Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hunting the moment of crystalline beauty

Sunday was a miserable morning for duck hunting - 25 degrees and foggy. The birds might as well have been tethered to the ground. Our fingers might as well have been frozen chicken tenders.

But Boyfriend and I had driven more than 300 miles to hunt with my new friend Brent in the Klamath Basin, so we had to give it a try.

Hunting in the fog is tough because even when you do see the occasional birds, they appear so quickly out of the mist that you barely have time to raise your gun - especially when you've got your hands stuffed in your pockets, clinging to chemical warming packs.

Our morning dialogue went like this:

"OK, the fog should be clearing now."

"OK, I think it's starting to lift."

"Oh, it just settled back in."

If we looked straight up from Brent's boat, we could see a hazy circle of blue, but the world all around us was gray. When we could see the rising sun at all, it was a muted disc.

We were near closed zones and grain fields, though, so we could hear the distant cacophony of geese all around us. Occasionally, they would lift, and we'd strain our eyes and ears, waiting to see if they'd come our way.

One time, they did.

We could hear a flock of snow geese coming toward us, making their joyful racket. But it was like watching a scene in a horror movie where you know the bad guy's going to attack, but you don't know exactly where he'll come from, or when he'll strike.

"They always sound closer than they really are..."

We all looked to the sky, waiting for something to appear in that blue spot so we could see how close they had come to us. When they finally appeared at about 80 yards, it was one of those stunning moments that make you feel so blessed to be a hunter - because there sure as hell weren't any bird watchers taking this in.

The snows were flying just above the fog, wingbeats loud and powerful in the water-laden air - whoosh ... whoosh ... whoosh. The light of the rising sun was glinting golden off their white bellies, not the gold most of us wear, but the bright yellow of 24 karat gold. There was just enough water vapor between us an them to create that dreamy, soft-focus effect of a good 1930s film. They looked like angels.

I gasped gently. My heart slowed. I was awed.

It was a moment of such crystalline joy that all time stopped. It was like a drug. Like an orgasm for the brain. I could lose myself in that sight and sound forever and never regret the world I'd left behind. I could lift up and join them.

An unintelligible shout rang out on my left.

Then gunshots.

As if drugged, I swung my gaze slowly back to the earth, down and to the left. Something had come in. Ducks. No - geese! Low flyers. Maybe 15 yards off the ground. Right in front of us.

As I swung my head left, the birds were already passing to my right. With my right hand, I raised the gun from its passive position, butt resting on the floor of the boat. I yanked my left hand out of my chemically-warmed pocket. Shouldered the gun. The geese were speeding away. Fired one futile shot at their butts. Let them go.

"What the hell just happened?"

Brent said a small group had come in for a landing, drawn to the enormous plastic swans in our decoy spread. He'd seen them in time to drop one. Boyfriend and I, befuddled, had gotten nothing.

Brent's black lab, Sage, retrieved the downed goose - a juvenile still covered with shades of gray.

There wasn't much action after that. A wounded wigeon swam into our spread and Brent dispatched him. A flock of pintails came in. Brent dropped one and I dispatched a crip on the water.

And every time there was a flight of geese moving over us and we all found ourselves staring straight up, mouths agape, I would yank myself back to earth to see if any more geese would try to pull a fast one. But, of course, they didn't.

We waited and waited for the clearing weather that would spark a massive flight of ducks, but it never came. Facing a long drive home, we finally gave up, grateful to have any birds at all.

For the rest of my life, though, I will view that day not as a failure, but as one of my most memorable hunts ever.

And in the future, I'll try to remember to keep my eyes trained on the world closer to the ground. No promises, though.

Boyfriend and Holly - happiness isn't always having a full strap

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

46 comments:

Native said...

Lovely, very lovely Holly!
The way modern sport hunting should be thought of addressed and appreciated.

Phillip said...

It was a moment of such crystalline joy that all time stopped. It was like a drug. Like an orgasm for the brain. I could lose myself in that sight and sound forever and never regret the world I'd left behind. I could lift up and join them.


Beautiful...!

And that right there is why a lot of us do what we do.

I'd say most of a hunt is spent seeing the same old things, focused on game or sign, and even borders on boredom. But there's always that moment... the clouds part, a rainbow or shooting star, a hawk stoops, or some other natural event takes place that reminds us of the awesomeness of nature... and of our very small place in it, not as a simple observer but as an active participant.

Tom Sorenson said...

I'm humbled by your writing - but because I can't write it doesn't mean I don't feel it. You've expressed I think what every hunter has at one time or another had the good fortune of experiencing - that perfect time when nature has revealed herself to us in a stunning beauty that we'll ne'er forget.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks, gentlemen! I've been itching to write this for three days, but that infernal day job - and it has been infernal this week - kept interfering. Thank you for sharing my joy!

