the hidden farm
I adore hunting, the whole process. I love the silent times waiting for turkeys in the blind, or the high stepping conversations and laughter and loping dogs of the upland fields. I love knowing that I am engaging in one of the oldest activities humanity has ever known, and how it brings me back in time to feelings and anticipations rarely equalled anywhere else.
I didn't get a pheasant. I didn't even see one. But I did spend an hour hiking, tuned in, and not worried about missed emails or office work or hoof rot. My mind was in pursuit, which is when I am at my best.
Us humans are carnivores that hunt in daylight and live in community groups. So are dogs. It's why scientists believe we paired up as early as we did. Long before horses were pulling carts or cats curled up in our laps: people and dogs were a team with a common goal of living another day with the other's help. If you watch a shepherd and his dog work sheep, you see something not too different than early man and their wolfish kin working together to gather a different meal.
I never thought this would be a passion of mine. I never thought I would be the pickup pulled over on the side of the road where the state land begins with a deer sticker on her truck and a gun in the back seat. I'm ashamed to admit that I used to think, not that long ago, that trucks, camouflage shirts, blaze orange hats, and guns were things for dull minds without anything else to do. I am ashamed I looked down on hunters, hunting, and the important role we play in managing wildlife and promoting local food. It is one of the endless changes in how I see the world that farming and rural life has granted me. Now I own a blaze orange hat. I dream of venison in my freezer. I feel safer, more prepared, and more alive in the world because of it. And now there is little that rubs me the wrong way more than hunter jokes or assumptions. Some think hunting is man playing dominator of nature, a rampage of ownership and carnage. Hunters are not above nature, we are simply participating in it.
A few years ago I was a vegetarian.
But now, hooooo! Lord, do I love the food! The forests offer here in the North Country. I adore rabbit, pheasant, venison, duck, goose, elk, moose, and stag. I think the best piece of meat I ever ate was at the cookout after last summer's Hunter Safety Class where the Orvis staff cooked up some red stag from Europe that made the best beef steak I ever ate in my life taste like a hockey puck. It's true.
After my hunting adventure was over, I came home to the farm and put my shotgun away. I grabbed my trusty .22 long rifle, a good friend. The gun I know inside and out, that I have used to put down livestock and hunt small game. I took it with me back into the wilder places of my property, not so much to hunt as to retain that sense of vigilance I had when I was dreaming of pheasant pie.
The forest at my place is magical. It is a system of ravines and paths that lead to long forgotten orchards and groves, stone steps that lead to where a barn once stood, circles of fieldstone, running streams, old stone walls and a history of people and farmers who were here since before the American revolution. I walked back there in awe, stopping at a steep ravine that looked down on the stream running to my pond. That is where that picture was taken, the hidden farm.
I spent so much time on my farm in the domesticated places. Working inside fences and open spaces. But yesterday I walked past the wing of a dead chicken, the giant fox's latest meal (He is the size of a labrador, several people have seen him. His tail is as long as my arm, white as snow on the tip). I found deer scat, and then, with shock, bear scat. I had to double check my tracking books but it was bear scat and it was fresh. This was not the backyards of my hometown, this was a wild place. A place of monsters and crime scenes but also a place of dappled sunlight, and old barn steps, and groves of orchards long forgotten. There are eaters and eaten here. I am one of them. I am not above this system, and find peace knowing my place inside it.
I'm a carnivore. I hunt by daylight. I seek community.