Photo: On one of the many trails I’ve hiked. This one is near the Mexican border.
Photo: On one of the many trails I’ve hiked. This one is near the Mexican border.
I hiked deep in the forest today,
Into the canyon.
Nature’s beauty all around me.
Mountain streams. Pines and Firs,
Mixed with Sycamore, Willows, and Cottonwoods.
Loamy earth, perfumed wildflowers.
Colors dance in the wind.
The fusion of an artist’s palette.
En plein air impressions.
My body groans.
But my mind belongs here,
On this winding trail.
Surrounded by silence.
A young buck passes in isolation.
We nod to each other,
The face in the mirror staring back at me . . .
Photo: A whitetail deer parallels me in the forest; the buck mirroring my steps.
Warning: I use a few sentence enhancers in this piece that might offend some. Not too many, but if you are easily offended you might want to turn back now. Apologies.
There’s a pretty crude joke out there about men that goes: “If they can’t eat or fuck it, they’ll kill it.” Now, that’s clearly a gross over-generalization and there are many good men out there that do not operate from this vestige instinct of the lizard brain. But there does seem to be an awful lot of killing going on, and men probably make up the biggest share of those pulling the trigger, or wielding the knife, or the tire tool, or the shovel, or whatever just happened to be lying around. Men have tempers, but worse, men often have big egos. Mix in some hormones and look out!
I remember reading a story a while back about a huge alligator in Florida. Of course, the first thing humans (and in this case men) do when they encounter such a magnificent animal is kill it. Now it doesn’t really matter what reason was contrived. It may have been rationalized as being for “public safety” or something else even more nebulous, but there are numerous examples of where people simply kill for the joy of killing, and more times than not, it’s the “man” doing the “killin.” And if wasn’t for “joy” then why string up the gator and take a picture standing next to it while smiling and broadcast it to the world?
It’s a “manly thing” to kill. I suppose it can make a man feel in control or superior in some fashion.
In my criminal law class there was a joke told about how in the South there is a justifiable homicide defense called “needed killin,” meaning if there was a just plain rotten person that terrorized the town (usually a man), then it was excusable to lay that person to rest. This, of course, is not in any criminal code, but apparently plays out in front a jury of the murder’s peers. And while I don’t agree with this defense, there are, after all, more lawful and moral solutions, that argument actually makes a little bit more sense to me than the trophy hunter trying to defend his need to prove how large his penis is.
Sorry, I don’t want to sound sexist, I realize there are women trophy hunters out there too, but I think the majority are packing testosterone and that fits better with my story today. I mean if we’re talking about men I can say stuff like, “Ok, how about this Mr. Big-game Slaughterer, why don’t you just stuff and mount your penis on the wall. I’m sure that would be impressive. And maybe you would calm down a little after that.” But hey, I won’t say that, because that’s crude 😊
The concept of being the top-predator is sort of traditional ideology and mythology that is perpetuated over and over again through socialization and acculturalization. This evolved over time where hunting was once required for sheer survival. Later, hunting was a skill for acquiring supplemental food, not the mainstay of the diet. For most, hunting eventually turned into a “sport” and spawned a sub-species of that sport; trophy-hunting. Killing for no reason whatsoever other than to mount a head on the wall and have bragging rights. And ofttimes, these senseless, violent practices are highly rewarded. All hail the great and powerful conqueror.
Hemingway captures this reward-rejection phenomenon in his short story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” where Macomber’s wife, Margaret, is enthralled by, and later shares a bed with, Macomber’s guide and big-game hunter, Robert Wilson. Macomber had shown fear and had run from a wounded lion, whereas Wilson showed no hesitation when he killed it, thus earning Margaret’s lust. Of course, Hemingway added the ironic twist of when Macomber later rises to the challenge and overcomes his fear, Margaret shoots him in the back of the head because she realizes he is now brave enough to leave her. He quite literally didn’t see that “reward” coming.