Jim said...

Had one of those days in Northern Mich this season. We were buzzed by Mallards and a Buck swimming across the lake. Made my season...

Blessed said...

I do hunt for days like that... and I know exactly what you're talking about, I've seen it myself and it is awesome!

speaking of day jobs... I'd better get back to work :)

SimplyOutdoors said...

Holly,

I just absolutely love your writing, but I think you even outdid yourself on this one. You definitely have a way with words. It makes me want to hunt RIGHT NOW!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks!

I have that same feeling. The worst day of hunting is better than the best day of grading...

Daryl said...

Holly wants me to tell a story....
OK..I will name this story "Opening Day"

This is my most memorable opening day of duck season.

There is Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day weekend. None compare to opening day of duck season for me.
I am a duck fanatic
Bout 8 years ago long time hunting partner and I packed up the Honda CRX with 2 bags of Decoys, (1) 90 lb black lab, (1) 80 lb Malemute/Shepherd mix and all the gear necessary.
It didnt take long for the excitement to begin, about 50 ft from the house, I caught the attention of the local Cupertino Sheriffs Dept. 2 guys dressed in full camo in a CRX at 2:30 am ??? suspicious?? PFFT
He pulled me over, gun fully drawn approached the vehicle. "he replied, where You guys going?", I hesitated, Careful Daryl, I really wanted to say Bank of America...instead I replied, Duck huntin' its opening day, with a smile". He proceeded to check out the jam packed vehicle, the shotguns, the dogs, the decoys, I do not believe he had seen many hunters. He paused a moment and let us go.
I leaned over to Keith and said, "Its gonna be a good day"
We made our way out to Los Banos, I was so fired up I think I peed a lil, Tule fog, telephone pole height.....PEEEERRRRFFFEECT
one last hurdle between me and the Flocks of f15s (teal) in duck gibberish. "The Gauntlet of Mud"
this was the last section of road that lead to the blind, was always drenched in water which created a 4 inch deep muddy gauntlet, I have been stuck many a times trying to get in and found the best approach was. FULLL THROTTLE...I could see the campers, I could see the hard pack ground on the other side of the two large metal pipes gaurding the entrance...I leaned over to Keith and said...HOLD ON...WERE GOIN IN.Popped the clutch and hit the gas...I got the rice rocket to about 40 hit the mud and bottomed out point the wheels straight, keep on the gas, and PRAY. I was sideways pretty much the whole way in, cleared the metal pipes by a 1/8 of an inch. Yanked the E brake and slid sideways into camp. Then let out one hell of a REBEL YELL' and said. "LETS GO HUNTIN". I think I peed a lil more. One of the Old timers' walked up and said, "Great entrance, buy a truck".
Opening Day, everyone is there, kids bout a foot tall carryin shotguns 3x their height, smell of coffee, huge campfire with enough food for an army. Good people, good times, beautiful country. And PERFECT WEATHER. Oh yeah.
On our way out to the blind, the dogs are just about as excited as we are, I look over and through the fog could barely make out the ghostly image of a Magnum goose decoy, I whisper to keith, "There's one hell of a duck" and pointed. Big mistake, Keith's dog "Gator" saw me point at that Deek and took off like a bat outta hell, hellbent on bringing back that duck. Gator is a great dog, but stupid as rocks, In the field he is brilliant, natural instincts drive him, we will shoot 2 birds and come home with 5....by the time I could yell Gator NO, he was in the air - hit that metal deek at 30mph, sounded like a baseball bat hittin a pole. "BAARROOOOONNNGGG". Five guys jump up out of their blinds wondering what the hell was goin on... I couldn't stop laughing, and Gator was definately not in Kansas anymore. We proceeded to have and excellent day, shot some beautiful ducks, we won the "Big Sack" which was a coveted prize amoungst friends. Pretty simple you had the biggest bag at the end of the day, everyone else had to clean your ducks. I paid my appreciation with cold beers for all.
This was my most memorable "Opening Day"
Good friends, great hunting, and one dizzy dog.. gotta love duck hunting

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, Daryl, I could listen to your stories all day!

In case anyone's wondering, this is the same Daryl who told this story on Labor Day weekend.

Daryl said...

Likewise Holly, you are a truly gifted writer. I feel the experience and the excitement in your words. You are a gift to the hunting community, keep up the good work!

Josh said...

Beautiful.

Live to Hunt.... said...

