ColumnConscious life, hear me roar.
When I was around 12 I helped my father gut a deer.
That night, before anything happened, my mother and I were talking softly by a crackling fire. It was November, with darkness falling early and the wood’s silence deafening, even perched on a cliff overlooking the choppy waves of Maine’s Kennebec River.
When my father burst in with the cold he just huffed one word: “Help.”
My mother, little brother and I sprang into action, throwing on our down jackets and obligatory Hunter’s Orange and grabbing flashlights to go where we knew a dead deer would be waiting; an animal that we probably saw many times gracefully moving through the woods, eating from the green meadows and sleeping at night in the nearby pasture with grass tall enough to hide most of me.
My older brother had been left behind in a farmer’s cornfield to watch over the deer in case any other animals were curious, and as we neared, we could hear him singing “America the Beautiful” as loudly as he could. It still breaks my heart to think about him like that.
My father’s kill wasn’t a clean one, so he’d had to track the beast with my brother all day, following spatters of blood on dry leaves and tramped branches until just after sunset when they found it in a nearby cornfield. The farmer had let my father finish him off with his .22, and we were there now to help get the deer back to the cabin.
“Help!” My father yelled after slitting the belly.
I reached in and felt the warm innards, seeing blood on me as my brother held the flashlight. Like some horror movie, it flashed on the broken corn stalks surrounding us, then the deer, then my other brother’s scared face.
I think of that experience often, especially lately here on Cape Cod, with the sounds of gun shots ringing in the conservation areas on early mornings when I walk the dog.
I think of how silly it is that full-grown men and women are in the woods with cold guns walking lightly, hunting their meat. Do we still need to hunt? Isn’t it a bit excessive when most Americans no longer need to kill animals for survival?
The hunters could say the same about us non-hunters growing our own lettuce. Why do we need gardens when we can go to the supermarket?
We’re all a bunch of grinning hypocrites.
Am I better than they are, buying my organic chicken at the local grocer from a farm I can’t confirm is really a utopian chicken society? How about that grass fed beef? Have the cows been getting their hugs?
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t eat meat at all, and even the little I do eat bothers me mostly because I don’t want to think about it as an animal. I do not want the consciousness of knowing where this part of my diet comes from. I want the disconnect to hide the fact I am eating something that was once living and breathing, to pretend I’m not pulling bags of gizzards out of the poor bird’s butt before I plop it into a crock pot.
This distance I have from my own food weighs heavily on me, but meat nights are easy and convenient for a family of four. Especially when you have a picky eater in the bunch.
Maybe we all should be hunting, gardening, foraging. Forced to reconcile ourselves to the facts that food comes from something, somewhere, someone and doesn’t magically appear on our favorite supermarket shelves.
The hunters are out again as I type these words. The pop, pop, pop makes me wonder where all these phantom deer are hiding. How many beautiful animals are being hog tied down to truck roofs and carted off to the butcher as I sit here? My memory travels back to the hunting camp on the Kennebec, where my mother and I took morning walks to see where the deer slept overnight – steam rising from the matted grasses where they had just lain, leaves laced with bits of fur to let us know, that once they lived.
Between the Lines, is a weekly column navigating the sometimes-sharp, sometimes-blurred lines of life and culture between city and country.