Man and Nature - Reflections in Response to Joseph Campbell and Derrick Jensen

The hunt is a ritual. ... It is a fact that the religious attitude toward the principal animal is one of reverence and respect, and not only that – submission to the inspiration of that animal.  The animal is the one that brings the gifts.

- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, "The First Storytellers"


The passage where Campbell identified the initial relationship of the hunter to the hunted as one of reverence and respect and then describes the rituals of Native American culture really stuck out to me, mostly because I was come from a hunting background and continue the tradition to this day.  

Personally, I was taught to hunt much like Campbell describes here, ritualistically. The animal is sacrificing its life so that you may live, and for that you show the utmost respect and honor to its body. When you first kill the animal you thank its spirit for the life it's given to you, and afterwards you make sure that nothing on that animal goes to waste, be it meat, hide, feathers-anything that can be used WILL be used. In my family, we even go so far as to follow a Native American tradition (I'm going to assume it's Cherokee, since that's my grandfather's lineage, though I don't know this for certain) and place a piece of evergreen into the animal's mouth as a symbol to show me that though his body has been given up, his spirit goes on (since the leaves of evergreens trees and shrubs don't die). 

This IS NOT, from my personal experience, how children are brought up to hunt today, or even how my generation or my father's generation do things. In fact, I don't know a single person outside of myself, brother, father, and grandfather when he was alive that show respect and reverence for the hunt. From what I see today, it has transformed into a "survival of the fittest" massacre. If something walks in front of your gun, pull the trigger. This repulses me, especially when it's not carried out for food or necessity (i.e. trophy hunting). 

I feel like it was passed down through my family to continue this way of life. I continue hunting because, for me, it's very important from an animal rights standpoint that I eat as cruelty-free as possibly. I'm sure this is a blatant contradiction to some ("But you're still killing something - that's wrong!"); in my mind and how I feel, the meat that I eat from hunting has led a full life and knows what it's like to be free, something factory farm cows, pigs, and chickens know nothing of. It's also more rewarding for me when I have to work for what I want. Yes, it's infinitely easier to just go to the store and buy a pack of steaks and be done with it, but when you think about how that cow lived a short, cruel existence... 

Every single time I hunt I feel closer to nature. It's a very calm, quiet, serene experience; you get up at the ass crack of dawn and go sit in the woods before anything has had a chance to wake up, and you just have a chance to think with a mind unclouded by everyday first world issues, and be a part of something bigger than yourself. I've had a deer walk within 5 ft of me because she didn't see me sitting there, a flock of turkeys pass by me so close that I could put my arm out and grab one, and seen squirrels playing with a fox while some deer were grazing in a field. I don't know a word to describe how it makes me feel other than on a different plane of reality. 


Last fall I attended a debate, of sorts, between two people running to be Manager of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. ... 

When the moderator opened the evening to the public, I raised my hand.  I said, “A comment, and then a question.  The comment: I have to say that if bobcats, wolves, trees, and salmon could vote, they wouldn’t vote for either one of you.” Everyone gasped, as though I had pulled a gun.  “Now a question: Pretend we’re children two generations hence, and defend your actions to us.  Tell us why we shouldn’t hate you for destroying our world.”  Another gasp, as though I had fired it through their hearts. ...

I had broken the most basic commandment of our culture: Thou shalt pretend there is nothing wrong.

-Derrick Jensen, A Language Older than Words

This guy thinks like me. "Thou shalt pretend there is nothing wrong." - Dear God in heaven, there was never a truer statement about environmentalism in my opinion. It's all bureaucracy, politics, and lobbying - the people who truly give a fuck about the plight of the grey wolf in Yellowstone or the rate of change in biodiversity in Australian coral reefs due to global warming are actually out in the field doing something about it, or spending their lives contributing to a solution rather than a problem. When you get into upper level management of environmental topics its not about saving the things you wanted to save when you started, it's about making the books look good and creating a name for yourself. 

As a biologist, I do believe in Darwinism and survival of the fittest; that does not, however, mean that I believe that we as the seemingly "dominant" species need to go around exerting our dominance and wiping lesser species out of existence. It's not a competition, and there can be harmony because everything around us - if we just get our fucking heads out of our asses long enough to see it - helps us with our "dominance." I was taught and still learn to live off the land and appreciate what it gives me, and listen to what she needs from me in order to sustain myself. 

I don't think there will be a cultural change of heart anytime soon towards the world around us. I DO feel like it's almost an indelible trait in humans now to dominate, conquer and win, and nature is just another battleground to be won for egotistical and economical reasons. When I think about things like this, I get incredibly sad, especially how children are growing up with this cutthroat manifesto.

Jensen put into words EXACTLY how I live on my little piece of paradise: 

"This relationship of mutual care doesn't mean that none shall die, nor even that I won't kill anything, nor eventually be killed: it simply means we will treat each other will respect, and that neither will unnecessarily shit where the other bathes." 

I live simply and I'm moving as much as I can towards sustainability. Gardening for my food, composting for fertilizer, recycling everything possible, and coming up with new uses for things that can't be recycled, I'm very conscious of energy usage.  This may not be a great example of "mutual care" but here goes: I have a lot of wildlife come up into the yard (deer, squirrels, foxes, groundhogs), and even though they can feed themselves I tend to throw my table scraps that can't be composted out in the yard for them to eat. Bringing more squirrels in the yard means I'll undoubtedly get more nuts planted randomly, so even in the 2 years I've been here, random tree saplings pop up. I put corn out for the squirrels so that they leave the bird feeders alone, and the feeders draw several species of birds which helps keep the bugs down. 

As for the animals that live with me (three cats and a ferret), I take care of them, feed them and ensure their safety, and they also take care of me. They give me affection and companionship, and I swear Chief is the best intruder detector ever.