Pure poetry as usual Holly. Well done, very inspiring!

hutchinson said...

A beautiful moment indeed and another point, Holly, where you and I find agreement. :)

When you mentioned no bird watchers, it may have been because you were on hunting turf. Those of us who don't hunt are often not permitted in public areas around here where hunters abound. Or, we avoid areas where we know we'll have to experience the sounds and sights of the hunt.

But I'm out often in the fog, pre-dawn, huddling among shorebirds or ducks who become acclimated to me and stick around. With my binoculars, -- and often with other birders and wildlife watchers -- we see precisely this type of spectacular vision that you experienced that day.

If the birds or animals aren't spooked, the scene often repeats itself without interruption -- whether it's geese or swans or cranes or deer. I've watched them for hours, either unnoticed -- or noticed and perceived to be harmless.

And in as much as there is deep morning fog and silence, I often lose myself in the splendor of their presence and repeated flights of white majesty over my head. I have cried many a time. I wish that everyone in the world could share that communion with our gorgeous wild lands and wildlife.

In fact, I'm preparing for a 5am getup tomorrow because I suspect the conditions might be right for just such a morning.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Good to know! I actually wrote that because on Saturday, when it was clear and bright, we'd seen scads of birdwatchers (who looked at us stonily), but on Sunday we saw none.

And Saturday night, we'd had dinner with someone who volunteers at the refuge visitor center, and she told us about a bird watcher who came in, looked at the exhibits and started just trashing hunters. The volunteer informed the person that The refuge was paid for by hunters - and that the refuge gets not a dime from bird watchers.

... hence the source of my bad attitude.

hutchinson said...

Hi, Holly --

I'm not sure why I dropped by tonight. I was thinking I'd take one last look at my favorite hunting blog before saying goodbye. As I'm sure you can tell, it's sometimes difficult for me to refrain from my expressing POV in the face of these discussions. And to be honest, I don't really want to come here and take issue with any of you all. You seem like very nice people So what am I doing? I must be crazy. :)

Holly, there's no way I can defend "my kind" in the face of strong feelings we all have (on both sides). With respect to your weekend experience, I am genuinely sorry more non-hunters can't face you or talk with you in ways that might bring about a better understanding -- just as I wish some hunters could realize not all of us on the other side are fanatics and then treat our views with some respect as well.

No matter how any of us presents ourselves publicly, the reality is that it's incredibly tough, maybe even impossible sometimes, to be invested in a way of life that transcends emotion. That goes for animal welfare and conservation proponents, as well as hunters.

For the record, just so you know - many of us do not like the current funding system of wild lands. We also pay some taxes for various public lands. But almost anyone I've met birding or wildlife watching or working in rehabilitation or working in conservations would be more than elated to pay our fare share of fees, as you do.

If we had our own Pittman-Robertson act, I guarantee you there would be a lot of people who would happily pay a tax on binoculars, camera gear, fielding trips -- and any other product or service that would contribute to this shared public resource. Of course, you do realize that would mean (probably) less influence from hunters since we could also claim the same financial investment in the future and well-being of the resources. I don't know that a lot of hunters would want that, frankly. But I know a lot of non-hunters would more than appreciate having the ability to fund these public areas.

I realize emotions are heated on all fronts, and a complete understanding is a lot to ask of either side. I don't expect it. I do, however, often hear hunters describing the beautiful scenes you had this weekend -- and I've also heard hunters in the same breath, tell me that as a non-hunter, I can't possibly know or understand. That I don't grasp the intimate connection with the outdoors, the early mornings, the silence, the weather, the cold, the confluence with the cycle of life -- couldn't be farther from my reality.

Many of us -- even urban dwellers who spend every free moment quietly taking in the wilderness areas. Not on mountain bikes. Not quickly passing through areas without so much as taking a sniff of a fennel stalk or a look at a butterfly. On the contrary. We're out there, too. We have those same magical connections. I've seen fawns being born, and eagles learning to fly. I've watched young elk learn to jump fences with their mothers, and the northern lights and the barren ice of the tundra.

We just see it all so differently from you. That doesn't mean our experience in the wilderness is any less valid or authentic. And that doesn't mean we won't be out there in the fog, freezing our fingers into a gangrenous pulp, watching snow geese fly, and having the near-spiritual crescendo you all experience when you're doing the same. There's no denying it. Those are the true moments of magic and miracle in my humble existence.

Kristine said...

Beautiful writing Holly. Almost makes me wish I had been out there freezing with you.

Almost.