Now if some so-called trophy “hunter” (and I use that term loosely as they are usually led right up to the animal by a guide) could actually kill the lion or other large “game” (an ironic term itself, this is not a game) up close and personal and with more equal armament, I’d give them some credit. That would at least involve, strength and courage, and be more sporting than putting a bullet in the animal’s shoulder, lungs or heart from a quarter mile away, especially if camouflaged and hiding behind a blind. Can’t shoot the head for the most immediate and less painful kill, you know. That’s going on the wall.
And while I’ve been rambling a bit to get here, what brings me to be writing about the testosterone-fueled murder of innocent species was the killing of Wolf ’06. Wolf ’06 was a famous alpha female wolf roaming freely in Yellowstone National Park after the wolves were reintroduced to the region. The problem is, the wolves only have protection when they are within the boundaries of the park.
The U.S. has had a tortuous history with the wolf. Estimates put the country’s wolf population at anywhere from the hundreds of thousands to millions prior to European colonization. The International Wolf Center, proving the most detailed timeline for the gray wolf population in the U.S., states it is estimated that 100,000 wolves were killed every year between 1870 and 1877 alone. According to the IWC, in 1970, there were only 750 wolves in Minnesota, some scattered individuals in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and 18 wolves on Isle Royale.
It seems wolves were truly seen as being evil beasts of no value, and they threatened the profits of ranchers as livestock operations spread across the continent. Humans like to think that they are the superior predator and that their short-term gratification supersedes any other concern. Of course, this is ignorant. And that’s been proven time and again, and in a most dramatic way by reintroducing the wolf in Yellowstone Park.
The term used to describe the effects a major predator species has on the environment is “trophic cascade.” Nate Blakeslee was interviewed by National Geographic about his book “American Wolf,” and here is how he described the effects of reintroducing the wolves to Yellowstone:
“When they brought wolves back, it quickly changed and improved the landscape in ways that even the biologists didn’t anticipate. First and foremost, Yellowstone had way more elk than it could reasonably accommodate. Wolves brought that number back down to what it historically had been prior to Europeans arriving in Yellowstone.
They also began to see other species flourishing. The elk were no longer able to gather in the valleys in huge numbers and browse at their leisure; they had to be much warier and spend more time at higher elevations.
One of the effects was that streamside vegetation began to rebound. Aspen and willow returned, which in turn encouraged beavers to return to the park, as willow is their main food source. Beavers change the profile of a river, making it deeper by creating dams and pools, which in turn is healthier for fish.
Wolves also reduced Yellowstone’s coyote population, which was the densest in North America. Because of this, the rodent population had been kept artificially low. Once the wolves started to kill off some of the coyote population—not to eat them but to defend their own territories—there was a huge rebound in the rodent population.
As a result of that, other animals that eat rodents also rebounded, like large birds of prey, raptors, foxes, and badgers. The renaissance of all these species was a direct result of restoring the top predator.”
It’s also known, that natural predators cull the weak and the sick from the herds of their pray, actually strengthening their populations. Every species plays it role in this complex web of life. And each time a species goes extinct, humans are another step closer to their own extinction. I would think that modern humans would at least understand this principle, even if they never grasp that these animals, no different than the human animal, possess spirit.
But it just seems sometimes that humans just aren’t that far out of the cave.
Blakeslee tracked down the hunter that killed ’06. Basically, this guy was just happy to kill a wolf. “He considered it to be the pinnacle of his career as a trophy hunter to be able to shoot an animal that nobody had been able to legally shoot for a very long time.” He resented the wolves for decreasing the elk population and he was unable to kill an elk the season before. He also claimed he didn’t see the radio collar ’06 was wearing when she wandered out of Yellowstone’s protective boundaries.
So, because he blamed the wolf for preventing him from killing another animal, he was happy to kill a wolf. I don’t think there is any logic or wisdom there. Other species of predators don’t kill for joy or out of resentment. They don’t take pride in it. They actually do “hunt” and it’s for survival. There is no waste when other species hunt.
Just this past week, I read where the last male Northern White Rhinoceros has died. The Eastern Puma was also recently declared extinct. And how many other animals, plants, and other species are threatened or endangered? If we lose the bees perhaps humans will wake up because then we lose pollination and many of our food sources directly.
