time you support a hunter’s right to slaughter an innocent animal that has as much right to live as the rest of us do.