And to Hutchinson, I just want to say this. I think there are reasonable people who can understand the other point of view on both sides of the hunter/non-hunter issue. Part of what a lot of hunters want is more people to enjoy the outdoors and animals in whatever way suits each person best. The problem comes from those, on both sides of the issue, who can't see the other side's point of view. Unfortunately, those people are the louder of the two groups and tend to get heard more often. If the people in the middle, those who want to forge an understanding can work together, maybe we can drown the more extreme factions out. I'd like ot think that's possible.

Shannon said...

Holly, you really have a way with words. I could really relate to your story.

This year, on Michigan's opening day, I had my first experience watching a flock of cupped and committed mallards pouring into our spread at first light. We were at the end of a beaver pond that was 1/4 mile long, but only 30 yards across. We'd done our scouting a head of time, and new it was a good spot. Just as the sun started to come up, a flock of 50 mallards came dropping over the tree tops right into the decoys, the light turning them golden. They were right in my face, and all I could do was stand there with my jaw agape and watch. I'd never seen anything like it. It was awesome. I was brought back to the present when the guys around me started shooting. By the time realized I should be shooting too, the oppurtunity had passed. I missed my best chance of the season at a "give-me".

Our season is about wrapped up here in Michigan. All but the biggest lakes are frozen, and the only bird I shot this year was finishing off a crippled honker. But it's not about the harvest, it's about the experience. And that opening day vision is an experience I'll always treasure.

sportingdays said...

Here's a friendly suggestion for hutchinson. You don't need a birding version of the Pittman-Robertson act to help waterfowl, wetlands and wildlife (although that would be nice in an ideal world, I suppose). You can head to your local post office once a year and buy a federal duck stamp for $15. "Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar generated by the sales of Federal Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or lease wetland habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System," to quote from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife website. You can take this a step further by purchasing a state waterfowl stamp, if your state offers one, which typically goes toward the same purpose in acquiring and enhancing local wetlands. They are beautiful stamps that you would no doubt enjoy keeping and collecting. Set the example for all your birding friends. No duck hunter I know would diss you in any way at any refuge if you told them you purchased a duck stamp every year so you, too, could help protect and enjoy these natural areas.

Daryl said...

In fact, I think most would pay more attention to your point of view. Besides the fact that many of the duck stamps increase in value and could be worth triple in just a couple years.

Conservation and management are key words to any avid duck hunter...

For every "Opening Day" we would spend countless hours clearing tule's and waterways, cutting brush , clearing fields. I believe that any avid hunter has seen what happens without conservation and management and understands that for every "Magical moment" in the field requires a few hundred back breaking work hours to preserve it. By a simple act of buying a duck stamp I would be happy to buy you a coffee and sit down to hear your views.. you might be on to something Holly. "Duck Stamp Drive"?

Daryl said...

Sorry, I meant Sporting clays, not Holly...I keep wanting to give her credit for everything.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hey, Daryl, I want credit for EVERYTHING!

But yes, it's a great idea. I also think it's worth contributing to or volunteering for waterfowl organizations like Ducks Unlimited or California Waterfowl, which do enormous amounts of conservation work. I can tell you that Cal Waterfowl has nonhunters - even vegetarians! - in its ranks.

And while I don't know how it works everywhere, I can tell you the most prominent piece of habitat work Cal Waterfowl has done near me is in a non-hunting part of a refuge, right next to a freeway so everyone whizzing by at 80 mph gets to enjoy the birds.

Daryl said...

LOL...you just reminded me of ANOTHER story....

Sorry for being a hogblogger...

I will try to make this as short as possible.
In my college years, I lived with my Girlfriend and 2 of her girl friends, one of which was a Vegan.
We respected each others viewpoints and actually got along quite well....TILL THAT ONE DAY
I was a duck fanatic then too...
Long story short 3 girls 0 cooks I could not believe that none of these girls could cook, they would burn TOAST???

That fatefull day started out nice....Good morning shoot was home and off to work, Bridget had asked If I could make my famous Veggie spaghetti for her and some visiting family, I said "No Problem"...

I got stuck at work and called another roomie to let Bridget know that there would be no veggie spaghetti tonight and to "make due".
Kinda like the phone ad "She didn't get that call"
SOOOO when she arrived home, and saw a large bowl with foil over the top she Assumed it was the veggie spaghetti.....IT WASN'T......
Happened to be the morning shoot of two beautiful mallards, soaking in salt water, heads, feathers...full ducks.......not veggie spaghetti... She obviously, didn't even look. Tossed it in the micro and then to the table with her hungry family eagerly awaiting veggie spaghetti.....SURPRISE!.....
my neighbor said he heard screams for at least a minute.....
Its a very funny memory for me now, but I sure caught hell that night.
Guess I will name this one "Daryl the Vegan and the scream heard round the block"

NorCal Cazadora said...