I’m not sure when humans will finally accept they are not top-dog. They produce no beneficial “trophic cascade.” Humans can’t exist without the other species on this fragile planet, yet they can exist without humans. It’s time to put ego aside. There is no place for a mythical, god-like, hunter figure that randomly takes life irrespective of the sanctity of that life and its interconnected purpose – survival of all species. Even cavemen were more advanced than this, they took what they needed for survival.
Since it is our species that has thrown the world out of its perfect balance, it is now our responsibility to restore it. One thing is certain, the one “species” that wouldn’t be missed at all, whose loss would not have a negative impact on the environment should it meet with its extinction, is the trophy hunter.
Post Script: Wolf ’06 was killed in 2012. I only recently came across the January 2018 National Geographic article that got me thinking about this – thus, the time gap. Things are hopefully starting to change. The murder of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by dentist James Palmer in 2015 brought world-wide attention to, and protests against, trophy hunting. I suppose you could say this “hunt” was more sporting because Palmer used a bow. But it was later discovered that he had not obtained the required permit, his guide team baited the lion to leave its protected wildlife preserve, and that Cecil suffered for 10 hours after he was first hit with an arrow before Palmer had the balls to approach him to finally kill him. I don’t think Palmer returned to the US as the conquering hero.
Photos: These are not my photos. I found them on the Internet in the Public Domain and have found no other attribution for them. Neither pic is of ’06. But I used the second one as the image for one of my tattoos.
**This is one of my longer pieces, but if you want more, I’ve included some quotes and links below just for fun 😊 All links are subject to “link rot” so I cannot guarantee how long any of those articles will be present on the web.
“Sure, some find gunning down unsuspecting, innocent animals to be a real hoot. I mean, for Christ sake, they mantle the decapitated, formaldehyde-stuffed heads on the wall. Then, of course, there are the people who enjoy putting sunglasses or hats on it, even putting a blowout in its mouth as if it were an avid party animal. If it had any hands, there would surely be a plastic cup full of cheap beer in it, as well. We can’t forget that it would be named some horrendous name, such as Bill or Frank, something so plain, ordinary, and down-right ridiculous that makes me want to bitch-slap the perpetrators. ”
― Chase Brooks
“Hunting and fishing involve killing animals with devices (such as guns) for which the animals have not evolved natural defenses. No animal on earth has adequate defense against a human armed with a gun, a bow and arrow, a trap that can maim, a snare that can strangle, or a fishing lure designed for the sole purpose of fooling fish into thinking they have found something to eat”
― Marc Bekoff, Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect
“One saw a bird dying, shot by a man. It was flying with rhythmic beat and beautifully, with such freedom and lack of fear. And the gun shattered it; it fell to the earth and all the life had gone out of it. A dog fetched it, and the man collected other dead birds. He was chattering with his friend and seemed so utterly indifferent. All that he was concerned with was bringing down so many birds, and it was over as far as he was concerned. They are killing all over the world. Those marvellous, great animals of the sea, the whales, are killed by the million, and the tiger and so many other animals are now becoming endangered species. Man is the only animal that is to be dreaded.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti to Himself: His Last Journal
“I do not like the killers, and the killing bravely and well crap. I do not like the bully boys, the Teddy Roosevelt’s, the Hemingways, the Ruarks. They are merely slightly more sophisticated versions of the New Jersey file clerks who swarm into the Adirondacks in the fall, in red cap, beard stubble and taut hero’s grin, talking out of the side of their mouths, exuding fumes of bourbon, come to slay the ferocious white-tailed deer. It is the search for balls. A man should have one chance to bring something down. He should have his shot at something, a shining running something, and see it come a-tumbling down, all mucus and steaming blood stench and gouted excrement, the eyes going dull during the final muscle spasms. And if he is, in all parts and purposes, a man, he will file that away as a part of his process of growth and life and eventual death. And if he is perpetually, hopelessly a boy, he will lust to go do it again, with a bigger beast.”
