I grew up with half my family living in a small town and the other half living on a farm. In the city there was bike riding on the streets, going over to friends houses, and lots of television and spending time indoors. In the country we would walk in the woods, play hide and seek in the cow barn, mess with old equipment in the shed, and, eventually, there was hunting.
When I was smaller I hunted squirrels and birds. When I ate something I had killed I had a squirmy, unsettled feeling about it. This meat on my plate had been alive earlier that day. I'd seen it running, jumping, or flying; the universe expressing and experience itself through the dance of that beautiful creature.
When I was older, I began deer hunting. In upstate NY there is no rifle hunting; shotguns or bows only. This means you have to get close to a deer, a creature evolved to see, hear, and smell predators. It's not easy, but sometimes you just get lucky.
The last time I ventured into the woods with deadly intent was somewhere in my late teens. Behind my uncle's house there is a small creek that runs between the fields and the trees. There is a high bank on the east side that I walked along to get downstream to enter the woods. I turned a corner and there was a big buck drinking from the flowing water in the pre-dawn light. Somehow, he hadn't heard me as I'd approached, despite my making no attempt to be stealthy.
I stopped and stared. He kept drinking. I slowly clicked off the safety of the pump-action Remington, there was already a shell in the chamber, and raised it to take aim.
It was a perfect setup. He was quartering away from me and I was several feet above him at no more than 10 metres distance. I took aim just behind his ribcage, aiming for the heart I imagined pumping calmly between his lungs. I slowly exhaled to steady my shaking hands. I exhaled again. He stopped and looked up, still entirely unalarmed, and I dropped the weapon to my side.
He pricked up his ears at my motion, took a moment to decide, and loped off into the woods. With the bead of the site silhouetted against the buck's fur I had realised I wanted this beautiful creature alive, traipsing around the woods doing its deer things in its deer places.
I turned back and never went hunting again.
One of the wonderful changes I've had in my journey with psychedelic healing has been a widening and growing of my perspective on my relationship to the world around me. I have come to see and feel, sometimes quite dramatically, how I am related to all of you, to all creatures, and even the planet Earth itself.
We've grown up in Western society cut off from the natural world. We use and abuse it for shallow, selfish purposes without regard to the consequences. When I refused to shoot that buck it was because I was uncomfortable with the idea of eating its flesh, yet I eat the flesh of animals others have killed nearly every day.
How is this being connected to the natural world?
Though I try (I know I don't always succeed) to eat ethically sourced meat I have no guarantee that the animal led a content life, as much as we are able to understand what that means for another creature. The commercial/industrial meat industry is concerned only with the end product; the slab of flesh wrapped in cellophane people will trade for bits of cotton paper imprinted with the symbols of those who separate us from our humanity. There is no concern over the often horrific pain and suffering of the animal born to grow that flesh, only short term profit without regard to the long-term consequences.
It's a common view among the urban, liberal folk that I am surrounded by in Seattle and Portland (don't get me wrong, I'm as liberal as they come) to look on hunting in horror and judgement. The thought of killing a beautiful animal is anathema to them. Yet these same folk will, without ever sparing a single thought for the animal, order a steak or a burger and have not a care in the world for he beautiful animal kept in a cage its entire life as they consume the delicious meat. This is the cognitive disconnect of modern society that has led to the rampant cruelty and daily torture.
Supporting this system with my money feels more and more criminal every day. Not having a relationship with the creatures I put on my plate seems irresponsible now that I feel so deeply in my bones that we are all cousins.
It is not shameful to eat meat but it is despicable to cause, or by inaction allow, cruelty to sentient beings.
Loving and feeling connected to your food is the truly human way, this is how we evolved to eat. It's only in relatively recent times that people have been so cut off from the emotional and spiritual aspect of their food.
Any life that is not at the very bottom of the food chain eats other life to survive. It is the way of things. A cheetah kills a springbok to feed her family and we look on that as natural and even beautiful, why should our food gathering be looked at any differently? It shouldn't. Yet we've been convinced of the lie that we are not part of the natural world.
I have decided to be more responsible and connected with my food. To that end I bought a bow and intend to hunt deer in the fall. The odds are, I won't come across a deer this year but I will try. What is important is that when I do eventually learn enough and spend enough time in the woods to encounter and kill a deer I do it as humanely as possible and with the utmost sacredness. As odd as it may sound to some who have never hunted, this is a matter of respect, humanity, and love.
Love seems a strange word in this context. For many years one of my many projections of my own trauma was to look down on hunters and call bullshit when they said they loved the animals they harvested; yet now I see it as clearly as daylight. It is entirely possible to love your food.
On that day I take a deer I will bring an offering to return to the forest or field in honour of the animal's sacrifice. I will kneel and place my hands on the still-warm body and say a prayer of gratitude to the spirits of the Earth. Most importantly, when I eat the flesh I will feel deeply and experience great reverence for the cycles of life and death that we all dance through.