Saturday, December 22, 2007

do I look different to you?

This is going to be a long one. I know this blog is supposed to be for art, but this Wednesday I did something I'd never done before. Since nobody seems to read my other non-art blog, here you go.

On Wednesday, I intentionally killed a warm blooded animal.

My best and oldest friend took me goose hunting in CT at the farm he and his father have hunted for years. DD (not his initials, btw), has been hunting for years and is one of those hunters that give hunting a good name. He doesn't trophy hunt, is very environmentally conscious and is not, in any way, a "gun nut". He's hunted (and fished) ever since I've known him, and in those 30 (!) years, I've never gone with him.

Now hunting may not seem like a big deal to some but it is to me. Recently, I've thought about my eating habits and found that while I do eat meat (avoiding veal and trying to avoid factory-farmed livestock), I've never actually killed something and eaten it. This bothered me because I truly hate hypocrisy and since I've justified it by talking about the omnivorous nature of humans and the existence of prey animals( etc. blah blah blah), I should eventually put my money where my mouth is. Now, I must say in my defense, that I've never put down an ethical vegetarian ( though I've had some heated discussions with those that put down hunters), so I'm not one of those 'grocery store carnivores' that don't seem to realize that their steaks once went 'moo'.

But, this year, I decided to put my money where my mouth was. I met DD at a MA Home Depot parking lot so we could take a single vehicle to the farm. We met at 0645 and got to the farm about an hour later. The farmer was a classic NE dairy farmer: laconic, with no time to chat. Until you want to leave, then he'll talk your ear off. His mother had died that morning after having a stroke two days before, yet he was not unfriendly and allowed us to hunt his upper field.

DD led the setting of the decoys ( photorealistic silhouettes and these huge freestanding ones ). I learned that setting decoys is not a 'set and forget' operation. You must change the arrangement of the decoys as the wind changes so that the geese come in and land from a certain direction. After setting, we donned our white raincoats and sat in the snow. Waiting.

The first flight came over about 10 minutes later and it was spectacular. As the geese flew over for their first look, we could hear their feathers humming from the air as they glided in. I mean really humming.

The first group landed and I took my shot.

And missed. I was nervous and didn't lead it and pulled (rather than squeezed) the trigger. Also I hadn't fired a shotgun in a decade and never at a living creature. The flight, amazing came back to DD's call and I took another shot. And missed. The flock pulled up and disappeared.

It was another hour or so of re-setting the decoys and chatting. We talked about whether or not I'd subconsciously meant to miss. Yes and no. I was not unhappy that I'd missed, but when I pulled the trigger, I'd shot to kill. You see, the thing that bothered me more than the possibility of killing, was the possibility of wounding. I did not want to cause pain. This may seem like a strange conflict, but it's not. A good hunter (as DD is) does not want to cause pain; a clean kill with no suffering is the best.

But, it was hard. Still, I had to do it. I knew that I would feel bad after having done it, but that would be the price I'd pay for eating meat. The next flight came over and I picked my bird. It came down, flared to land and I fired. It dropped and attempted to rise, but couldn't. I felt like shit. As we'd planned, I passed the shotgun to DD without chambering a shell. He put a shell in the chamber and two more in the magazine as he walked towards the stricken goose. He shot it in the head. As he brought it back he explained that I'd actually killed it, it just didn't know it right away. I was still skeptical. You see, that whole 'chicken running around thing' that's true. The goose's tail feathers were wiggling as though it was trying to shed water. However, it was dead. To ease my mind, DD broke its neck (let me say how understanding DD was in all of this).

We were getting ready to leave ,as I didn't need to get my limit, and another flight came over. We quickly donned our white and DD called them in. The flight came over, DD picked his bird and fired. The goose dropped like a stone. Stood up, then collapsed dead. That's the kind of shot I wanted to take, but he's got 30 years of hunting experience under his belt. Now we were satisfied. We packed up the decoys and headed back to the farm to clean the birds on the tailgate of DD's truck. It was a remarkable thing. I didn't shy away, but watched the whole thing and even reached in and felt the places where DD would make the cuts to remove the breasts. I took one breast and gave the rest of the bird to DD as a thank you for taking me out. On Thursday night, I sliced half of the breast and sauteed it in sesame oil. I wanted to eat the first taste without adulterating it; that seemed important. Sweet Enemy and I sat down and ate and it was very tasty. The next night, I made a chili with the last of the breast. It was also delicious.

So. How do I feel? I feel bad, but not super-bad and I don't feel bad about not feeling super-bad. Yes, I took a life to eat, but I treated that food with a reverence that I've never done. Not in a total new-age-y way, but sort of. I didn't want to waste even a little of the breast and I wanted to cook it as well as I could.

Will I do it again? Yes. Will I feel bad? Probably. This is a touchy area for some. Why do it, some might ask. Why not just go out and watch geese? I don't know. I liked how it tasted and I felt a connection with that meat that I've never felt with any sort of food.

On the 5 hour drive home, I thought about the ethical vegetarians against hunting and the grocery store carnivores that deride ethical vegetarians.

To the first group: of all the carnivores, hunters should be the least of your targets. If they hunt and kill wild animals, they are allowing a creature to like a life before they kill it as quickly as they can. This is in contrast to the factory farms that keep animals in relative squalor and then put them through terror before killing them. Hunting is infinitely more ethical than a factory farm. Also, license fees go to help preserve the habitats for the animals. A good hunter is also a good environmentalist. And, as I've said, I've never felt a deeper connection to my food.

To the second group: Shut up. You've separated yourself so far from the origin of your food that you never see the blood; you steak-eaters call it 'juices'. If you've never had to look a creature in the eye before taking its life. If you've never seen the steam rising from the cooling meat as you cut the meat from a once warm and vibrant creature, you have NO place in mocking someone who wishes to never kill.

So, where do I fit? I think I'm a category all of my own. I have two cans of chicken in my cupboard. I will make two more pots of my fantastic chicken-lentil soup and that's it. I will try my best to not eat any meat that I did not have a hand in killing. Not because I enjoy the killing, but because I don't personally feel I have the right to eat something where I don't know how it lived or how it died. That's just me. It's not hard. Sweet Enemy and I are 'financial vegetarians' anyway, so we're not giving up a lot.

Well, that's my week. It was a very big deal for me; almost as big as when Sweet Enemy and I first got together. I'm happy that I was able to share it with DD and there is nobody else I'd have rather shared it with.

Oh, I kept only the shell that I fired and a single wing feather from the goose. I don't like trophies, either.

I wasn't listening to anything while posting


Swinebread said...

I tried many different approaches to respond to you post. But all I can really say is thanks for sharing what was obviously a profound (maybe even spiritual) experience for you.

I’ve never been hunting or fishing, although I’ve cleaned a fish once, so I’m really the last guy to be judging anybody about hunting experiences.

Swinebread said...

Merry Christmas!