― John D. MacDonald, A Deadly Shade of Gold
“Wildlife, we are constantly told, would run loose across our towns and cities were it not for the sport hunters to control their population, as birds would blanket the skies without the culling services of Ducks Unlimited and other groups. Yet here they are breeding wild animals, year after year replenishing the stock, all for the sole purpose of selling and killing them, deer and bears and elephants so many products being readied for the market. Animals such as deer, we are told, have no predators in many areas, and therefore need systematic culling. Yet when attempts are made to reintroduce natural predators such as wolves and coyotes into these very areas, sport hunters themselves are the first to resist it. Weaker animals in the wild, we hear, will only die miserable deaths by starvation and exposure without sport hunters to control their population. Yet it’s the bigger, stronger animals they’re killing and wounding–the very opposite of natural selection–often with bows and pistols that only compound and prolong the victim’s suffering.”
― Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
“For us hunting wasn’t a sport. It was a way to be intimate with nature, that intimacy providing us with wild unprocessed food free from pesticides and hormones and with the bonus of having been produced without the addition of great quantities of fossil fuel. In addition, hunting provided us with an ever scarcer relationship in a world of cities, factory farms, and agribusiness, direct responsibility for taking the lives that sustained us. Lives that even vegans indirectly take as the growing and harvesting of organic produce kills deer, birds, snakes, rodents, and insects. We lived close to the animals we ate. We knew their habits and that knowledge deepened our thanks to them and the land that made them.”
― Ted Kerasote, Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog
“The more a woman appreciates the hunting prowess of her man, the more he will kill for her.”
― Michael DiMarco, Cupidity: 50 Stupid Things People Do For Love And How To Avoid Them
“These enthusiasts often like to hang signs that say “Gone Fishin'” or “Gone Huntin'”. But what these slogans really mean is “Gone Killing.”
― Marc Bekoff, Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect
“Modern life conceals our need for diverse, wild, natural communities, but it does not alter that need.. if you want to feel what it is like to be human again, you should hunt, even if just once. Because that understanding, I believe, will propel a shift in how we view and interact with this world that we eat in. And the kind of food we demand, as omnivores, will never be the same.”
― Georgia Pellegrini, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time
“The hunter, as Theodore Roosevelt defined him, a man who fights for the integrity of both his prey and the land that sustained it, is being too often overwhelmed by men concerned mostly with playing dress up and shooting guns.”
― Gary Ferguson, Hawks Rest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone
“This for many people is what is most offensive about hunting—to some, disgusting: that it encourages, or allows, us not only to kill but to take a certain pleasure in killing. It’s not as though the rest of us don’t countenance the killing of tens of millions of animals every year. Yet for some reason we feel more comfortable with the mechanical killing practiced, out of view and without emotion by industrial agriculture.”
― Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
“We have never understood why men mount the heads of animals and hang them up to look down on their conquerors. Possibly it feels good to these men to be superior to animals, but it does seem that if they were sure of it they would not have to prove it. Often a man who is afraid must constantly demonstrate his courage and, in the case of the hunter, must keep a tangible record of his courage. For ourselves, we have had mounted in a small hardwood plaque one perfect borrego [bighorn sheep] dropping. And where another man can say, “There was an animal, but because I am greater than he, he is dead and I am alive, and there is his head to prove it,” we can say, “There was an animal, and for all we know there still is and here is proof of it. He was very healthy when we last heard of him.”
― John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez
“But it isn’t hunger that drives millions of armed American Males to forests and hills every autumn, as the high incidence of heart failure among the hunters will prove. Somehow the hunting process has to do with masculinity, but I don’t quite know how.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
I have read two books by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first was “Beyond Fear: A Toltec Guide to Freedom and Joy” and the second was “The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book.” In both books he included the passage below.
In Beyond Fear, he presented it as an exercise for us to dream. In The Four Agreements, he included it as a passage titled: “Prayer for Love.” The version in Beyond Fear was slightly different, I think better written, so I’m posting that one.
The author uses the word “Christ” near the end of the passage. But as I have said before, I believe you could substitute whatever entity or title you wished, your own belief in what constitutes the “Source,” and the message still rings true. Enjoy.
In this dream I find myself in the most beautiful forest at mid-day. I am completely comfortable surrounded by beauty. I see the sunbeams lighting the trees and the flowers. I see butterflies, and I hear the sound of a river. I walk to that river where an old man sits beneath a big tree. With his white beard and his strong, kind eyes, the man emits a radiant aura of beautiful colors. I sit in front of him and wait until he feels my presence and looks at me.
