I did not take any game that day but I watched much. I watched a trio of doe head south by the creek. I watched a small flock of turkeys waddle uphill. I stepped in deer paths that were just left behind, looking at their prints and tracing them with a gloved finger. I looked for tracks of smaller game and saw none. That let out a small sigh but even learning where animals aren't is a lesson towards learning where they are. I listened to birds and watched woodpeckers dart through the trees. Something about being outdoors and paying attention makes me warmer. I was grateful for that, and for all the wildlife around me. Fate and luck both brought me to this farm. A house in a safe part of the world surrounded by water, plants, fish, game, and livestock. To some people I am am scrambling to make a living—but to me (and to people who think like me)—I am beyond wealthy. Resources matter. In the end, nothing matters more.
I stopped at the looney place underneath an old orchard where the heads and guts of the pigs I recently slaughtered were left to compost. A chickadee landed on a frozen pig ear sticking out of the snow and then landed on a bit of frozen intestine some creature had snarled up from the shallow grave of leaves and compost I covered them with the day after friends and I dragged them out. The little darling bird ate a bit of flesh with gusto right off the intestine and flew off. I watched the tiny animal amazed. How did I ever think something that lived in the north woods did not have the ferocity of a coyote when it came to meal time? Songbirds and Songdogs alike need the sacred fuel that is other living things. I had a belly full of pulled pork for lunch, the chickadee had some as well. My meditation on the carnivore of songbirds was interrupted by the scream of a hawk.
I looked up and saw two neighbors I know well. There are two adult Red-tailed Hawks on my mountain, a mated pair. I see them almost every day. I have named them Huginn and Muninn, after the pair of crows that sat on Odin's shoulders. Their names mean Mind and Memory in an old Norse tongue. I saw Muninn then, about fifty yards from where I stood in the forest. I know this hawk well. She was the first Red Tail I ever caught in my falconry career and I remember both the thrill and honor of that first capture. When I saw her beautiful red tail I knew she was a Haggard (lingo for a mature hawk). I could not keep her so I calmly removed the noose from her foot and released her back to the sky. Today I did not hold her, I just watched her. She screamed once more into the cold air as she flew away. Red tails make a sound so royal it is now used in place of Bald Eagles in pop culture. (If you watch the Colbert Report you know the sound of a Red Tail in the opening credits.) I stood there in the snow, on a weekday, with thoughts of squirrel tracks and whitetails in my mind and tried to remember a life when it was more common to go on a first date than to hold a hawk against my heart.
I didn't take any game that day. If I had I would have brought it home, cleaned it, and wrapped the human-yummy parts in my freezer and saved the hawk-yummy parts for Italics. I wasn't worried as I had a freezer and fridge with plenty of hawk food and a larder with plenty of human food, but the point of hunting isn't necessarily dinner. It's a skill I value above many as a meditation and a blessing. To ignore the predator part of your omnivore soul is a dangerous omission. Hunting is part of what makes us human, what brought our body and minds to this point in our evolutionary story. We too are animals, apex predators, and have a dance card to fill in nature. To learn that dance and enjoy it with all the respect, excitement, and certainty of a happy animal is huge part of being a complete person (in my eyes). And while I know not everyone wants to go out and shoot a rabbit, we can't argue that creating food—be it a homegrown tomato soup or a stag steak–is possibly the most primally satisfying activities we can endeavor. After all, food is what keeps us alive, keeps us going, and keeps us looking for carnivorous song birds and pulled pork sandwiches.
It's a wild life outside your kitchen door. Go out and find it.