Last weekend was the opening of deer hunting season, and I went on my first hunting trip. The former vegetarian in me didn't know what to make of it, but the current carnivore, and more importantly the local, seasonal, organic, foraging, self-reliant eater was excited. All in all it was a truly empowering experience. I didn't shoot anything, but was present for 2 kills, and mostly wanted to learn about tracking, field dressing, and skinning.
My step-dad and step-brother were gracious teachers, and extremely knowledgeable with their life-long hunting backgrounds. I think we both impressed each other- they to find that I (who they would call bookish) was such a brazen hiker and stealthy walker with keen awareness of my surroundings, and I (who would not necessarily call them environmentalists) to find that they are skilled naturalists and trackers. It was 2 worlds colliding in the best of ways.
I didn't know how I'd handle it all considering 1) I don't even kill spiders, and 2)I frequently faint at the sight of a small cut. Oddly enough, knowing that we were out there with the intention of killing changed my reaction to death. Upon seeing the first deer fall from a clean shot in the neck, I was filled with simultaneous horror and elation. "Yes, yes, yes! No, no, no!" said my heart. I said a prayer of thanks for the animal while a primal instinct to clean and preserve the meat set in. I was reminded that most basic parts of human survival are not bad or good, but a complex intertwining of sacrifice and vitality. Even childbirth, which is possibly the most miraculous gift in human existance, is wrought with pain and suffering. And the death of a loved one is sometimes the most profound celebration of life.
And so I watched carefully as my step-dad expertly gutted the animal, its still-warm insides steaming in the cold fall air. That was the absolute hardest part- the warmth of the body and the reminder of just how recently it died. I wanted to wait for the body to cool before handling it, so it would seem more lifeless, but they said No, the point is to cool the deer as quickly as possible by gutting and skinning it so the meat can start curing. We hung it in the garage, and they taught me to skin it, starting at the neck and working down. I skinned the whole thing myself, ending with a whole warm hide in my hands, feeling eerily proud.
I'm a writer and editor in Seattle. I started this blog in 2008 to chronicle my travels in Latin America, and continued writing through jaunts in Europe and Asia.
Now I'm back where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and can't stop hiking to fire lookouts in the Cascade Mountains.