I ask, “How can you send out these beautiful colors and can you teach me how to do it?”
He smiles at me. “Your request brings back memories for me because one day I saw my own teacher doing the same thing and I asked him the same question. As an answer, he opened his chest and he reached in and pulled out his own heart. From within it he took a radiant flame. He opened my chest and put that flame inside my heart. From that moment on, everything changed inside me because that flame was unconditional love. I felt the flame of that love and it became a consuming fire.”
“I shared that love with, and gave unconditional love to, every cell in my body. That day I became one with my own body.”
“I decided to love my mind. I loved every emotion, every thought, every feeling and every dream. That fire transformed my mind completely and my mind loved me back so much that the fire grew even more and I had the need to share my love even more.”
“I decided to put my love in every tree, in every flower, in every blade of grass and all the plants in the whole forest. They reacted to my love and they loved me also and we became one.”
“But still my love grew more and more so I had an even greater need to share my love. I decided to put a little piece of love in every rock, in the dirt, in every metal on the earth, and they loved me back. We became one.”
“My love still grew. I decided to put a little love in every animal that exists, in the birds, the cats and the dogs. They loved me back and they protected me. We became one.”
“My love still grew and I decided to love the water. I loved the rain, the snow, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, and I became one with the water.”
“When my love continued to grow, I decide to love the atmosphere, the breeze, the hurricane, the tornado, and we became one and they loved me back.”
“My love did not end there. It grew even more and I turned my face to the sky where I saw the sun, the moon and the stars. I decided to put a piece of my love in them and they loved me back and we became one.”
“Again, my love expanded and I decided to share it with every human, with the elders, with every man, woman and child, and we became one.”
“Now wherever I go, I am there waiting for myself.”
Then the old man opened his chest with his hands and took his heart out before my eyes. He took a flame from his heart and he opened my chest and my heart, and he put that flame in my heart. When I awoke and opened my eyes, I felt that flame become a fire. Now I share my love with you.
At this moment, I open my chest and in front of your eyes I open my heart. I take a small flame and I open your chest and your heart. I put that flame in your heart. That flame of my love is the flame of Christ.
And that is the dream.
Photo: This is a great shot of my woodstove with a particularly expressive fire. I can see a swan in the flames to the left. Others have seen the devil in the middle and a woman in the flames to the right. What do you see? The flame of unconditional love?
In November, long before the Winter Solstice, we will experience the first of many “gray days.” The trees now bare, having shed their leaves, draw charcoal lines across an infinite sky of nothingness.
Gray is considered to lie exactly between white and black and is actually called “achromatic,” which is a contradiction in terms – to have a colorless color? It has also been described as refracting light without spectral color separation, or as having zero saturation and no hue. And while we might struggle to find words to convey the absence of something, there are certainly plenty to describe the feelings that are aroused by these gray days.
As if they may be called “days,” residing, instead, somewhere between the light of day and darkness of night, a sort of twilight time. An extended boundary between the birth and death of a day.
Simply stated, these gray days are depressing. But that word is far too vague to instill a true sensory perception. Drab, ashen, somber, leaden, stone cold, cineritious, favillous, worn, anemic, pasty, melancholic, sallow, blah, sullied, faded, dreary, muted, gloomy, caliginous, tenebrous, bleak, washed out, dismal, and uninspired.
These are the days that suck the spirit right out of you. Drab, as in lacking brightness; somber, as in humorless; leaden, as in a weight too heavy to bear; ashen, as in the color of death. And they come, one after the other, after the other . . . trampling the psyche.
Uninspired. Cold. Despairing. Why would one bother exiting a warm, soft bed on such a day? The coffee will taste burnt. Cream putrid. The muffin, singed. Butter rancid. Life pales when Grandfather Sun fades, when he retreats to the southern hemisphere.
The winter months are described symbolically as representing death before the season of rebirth – spring. But there is surely beauty lying within the bleak, even if buried or hibernating in the heart.
It can be unveiled in the snow. Crystalline water sparkling like diamonds.
