I grew up on the West Coast but had family in northeastern Oregon; there was always a culture clash between us. My grandmother used to prepare huge breakfasts with biscuits, gravy, elk meat and grits, but we city kids used to prefer a bowl of corn flakes. She would always tell us at every meal that we needed some flesh on our bones. She also told us that the dark meat was roast beef, but we knew better. My thinking was still pretty compartmentalized as a child – some things you ate, some things you did not eat. One thing I knew for sure: those beautiful elk were not for eating.
Memories of the Hunt
When I was very tiny, I went elk hunting with my father’s relatives. I loved being outdoors and enjoyed the company of all the little cousins. Despite the relentless teasing of my uncles, I loved my family and spending time with them, because it happened so rarely. But I will never forget the confusion of seeing people I loved doing cruel things to animals. Those gorgeous, graceful creatures with large antlers that graced the forest seemed to belong there, not us humans. I remember vividly seeing my uncles string up their “kill” and looking at death – those animals who only minutes before were living their lives, now with eyes that were seeing nothing, dead. There was always blood on them; nothing died so easily as we were led to believe on television. They always wanted to get photos of the dead animals and made us tiny kids stand near them, but I would rather take photos of the living animals and be on my way. That was the way I felt when I was four years old, and that is still the way I feel today. I wanted no part of their death parties, leaving nothing but grief in their wake.
My father quit hunting decades ago, although he accompanied my uncles on their annual hunting trips every year. He had shot a young buck but did not kill it; it wandered off and had to die an agonizing death, alone; he tried to track it but was unsuccessful. He never forgot it and never again picked up a rifle. Growing up on a farm, his attitude about food animals is very different form mine. He long ago shut down his emotional connection to animals, although some of it still is in evidence when I talk about his favorite dog, Thumper, or his favorite horse, TV Lark. I don’t think he spends much time thinking about what happens to factory farm animals or caring much about animals in shelters; he finds it odd that I do. We are very different. Perhaps that old culture clash is still alive and well between us.
I always wanted to move to northwestern Oregon, or even further north, where there were forested areas and more animals, less people. I came close quite a few times, most recently only a few years ago. There are several areas in the Pacific Northwest that would be quite hospitable to a vegan, but other forces have kept me moving in different directions. Now I too love shooting animals, but mainly human and domestic, and only with a DSLR. Better yet, I love knowing the forest is there but allowing the animals their space, without instrusion from this human.
The situation now is even more dire for the elk, the deer and all other forest life. Will we preserve any habitat at all for nature? I am not thinking of saving nature for hunters, but rather for the animals, so that a natural balance of nature can transpire without humans using rifles to trim this population or that. It is so hypocritical because if we really wanted to trim the population that endangers us all, it would be the human population that needs trimming the most. What sport is it, if one side uses technology and the other does not? Maybe what is most enjoyable about hunting is the sense of power; but at its core, it is the power of bullies.
What Was Lost
Being vegan now, I no longer have to eat the dark meat or any other. I no longer have to wonder whose eyes were cut away from what is on my plate. Now if I ever go hunting the elk, it will be with my camera, if that. But I still remember the elk, their heads erect, alert for the humans, for danger, for death, ready to flee with that graceful bounding motion. I still remember seeing those dead animals, and how horrible and confusing it was to witness their deaths and their cold black eyes, their bodies still and stripped of any dignity or respect, hung up by their feet and photographed. And I still grieve for what was lost.