Taking of Life

Deer hunting is in full swing these days. Last weekend my brother and uncle both shot deer. The taking of life is something I’ve been thinking about lately. A month ago I wrote about the two dogs I had to kill. I’ve thought about them off and on since that day and last weekend went to see their decaying bodies where I put them under a couple of trees. They are returning to nature and in that I find a bit of comfort. Nothing in nature is wasted. I don’t have a problem with death. It is inevitable and beautiful in its own way. We all return.

I suppose what I have a problem with is the unnecessary taking of life. When we butchered three of the roosters back in September I was okay with that because it really needed to be done. I’ve been catching and eating fish out of the lake over the past year and I’m okay with that because I know there are GOBS of fish in the lake. Harvesting fish and chickens when necessary for management I can deal with. Harvesting deer I can deal with because I know there are lots of them and they are an excellent source of local protein. I’ve been thinking that I might hunt a few rabbits or squirrels this winter because there are lots of them here. LOTS. I’m not sure I’ll do it though it fits into my plan of more local protein via very select harvesting of a variety of animals.

I have a block in my brain. I imagine a deer, rabbit, or squirrel going about its business of living. I imagine in vivid detail that rabbit in all it’s fuzzy adorableness and then I imagine its life coming to a sudden and violent end not by owl or fox but by a bullet. I know, rationally that death is a part of nature and as I said above, I embrace that cycle of life. Nature is organisms consuming one another, the constant movement of energy through consumption and digestion. I also know that local protein from a rabbit or squirrel is a healthy way for me to obtain protein. The alternative is to continue importing it from offsite in the form of a variety of beans, rice and other vegetable sources. I’m fairly certain that the most ecologically sustainable protein would be the local meat especially when it is actually on site.

I think I know that the most natural, energy efficient way for me to sustain my body is to strive for local food which means gardening and hunting. Because vegetable protein is so easily available at the grocery store I’ve allowed myself to view hunting as optional, unnecessary. I don’t NEED to hunt to survive. But the truth is that if I don’t make an effort to get food by hunting (and gardening) I’ll continue relying on imported energy from the grocery store which means thousands of food miles from who knows where. Of course, there is the looming economic depression which IS coming regardless of any can kicking by the Obama folks. Of course here is also peak oil and crazy weather, both of which will impact food production in the short and long terms. My point is that right now conditions permit that I can think and debate this with myself but the time may not be far off where I am forced to hunt by disruptions in the food supply. And I do believe that day is coming, sooner rather than later.

A part of my problem is a constant sense of guilt. I’ve gotten into the pattern of trying to offset what I deem to be the “bad” behavior of other people. Whether it is climate change or industrial agriculture’s method of meat production, the more I see others around me showing a lack of concern the more determined I am. The result is that I am very sensitive to the possibility that I might drive a car unnecessarily which is a direct response to seeing so many others show no care at all in their use of oil or coal. Quite honestly, I went through a couple years of pretty intense depression. I was so frustrated, angry, sad at my perception that most people don’t care about the impact of their lives that I wanted to end my own. I just shut down. Stopped going out in public. Stopped visiting family. Not only did I not want to get in a car but I often did not even want to eat. I wanted to crawl into the crook of big tree and fade away. When I moved to the cabin I had not planned on connecting to people again. I figured I’d find what little happiness I could alone in a garden and little cabin by the lake.

Back to my point, I think my reluctance to eat meat is a direct response to living in a country/culture where eating meat is just an accepted part of life. Most people I’ve ever known don’t really care about the welfare of the animals they eat and any kind of cruelty those animals may have endured before being butchered is simply a non-issue to them. You can see where this is going. My response has been to develop a very deep emotional connection to the animals around me. Whether it is a tufted titmouse, canada goose, white-tail deer, swallowtail butterfly or any of the critters around me, I respect their existence. How can I not? I’m struggling to reconcile this respect for the individuals with my understanding that in a healthy, natural ecosystem some animals eat other animals. Humans are animals after all. We are a part of it all. True as that is it is also true that we’ve allowed ourselves to become completely disconnected from what sustains us and with this alienation comes a dangerous ability to disrespect. I think we’ve forgotten that we are, in fact, animals and that we share this planet with many other species. We are just one. We like to think that we’re special because of our “intelligence” and yet I see what we’ve done with it and I can do is shake my head.