It’s exhibited in the cedars. Their healing ever-green luminescence. Their balsamic, terpenic perfume.
It’s manifest with the birds. Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Chickadees, and Finches, even in their winter cloaks, radiate brilliant color and warmth. They hang in the branches like dazzling ornaments on a Christmas Tree.
It’s uncovered when a doe emerges from her winter bed with her fawns. Shy and diminutive, alluring brown eyes, graceful as they glide over the snow-covered terrain.
Even the cold, biting wind on these days has balmy stories to tell. If we listen. It whispers the legends of wolves on the hunt, devouring their prey to feed the fire burning in their bones. It speaks of the silent flight of the Owl through the forest. Their yellow eyes of the night, penetrating the hidden aspects of the soul. Their tufted ears, hearing with clairvoyance. They see and hear all. You cannot hide.
The gray is really a dreamscape. A blank canvass upon which our minds may paint surrealistic animations. Silhouettes of structures. Wild beasts and sensuous lovers. Warm glows emanating from woodstoves and candle light. Reflections as old as time.
This artistry, this imagery, burns brightly in our consciousness. A fire in our hearts that can never be extinguished. We are the keepers of this eternal flame.
As Thoreau observed:
“There is a slumbering subterranean fire in nature which never goes out, and which no cold can chill…. This subterranean fire has its altar in each [person’s] breast, for in the coldest day, and on the bleakest hill, the traveler cherishes a warmer fire within the folds of [their] cloak than is kindled on any hearth. A healthy [person], indeed, is the complement of the seasons, and in winter, summer is in [their] heart.”
Yes, why would someone roust themselves from their slumbers on such a bleak, gray day? To write about it, of course . . .
Photo: I caught this scene early one December morning. The humidity and cold created “ice fog.” This fog lifts, having painted the trees with a coating of ice. The ice lasted about fifteen minutes before the air had become warm enough to melt it. The world of images, ever transient.
** If you are wondering about the bracketed words in the quote, I replaced all of the male oriented pronouns with gender neutral ones. The writers of old, while quite eloquent, often wrote as though women didn’t exist. I don’t particularly care for that.
Yesterday, I didn’t post anything in my category “Daily Musings.” And that’s ok. As writers, we don’t always get things on paper, or we may be working on multiple projects and simply not make it to the blog. Of course, there are times when the well just goes dry. No words. What do we do then? It’s pointless to get frustrated, so you might as well free up your mind by doing something else.
In the book, “Brain Rules,” by John Medina, he talks about how our evolutionary past affects our thinking and creativity today. The first of his twelve rules is to exercise, and he outlines the “performance envelope” where “our brains are designed to solve problems, related to surviving, in an unstable outdoor environment, and to do so in nearly constant motion.” Yes, motion.
From an evolutionary view, our brains developed while we were on the move – walking as many as twelve miles each day. Constant motion was necessary to forage for food, water, and to scurry away from predators. While these skills may have deteriorated in an age where some only get their exercise by walking to the vending machine, no longer fearing that saber-tooth tigers might surprise them on the well-worn carpet path to the office break room, multiple studies have borne out that exercise increases our cognitive abilities. And it doesn’t matter what type of exercise as long as gets the blood flowing. More circulating oxygen to the brain transforms to increases in substances promoting and enhancing brain activity and even stimulating the grown of new brain cells. This is why sitting in a class room or an office has the opposite effect of making our brains grow tired and numb. Moving increases brain power. Moving stimulates creativity.
Now you don’t have to walk twelve miles every day, but motion is good. Any motion. I’ve found its best to carry something to jot down those ideas while I’m on the trail, or use the voice recorder on the cell phone. Because once I start moving, and take my mind off writing, words just magically appear.
Yesterday it was 4 miles out in the woods. I wrote a lot in my mind that will hopefully be on paper soon. Today, my chosen activity was cleaning house. And as I did, numerous ideas for numerous stories kept popping up in my mind. So many ideas and words that my house cleaning was disrupted by many returns to the keyboard. Or maybe I just didn’t want to clean. I don’t know. But, if you want to forage for words, move your body . . .