Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My fellow huntress, and the reverie she inspired

I was walking to the gym this morning when I spotted something out of the corner of my eye – a bump in the middle of the gym’s otherwise perfectly kept lawn. I turned to it.

It was a Cooper’s hawk, no more than 15 yards from me, sitting atop something roundish, black and furry.

Something big. She tried to lift the furry lump, but it was probably two-thirds her size – way too heavy to carry off. She tried to lift it again, revealing … Read more...
Bunny ears.
The short stubby kind they have when they’re maybe four or five weeks old.

Resigned to the reality of her situation, the hawk gave up on trying to escape with her prey, and began pecking at it, right there in the middle of the gym lawn, coming up with a beak full of fur and flesh each time.

Now, this is the part in the nature channel documentary where some of my fellow city folk get all weepy, thinking about this poor dead bunny being savaged by the merciless raptor.

For me, it was the part where I looked around and spotted the doe – that would be Mommy – sitting near some bushes about another 15 yards from the hawk, pretty much minding her own business. She looked like one of the domestic rabbits that folks down the street loosed on the neighborhood. She was unperturbed. Animals just don't freak out about death the way we do.

For a full ten minutes, I stood and watched the hawk eat what she could. And I watched the cars pulling into the gym, waiting to see who would slow down to find out what that chick’s looking at, and how many would speed into the parking lot and boogie on up to their tai chi class. I’d say one in eight took a look.

Ultimately, even I had to hurry into the gym. But as I worked the pedals of the elliptical machine, I got to thinking.

One of the things that’s made it relatively easy – intellectually – for me to take up hunting is that I’ve always been fascinated with things like this little dead bunny. When I was 5, I wanted to be a paleontologist, and lacking any accessible dinosaur skeletons in our region, I used to go collect sun-bleached cow bones at area ranches.

When I was 7 or so, my family started raising chickens. Then rabbits. Then pigs. All for food. All in the back part of our half-acre lot in a fairly tony, upper-middle class neighborhood zoned for horses. I’m pretty sure our neighbors weren’t too happy about the pigs, but they turned blind eyes and deaf ears when Dad dispatched Herkimer and Herbie with his .38 revolver.

Later, we moved to the country, and I joined 4-H and made rabbits my “project.” I raised them for meat, kept records on expenses and income, and sold dressed rabbits to the local supermarket. Dad did the killing for me, though.

In my experience, I’ve found most city dwellers can’t fathom this lifestyle. Throughout my 19-year career in the newspaper business – a profession populated largely by urbanites – many of my colleagues regarded my childhood experience as quaint at best, disgusting at worst. I actually feel sorry for these folks, partly because I think they really don’t know where food comes from, partly because they’ve grown up eating bland, bacteria-infested, factory-farmed meat.

But I see signs of hope.

The first is the rapid growth in the number of women hunters – a 72 percent increase over five years ago. As long as hunting remains the cloistered domain of the guys, America at large can continue to marginalize it. But there’s something about the notion of women hunting that’s got to make at least some people think, Hey, maybe it’s not just Larry the Cable Guy out there.

The other is that foodies may just be the fastest-growing subset of American culture, based on what I see happening around me. After a couple of ridiculous decades of fat-gram counting, carb-hating, self-denying diets, many are starting to see the appeal of good old-fashioned real food. And that includes real meat, not just pastured/free-range/organic meats, but hunted meats as well. Meats filled with a blend of nutrients and flavors that don’t come in a bag from the feed store.

My boyfriend and I are constantly surprised and delighted to find new friends who want to come to our house for a seriously gourmet dinner of game meats. (Full disclosure: My boyfriend’s the cook, not me. But I did make his apron. It's camo, of course.)

Even vegetarians have been willing to sample our meats...

So went my aerobic reverie this morning, but eventually, it had to come to an end. It was time to head out.

By this point, it was all over outside: The hawk was gone, the carcass still there, ribcage torn open, guts spilled out.

Now it was a contest to see who would get to the remains first: the groundskeepers, who would waste the life by throwing it in the trash, or the vultures that patrol our neighborhood, who would finish the job as nature intended.

This being a city, I’m betting on the groundskeepers.

© Holly A. Heyser 2007


Anonymous said...

I'm a city girl born and bred, but I was always taught that nature has a cycle, and that cycle includes eating and being eaten. Guess that's why hunting has never bothered me. That might be put to the test when it is me instead of someone else pulling the trigger, but that remains to be seen.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Before I started hunting, I also wondered what it would be like - I'd never done the killing with any of our farm animals.

What I found was that the shot was easy - you're in the moment, and you're jubilant when you hit your target. The hard part is finishing off a bird that's not dead. The first time, I apologized to the duck first. Now, I just try to do it quickly.