We humans, in our grand intelligence, have made war upon one another and upon the planet our way of life. Given this context I’ve made a habit of trying very hard to do no harm. I know that I’ve failed, I’ve done plenty of harm. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try. In any case, I’ve been thinking about what it means for me to survive and whether or not I’ll start hunting.

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7 thoughts on “Taking of Life

  1. Gulland

    Hi Denny,
    We have lived a certain way for two or three generations and forgotten the way we lived before then. A 20 minute drive to the grocery store today would have taken all day on horseback just a couple of generations ago. We used to live off the land and harvest local forest dwellers as a matter of course. Now, most people don't even want to consider that the meat under the plastic wrap at the supermarket was ever at body temperature.

    I respect your lifestyle choice, and I really like what you're doing with this blog and I just became a follower. You have more people in your 'community' than you know.

    Keep trying to do no harm. It's impossible to achieve, but a goal well worth working toward.

    I'm setting out tomorrow to hunt whitetail deer specifically for a food source. We harvested 1500 pounds of vegetables this summer from our garden and will hopefully add 100 pounds of Wisconsin venison to the freezer. There's nothing wrong with that.

    Keep taking small steps in the right direction. I believe you are doing a very good thing.

    Good soil to you,

  2. denny

    gulland, thanks. i will continue the best i can.


    wow… neat. i don't think i have many secret admirers… you're probably the only one! i do kinda get lonely. i mean, i love my animals and keeping them company in the day. and i am fairly content as a person but yes, i suppose that i do sometimes feel lonely. there are times when i'd really like to share this life with someone but just can't imagine that there are many people that could be happy here. maybe that's crazy. i've lived single for so long… but yes, i do get lonely.

    now i'll be wondering about you.

  3. Erik Johnson


    I happened upon your blog a couple months ago, and really enjoy hearing about your journey towards a more simple, sustainable life.

    You said in your bog post, "I have a block in my brain. I imagine a deer, rabbit, or squirrel going about its business of living. I imagine in vivid detail that rabbit in all it's fuzzy adorableness and then I imagine its life coming to a sudden and violent end not by owl or fox but by a bullet."

    My family and I live in Alaska and hunt for moose as our only source of red meat. And while I derive a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that my young boys are eating the cleanest, purest, most healthy meat around, that doesn't make taking a life easy. However, I have to remember that most animals die from sickness, injury, or starvation. It's a nasty way to go. In some ways, taking the life of an animal in the prime of its life is the most humane thing one can do (at least that's how I think about it)

    I nnjoy the blog, and perhaps we'll see pictures of your first deer next year!

  4. GooseBreeder

    I say don't kill unless you have to and I personally can't it's abhorrent to me.
    If you try to offset everyone's 'badness' you'll drive yourself crazy, it's too big and too bad.It takes away the responsibility of others to learn and change.Patience is required and maybe a bit of campaigning to allow big business and industry to take more responsibility and get the guilts off the little people whose contribution is small by comparison.
    Do what you can in your own way it all helps but don't drive yourself crazy!

  5. Cory

    I am a deer hunter, and I do fish. Hunting, in my opinion, is really the only responsible way to obtain meat. It is not raised in an environmentally hazardous farm, does not require transportation (besides personal driving), and is extremely cheap compared to other meats. Additionally, you can tan the deer hide, and use it for a variety of things; my roommate sewed a pair of choppers out of buckskin.

    Long story short, if you can get over the emotional downside of hunting, it is the responsible way to harvest meat.

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