Wednesday, November 11, 2015


This Veteran’s Day turns out to be excellent hunting weather: good tracking snow on the mountains, early enough in the season for the animals to still be closer to the foothills and valleys than they were in summer but pushed down lower by the snowfall.  It’s cold enough to hold the snow but warm enough that it’s not moving around, obscuring line of sight.  And not so cold as to be too miserable, hard to think.  It’s the thinking that counts.

I see my neighbor, a veteran, assembling his rucksack gear and carrying his rifle.  He handles them easily, his rifle slung over this shoulder, muzzle down.  I don’t know him or his gun well enough to be specific, CSI fashion, about the make and other particulars, like a scope or kind of ammunition.  What I know is fifty-year-old memories from hunting with Bob Scriver.  We went up Blackleaf Canyon, usually, because cabins and ranches up the valleys offered penetration by roads so we could get deep quickly.  Hunting is basic to the East Slope of the Rockies.  Today's moneyed hunters it may be Boone and Crockett trophy hunting, but we were meat hunters.  We hunted from horseback because Bob was too old for feats of packing-out that marked his stories about expeditions in his youth, often with Blackfeet friends.  Sometimes into Glacier Park.

Meat hunting on horseback, 1962

There is a lot of philosophical discussion these days about the minds of hunter-gatherers and their early limbic thinking and awareness as compared to the mind of the farmer, linear and forceful as in plowing and -- today -- only contacting the land through machinery.    I keep trying to make time to reread Paul Shepard’s trilogy of books:  “Thinking Animals: animals and the Development of Human Intelligence” (1978), “The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game” (1973), “Nature and Madness” (1982).  I found them while I was in seminary but there was no professor who was a hunter or even rural except in boyhood.  Today the professors include a lot of trail hikers, unarmed but carrying bear spray.

Here I was in a major school of Divinity and a minor seminary for ministers, and none of them linked the Earth itself in its sacred dimensions to religious institutions.  In fact, the invention of agriculture was not explored there though it was exactly the force that made the concentration of population possible, forcing the invention of granaries, walls and wars.  The sources for organized religion were exactly those.  The Holy Land was an eroded place of shrinking bodies of water and extinct species of wild animals, villages where a person was dependent on protection from other humans.  No wonder they were anxious to take possession of a gentle land of grapes and bread.  The Romans were right to see them as subversive.  Christianity comes out of that set of dynamics.


Mine does not.  As soon as I was able to think for myself, I departed from this and made the planet itself my Jesus, an ecological mediator between the frail forked person and the overwhelming planet.  Otzi, the 5,300 mummy found in the Alps when the ice melted back, is far more interesting to me than a man who claimed to be God’s son only 2015 years ago.  They say that Otzi has 19 living descendants in Austria today.  How many descendants did Jesus have?  Otzi had 61 tattoos, showing that he knew the link between art and identity.  The identity of Jesus is arguable enough to keep the Divinity professors very busy, though they say that the Jesus Seminar has faded out, making room for a God Seminar.

Hunting was once subsistence, survival.  Hunting bush meat has become an epidemiological disaster, quite apart from eliminating jungle to accommodate humans who have by now exceeded the limits of agriculture.  Again.  The thick and mixed demographies of cities and what -- for lack of a term -- are called “supercities."   They sustain a strange mixture of war and hunting, of rage and turf, which has religion mixed into it -- incoherent, self-serving.

I don’t know whether this neighbor will be still-hunting (waiting someplace traveled by game so as to ambush them) or following sign.  The little secret of Bob and I was that he lay up hidden while I went around to the other side of a likely deer hangout and pushed them past him.  Once, hunting on A.B. Guthrie’s ranch, we stumbled onto a band of elk and Bob got buck fever.  His horse had been broke for bull-dogging, which meant his idea was to run fast enough to get alongside the other animal.  He just about did it, too, but there was a barbed-wire fence and the elk soared over it, but Bob had to slam on the brakes to keep the horse from taking the chance.  That particular horse was very good at slamming on the brakes, but puzzled that Bob didn’t leap off to grab an elk by the horns.

Then there was the man near the Boone and Crockett ranch on the East Front who followed his prey into a grove where a mother grizzly and two cubs had laid up for a nap.  Startled, they came right for him.  The complexities of shooting the mother, but not fatally, and keeping the cubs alive were as morally challenging as some of the things that happened in the Sand Wars.  At least people cared more.  After all the successful exertions, a big boar grizz ate one of the cubs.  The mother survived.

Rat hunting in the Big Apple.

Strangely, people are prowling the alleys and underground passages of New York City in order to shoot rats.  Poison, since it affects every life connected to rats, affects too much.  The cities of Montana (which barely qualify as more than towns) are full of deer which occasionally must be thinned.  Feral canids and felines are everywhere, including what seems to be a new canid species, a mix of dog, coyote and wolf.  They would have a lot of stories to tell veterans.

But veterans, though many of them have been forced to become feral on our streets, are meant to be honored and protected.  Is it because we think soldiers are only weapons, flesh machinery, and we are afraid of guns?  Or is it because we think of love as nothing but sex, a quickie performed on leave, that mocks the deep love for each other that combat partners develop?  Or is it because we refuse to think deeply enough about war, since we can only see it on computer screens anyway and never consider the aftermath?

Things are changing.  The UUA, once sheltering many conscientious objectors, now offers a “Military Tool Kit” which includes materials for congregations and for chaplains serving in the armed forces.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but not all religions are theistic, though plenty of current opponents are.  In fact, fanatically so.

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