HEY! NO MORE FUNNY STORIES! I'm dressed nice today to go someplace after work and I really don't want to pee myself because I don't have time to go home and change, thank you very much.

Daryl said...

Im zippin it....not a single funny thing more...

hutchinson said...

Hi, all. How are you guys (and non-guys)? I hate the word "gals" so you'll forgive the awkward phrasing.

Believe it or not, my friends and I do purchase duck stamps. I have to admit that although I'm happy to contribute in any way to refuges, I would still love another method (akin to the P/R act) -- one which could also stipulate a broader interpretation of duck habitat and wildlife conservation. I realize we're sometimes coming from different POVs in terms of how wildlife is managed. Again, this is biased, speaking from someone who works in a conservation field.

I'm happy to report that we agree on habitat work! You see, there's hope for deep and lasting friendship yet. I wish more people knew how rewarding that particular work is.

I will take your advice and try to encourage more people who use wild lands to think about giving back in this way and in the purchase or donation of any product (e.g. duck stamps) that contributes to that end.

Beyond Ducks Unlimited and waterfowl associations, non-hunters can also turn to places like Audubon for occasional volunteer habitat restoration, as well as open space land trusts and other conservancies which offer a multitude of regular opportunities to work on wild lands.

And one last thing -- I recently traveled across the country to work on an oil spill where we thought hunters could have been of great value to us in rescue and observation. We couldn't recruit many who were interested. Why do I have a sense it would have been different if the people on this particular list were there?

As such, it was mostly birders who were out there with us. It could be the word wasn't spread effectively enough. So that's another way we all can and do come together when these tragic accidents happen. When people roll up their sleeves together, somehow, those animosities tend to disappear.

I try to retain some semblance of idealism about the future, but I think the problems of the world and our environment will eventually force us all to work together and compromise, however challenging that may be. Maybe that will be a good thing.

hutchinson said...

** Indulge this question only if you feel like it, but I'm genuinely interested. This is not posed with sarcasm.

Getting back to Holly's original post and experience, I was wondering last night (after I posted) how much time you all tend to spend watching animals for long, languid periods, away from hunting areas or hunting season?

I realize many hunters grow up with a great appreciation for the outdoors, as did I. I lived in the woods every free moment as a kid. But I've never actually asked this question of a hunter.

The contrast between watching animals that are not under predation and not within earshot of guns and hunters can be dramatic -- as witnessed if you've ever watched ducks or deer or elk in protected sanctuaries versus in hunted wetlands and habitat. I have to admit that as an animal lover, I do thrive on those experiences where humans are not perceived threats. Some friends who traveled to the Galapagos told me amazing stories about the animals there, owing to that very concept.

I've been in both situations (around hunting and in protected areas) and I now choose non-hunting areas for that reason. I live for those uninterrupted experiences that Holly's goose poetry so aptly described. But I'd be interested in how your experience differs between those times you're a non-predator observer, and when you're actually hunting. Because it must be a dramatic contrast when the end purpose is completely different.

This could be a loaded question you're reticent to answer in that it might implicate your feelings in print. So, for what it's worth, no obligations.

(I can't believe I'm back here again. No worries. I'm leaving soon on a work expedition with limited electronic access, so I won't be around for a while after this. With any luck on your part, I'll lose the URL to Holly's blog.)

Cheerio.

Jesses Hunting And Outdoors said...

Beautiful Holly. ^5

I first stared mouth agape at honkers in the freezin corn fields of I-ah-way with my uncle Bob and cousin Bobby. Very spiritual as you related.

A couple years ago I stumbled across this trip down memory lane from another writer which reminded me of when we hunted in north MO around Swan Lake, Sumner MO to be exact. The goose capital of the world. It was his first time also.

http://www.jesseshunting.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=134309

Josh said...

hutchinson,

My last comment to you was a little more aggressive, so let me say here that I respect your position and the decisions you've made, as they seem to come from an honest reflection about life and trying to do what you understand to be right.

I hunt, I bird, I paddle, I hike, I fish, I camp, I stroll, I bike, and most of the time my actions in each are nearly indistinguishable. Most times, I stop and wait, and try to be just a part of it. I've hunted and fished with people who only wanted to bag things, I've hiked and biked and paddled with people who just wanted to get miles under them, I've birded with people who just wanted to add to their life list. And while all those things are fine for them, that's not why I showed up. Frankly, if you look, you'll see that each of those reasons is probably just the same thing wrapped up. I understand it, I feel it sometimes, too, but most of the time, even when I forget, I'm outside for that experience that Holly described, and I'm thankful that I get reminded of it.

