Today the weather in my neck of the woods was very pleasant. Sunny, 45, and low wind. I don’t trust that Spring is truly here, but that was a taste. I took the dogs for a nice long walk. (And, incidentally – do not underestimate how much good the simple act of going for a walk can do for mind and body.) As I walked, I was listening to an audio book of Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley,” written based on a journey Steinbeck took in 1960, and this passage amused me:
We have inherited many attitudes from our recent ancestors who wrestled this continent as Jacob wrestled the angel, and the pioneers won. From them we take a belief that every American is a natural-born hunter. And every fall a great number of men set out to prove that without talent, training, knowledge, or practice they are dead shots with rifle or shotgun. The results are horrid. From the moment I left Sag Harbor the guns were booming at the migrating ducks, and as I drove in Maine the rifle shots in the forests would have frightened off any number of redcoats so long as they didn’t know what was happening. This is bound to get me a bad name as a sportsman, but let me say at once that I have nothing against the killing of animals. Something has to kill them, I suppose. In my youth I often crawled miles on my belly through freezing wind for the pure glory of blasting a mudhen which even soaked in salt water made poor eating. I don’t greatly care for venison or bear or moose or elk except for the livers. The recipes, the herbs, the wine, the preparation that goes into a good venison dish would make an old shoe a gourmet’s delight. If I were hungry, I would happily hunt anything that runs or crawls or flies, even relatives, and tear them down with my teeth. But it isn’t hunger that drives millions of armed American males to forests and hills every autumn, as the high incidence of heart failure among the hunters will prove. Somehow the hunting process has to do with masculinity, but I don’t quite know how. I know there are any number of good and efficient hunters who know what they are doing; but many more are overweight gentlemen, primed with whisky and armed with high-powered rifles. They shoot at anything that moves or looks as though it might, and their success in killing one another may well prevent a population explosion. If the casualties were limited to their own kind there would be no problem, but the slaughter of cows, pigs, farmers, dogs, and highway signs makes autumn a dangerous season in which to travel.
Somehow it’s refreshing to know that skepticism of hunting as a masculine endeavor was held by one of our greatest writers 60 years ago. Like Steinbeck, the killing of animals isn’t something to which I object in particular. And I don’t even have any specific problem with hunting. My grandfather was an avid hunter – I suppose I imagine he was one of the capable people. I think it’s the unearned condescension I’ve seen from hunters toward non-hunters which make me raise an eyebrow.
I have this notion that, if I’m going to throw my idle musings online, should try to do more of it here on a site that I own rather than onto one of the social media conglomerates with their fussy algorithms. We’ll see how that goes. Also, I’m trying out a plug-in that should auto-post to Mastodon for me.
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