Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thoughts from an Unsuccessful Elk Hunter

Seeing a live, wild animal close up in the woods without being seen is strange and wonderful. Elk droppings, still wet through, on the path ahead make elk seem real in a way, but seeing the ruddy, course hair and muscular sides of an elk brings that feeling to a new level. Knowing elk exist and inhabit the woods you are in is dull compared to watching an animal that can with dignity cover two miles of broken terrain in a few minutes walk calmly past not thirty yards away.

As a boy I would often try to sneak up on birds. And though the birds I was approaching often lived in neighborhoods or parks and were half tame, I had only tried it a few times before I became convinced that even a half-tame animal will only be approached on its own terms. So it thrills me to approach a wild animal like a deer or coyote on my terms.

We value things more when we realize that they could slip away at any time. When a mother jerks her son out of the road as a bus roars by, she gasps and hugs him for a moment before she can bring herself to reprimand him. She realizes how he could have been gone instantly, and that makes him seem the more precious. Seeing a deer walk by is a fleeting experience. Nothing is holding the deer near to you; it could slip away at any time, so seeing the deer is the more precious.

To the man stalking in the woods, an elk is a phantom that leaves behind a lot of sign but has no physical presence. Trees in all directions point up, but there is nothing between them. A wood is like the landscape of the moon. On the moon, stones are strewn about, but nothing is there. In the woods, hoof marks are imprinted deep in the mud, but they are left by a creature of ether. There is “only a host of phantom listeners”* in the empty woods that tease a man’s imagination and subconsciously convince him that nothing is there.

So when a deer moves through the empty woods not thirty yards away, the woodsmen is struck simultaneously by how ordinary the deer is and by how outrageous it is that the deer is walking calmly in front of him as if he were the vapor. The deer is opaque, gray like a rock. It makes sound; it takes up space. It is ordinary.

And yet electric. Its own demeanor is demure, but the woodsman feels the wonder of it in every part of his tingling body. Something far off has abruptly drawn near. Seeing it is like being hit by lightning. There is no warning, the shock is intense, and then it is gone.

It is easy for someone who enjoys animals to wonder why a hunter would want to go out and kill a living creature. A common misconception is that hunters are sadists who enjoy destruction. But as a man who belongs to the world cannot understand the joys of knowing God, a man who has not been hunting cannot know its thrills. Someone may have a lot of fun playing with his dog or riding his horse, but I cannot believe he enjoys his animals as much as a hunter enjoys the wild creatures he sees.

*From Walter de la Mare’s poem The Listeners.


Anya said...

I think it's time for a new post!

Inky Scrubs said...

I hate to use Keith's blog to chat but I don't see any other way of asking this... Anya, you have part of a Sheldon Vanauken poem on the header of your blog. What do you think of his stuff?

Muni Beduhin said...

First, girls: I'm glad to see that you have been looking at my blog. I was not sure people did that very often. Therefore, hopefully I can post more diligently now.
Second, do you girls know each other? (To 'Anya': 'Inky' is Elizabeth's younger sister.)
Third, my blog is NOT a good place to chat. Wait a minute, I am chatting. Oops. Bye.