Last day of a disappointing deer season this year, a blade of grass caught my attention. About two-feet high, slender as a pencil and flat, it quivered. I watched it, and it quivered again. No wind. I didn't move, but kept watching. It quivered, then shook a little more, and then it twitched and shrunk an inch, then another. And then, it quickly shrunk and shrunk, and slid into the ground to disappear!

Everybody should get to see that once in their lives, just not in their carrot patch, I hope.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Totally legit question, Hutchinson. And honestly, hunting is about the only thing (for now) that gets me out to watch animals, though I have to say Boyfriend and I take great delight in watching animals - mostly birds - in our back yard.

And in the summer, I love kayaking on a nearby lake in a state park, where I sometimes see spectacular displays of wildlife (like on this day.

But beyond that? Not much. My full-time job is as a professor. I teach writing. I spend inordinate amounts of time grading writing - days, nights, weekends. My side work includes this blog, magazine writing and magazine photography (primarily food photography). You'd think I'd have scads of time in my free summers, but this past one just evaporated - I worked so much I barely had time to go to the lake at all.

Intersting question, though. My dad used to hunt, before I was born, but eventually, he decided it was more fun to go out into the woods and watch - said he saw more than he did when he was watching with a specific objective. And I've read of many hunters who ultimately have made the same decision - you'll probably see references to it in that book you bought. But in Dad's case, it wasn't a change of heart about killing - he found he could raise meat animals at home, which was far more convenient.

To answer the other question, duck hunters actually do get to see animals in areas where they don't fear us - it's called the closed zone, and you usually pass one on your way out of the refuge - so we know exactly how dramatic the difference in behavior is. When non-hunting family visits, we always take them to a nearby closed zone so they can see the birds.

NorCal Cazadora said...

And Josh, I have never in my life heard such a cool story about a blade of grass.

NorCal Cazadora said...

A final note on Hutchinson, who tends to apologize profusely for inserting long discussions into the comment thread.

I just sent Hutch an email explaining why the conversations don't bother me. The first reason is that they're civil, which beats the hell out of some discussions I see out there on the net. But the second reason goes back to an experience I had in 1996 when I was a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News.

That year, I covered a big experiment called “deliberative polling.” The point was to test the effects of educating the citizenry. Instead of polling by phone, all these people were brought together in one place for a day or two of discussions about key national issues going into the presidential election. They were polled on their positions at the beginning, and then there were informative discussions, where speakers presented factual information, and all the people got a chance to discuss that, and to hear each other’s positions on issues like Social Security, welfare, immigration, etc.

At the end, everyone was polled again and here’s what they found: Hardly anyone changed their positions on key issues. But, they left with a deeper understanding of both facts and alternative points of view, and a sense of civility that they’d not felt before.

It was a transformative event for me personally and professionally as well – it’s when I learned that everyone has a right to his or her values, and it’s best to avoid assuming that anyone’s values come from a bad place.

It's natural to adopt a defensive stance when someone challenges your key values; it's also remarkably easy to get past that if you just open your ears.

Josh said...

Wow! I'm better than Whitman?!?

That polling experiment sounds great, and the takeaway you got from it is far more heartening than what many folks may jump to: That even with facts, the public is still stubborn and stupid. I like your's better.

sportingdays said...

In my own life -- with work, family, two kids under 5 and various community obligations -- I will admit that most of my serious outdoor time these days occurs when I’m holding a gun or fishing rod in my hands. With that said, I think hunters may notice and better appreciate all the serendipitous encounters with wildlife that take place in our everyday lives. How many nonhunters notice the flock of wild mallards working the pond off the freeway during their morning commute? How many nonhunters get excited -- as I do -- when a group of mourning doves pass by close overhead? How many, on a bike ride with their kids, take time to stop, point out the snow geese flying high overhead and explain the differences between those birds, white fronts and Canada geese? How many notice the wood duck box affixed to the tree in the suburban park pond and know what it is? How many smile at the sound of valley quail calling in the distance during a trip to the store? How many scrutinize the valley farms out the car window, noting those with good wildlife habitat and others so clean and pristine they couldn’t support a field mouse? How many others get bummed out when they pass the farmers and county workers mowing and burning the roadside ditches, wishing they’d leave some of that habitat for the pheasants and other wildlife that could use it? How many see the coyote -- a fellow hunter -- stalking his dinner as they go on their evening run along the bike trail? How many spot the tom turkey, about 200 yards away, strutting, preening and in full display for the hens that must be nearby?

NorCal Cazadora said...

Nicely put. I love what hunting has made me notice, and I totally get the thing about the fellow predator.

Phillip said...

Man, Holly... your posts and the discussion they've generated lately...!

Hutchinson, I'm really glad to have you around. You'd be welcome at my fireside any time, and free to state your views there. There's a little justifiable defensiveness on all sides, but that's the nature of opposing viewpoints. Otherwise, this is all great stuff.

I'm sure most of the folks in this discussion are familiar, at least in passing, with the concept of US and OTHERS, the idea that we compartmentalize mentally and socially, then tend to avoid, or even reject, any that don't fall inside our designated "circle" of familarity.

That idea is really clear-cut when you start to discuss non-hunters and hunters. The suggestion that, "you'd never understand because you're not a hunter," is a perfectly valid point, but equally valid would be the statement that, "you'd never understand because you ARE a hunter."

Hence the mythical generalization that non-hunters don't appreciate or experience nature simply by virtue of not participating as predators. Even Ortega y Gassett gets behind this idea, by the way... so it's not just tiny, closed minds. But truthfully, hunters can't know what non-hunters appreciate or experience, because we are not non-hunters. (Is anyone else getting dizzy?)

But anyway...

To address your question directly, you asked Getting back to Holly's original post and experience, I was wondering last night (after I posted) how much time you all tend to spend watching animals for long, languid periods, away from hunting areas or hunting season?

I spend as much time as I possibly can in the outdoors, but I can't say I'm ever not "hunting". I observe wildlife even when I'm not in some distant field or forest, and while I enjoy watching a lot of "non-game" animals at their daily activities, I have to admit there's often a predatory aspect of what I'm doing... learning habits, watching behaviors, and thinking about how each creature is adapted to the challenges of its habitat.

I spend a good bit of time on horseback, which is a really unique opportunity to observe wildlife because they recognize the horse as a fellow prey animal. I enjoy seeing the wildlife relatively at ease, and without the added tension of bringing one to the table.

I could go on, but the point is, yes, I can and do enjoy watching animals when I'm not hunting them... and in places where I can never hunt them (e.g. East Bay Park District) and even in the city streets and greenways. I don't think I'm really unique in this either.

As to your observations during the oil spill cleanup, regarding the dearth of hunter participation... I don't know if that's a particularly accurate observation or not, but it may be.

Part of the issue may be the way the call for volunteers was communicated as you suggested, but part of it may also be the demographics involved.

I know of several hunters who participate in these kinds of efforts when they can. They are, by and large, in positions where they can take the time to do things like this... academics, retirees and the occasional wealthy person. But the average American hunter is still a politically conservative, white, middle-class, male with an undergraduate degree or less, working a blue-collar job. This is not the demographic who's normally going to get involved with volunteer operations, whether they hunt or not.

Now I don't have at hand a demographic of birders, but it doesn't take much of an intellectual leap to see that there's a significant difference.

And yeah, there are exceptions all around.

But all this is pointing to an underlying implication that one or the OTHER is more concerned with the environment/habitat, and hence a general value statement that treads some dangerous, but interesting ground. Follow the right path here to a happy coexistence, or take it another way and widen the divide.

And with that little enigma before you, it's time for lunch.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Phillip, I disagree with only one thing you said, but only partially: Until maybe 10 years ago, I did not understand hunting and had a generally bad impression of it, and I probably said and thought some of the same things about hunters and hunting that I now criticize. I think that actually gives me a pretty important perspective. (It certainly is why I occasionally go on rants about the stupid marketing we see for some hunting products.)

That said, I freely admit I was never even a fraction as devoted to the concept of not-hunting as I am to hunting; my passion for wildlife has arisen almost entirely out of hunting.

Phillip said...

Well, Holly... that's just because you're weird.

No, seriously, what you say sort of proves my point as well as challenging it... prior to coming to hunting, you didn't understand it and couldn't, because you weren't a hunter. That changes now. The cool thing is that you now have the unique perspective of having seen both sides.

It raises an interesting diversion, though. A relatively recent trend has been for people to come to hunting later in life, without the early indoctrination or family traditions that many of us had. A large number of these new hunters are coming from urban or suburban backgrounds, and hunting represents an entirely new paradigm for them. I wonder if this influx will ever be significant enough to change the face of hunting, or to alter the ethical standards... and if so, how?

I don't have answers on this one, but it set my mind to reeling...

NorCal Cazadora said...

I think that trend has LOTS of implications. In my world, some of these new people are drawn to hunting by the meaningful connection to the food. I think they have great potential to elevate the image of hunting.

As for the ethical standards, I don't know. I think when you make a decision midlife to kill animals for food - not because you want a sporting challenge - you may see some of the more arbitrary "ethics" standards as silly.

Native said...

I was born and lived for the first 23 years of my life in Pre-Disney Orlando Florida.
I remember as a child going into the orange groves to pick the: (Polk Salat) plant for our vegetable food source. (A very poisonous plant which had to be boiled three times to remove the toxins before you could eat it)
We were way too poor to even afford much of the food which was being grown all around us in that rural black water and swampy suburb called Orla Vista.
Strange name because there was no vista point to my recollection.

Any way, as a youngster and all the way into young adulthood I would spend countless hours in the woods and would find all of the animal, reptile and insect life as fascinating as I still do to this day.
Tracking a Dung Beetle all the way to its nest in the ground, or a fox to its den and discovering three week old kits playing with one another. Also tracking Skunk or Deer all would be my after school and weekend pastimes.

I would often revel in the learned ability to sit for hours upon a deer trail so very stock still that I must have surely "become" the two foot high saw grass in which I had been sitting.
And then to gently place my fingertips upon the very deer which I had been so patiently waiting for as she would pass within one foot of me, was such an exciting fulfillment beyond mere words.

I also, have had to run trot lines and cruise the murky and tannic acid laden waters of the St. Johns River to spotlight alligators.
When ones eyes would shine from upon the river bank I would slide quietly from the canoe without so much as a ripple and into the water with sledge hammer in hand.
And swiftly I would strike the Gator in between the eyes with the hand sledge.
Then grasping the fishy smelling reptile, I would side paddle back to the canoe where a friend and I would lift and heave the 6 foot beast up and into our frail wooden craft.
Most times this would go off without a hitch but every once in awhile one would come back to life and start thrashing about in the canoe.
And if we did not have him tied up well enough, the wrestling match was either immediately on or we would have to jump out of the canoe and swim to the relative safety of shore.

Notice I say relatively safe! There upon the dark and hip high, muck filled landings would be other "Things" of which were, at the minimal point on the stress factor as being: "worrisome".

In between the fight for daily survival in the quickly changing land in which I lived and, to the point where I was finally free of the destitute environment to which I was born.
I really did manage to learn to appreciate and give many thanks for the absolute blessings of a simply, breathtakingly beautiful starlight night with full moon waning.

And as the sunrise began to spread its warm radiant light upon a strikingly gorgeous panorama, I would just sit,listen to and "watch" the animals!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Very nice! I too grew up fairly poor, but lived a life outdoors that kept me very happy. There is no poverty when you're out there - you're just like everyone else, just out there.

Daryl said...

Reading these posts I keep getting flashbacks of really cool things that I have witnessed in the field. This wasn't one of em... But it was funny.
I was guiding a hog hunt in Monterey county with some regular hunters and good friends, I had talked with the ranch owner and he told me that the wild hogs have been hitting the back barley field right at dusk.... I nodded and off we went to set up at the edge of the field...
Sure enough, right at dusk here comes a large herd of hogs, milling about and feeding. I told my hunters to set up and coordinated the hunt....just as they were getting ready to shoot........I heard a huge "BANG BANG BANG"....I knew none of my guys had shot....then a large WHISSSSSTTTLE BANG POP ....I looked up in disbelief, the ranchers family was shooting off fireworks.....right over the field we were hunting... The hogs were long gone, and were not coming back...I just shook my head, got up and headed for the truck..
This was not a majestic moment in the field, although the fireworks weren't too bad...

Josh said...

Aldo Leopold said he would be afraid to meet the child whose hair did not, "stand on end" upon first seeing a deer.

The joy, power and awe we feel when we witness nature are universal human actions. Across the globe, people write about, talk about, wish for, draw, paint, sing about and muse on their times with the wild. Hunters, as a group, tend to have more to say about it, because we tend to spend our free time trying to get those experiences. We are drawn to organize chunks of our lives to getting out and being in the wild.

Daryl said...

Sorry Holly, you can just call me "Tangent Boy", I should stick to the discussion. I keep reading these posts and all these wacky incidents keep popping into my noggin. I am worse than John Madden on gameday...circling the seagulls and chattering away about things irrelevant to the game... I will try to get refocused on the grits of the discussion....

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, while fishing, I've seen the great chinese dragon - diguised only somewhat - as a flock of pelicans flying in my general direction... I think you see what you allow yourself to recognize.
Jean

Native said...

"There is no poverty when you are out there, you are like everyone else, just out there!"

May I borrow that line from time to time Holly?
A truer statement was never made than that one!

Watch out for that Daryl character cause he will distract you with laughter then pirate the ship!