For many years I was a vegetarian, an avid anti-hunter, who cursed the arrival of the orange-clad mob in the fall that violated everything that was pure and gentle. I was cheered on by many writers, including Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, who urged a gentle alliance with nature, not a violent blood sport.
I was also inspired by Walt Whitman's
Leaves of Grass: "I think I could turn and live with animals, they
are so placid and self-contained ... They do not sweat and whine
about their condition ..." Amen.
But when I open
up the pages of many nature-writing books today I find another type
of nature writing. Hunting is in, or one could say, hunting is back
in vogue. After all, Hemingway made the stalk and kill an art form
through the fictional voice of the "great white hunter" in The
Snows of Kilimanjaro and in Death in the Afternoon, a classic
nonfiction text on the grace and "beauty" of
Even the late iconoclast Edward
Abbey, his feisty prose a blistering mixture of redneck truisms and
liberal taboos, was known to pick up the deer rifle along with the
Now while we won't be seeing a
wild game cookbook from Terry Tempest Williams or a manual on
dressing out grizzly bears by Doug Peacock on bookshelves anytime
soon, there is a trend afoot in the canyons of New York literary
At the forefront of this trend is Ted
Kerasote. The Wyoming writer pens the EcoWatch column for the
magazine Sports Afield, the beacon of the nature writer/hunter that
has included recent articles by Rick Bass on pheasant hunting and
novelist Richard Ford on hunting with his wife Katrina. Kerasote's
new book of essays from Villard, Heart of Home, solidifies his
place among the top nature writers in America.
Kerasote has eloquently framed many of the hardest questions we can
ask regarding our relationship to nature and our responsibility to
the many plants, fish and animals with which we share this
"Should the hunter who
hunts a deer 10 miles from his home be called a consumptive
resource user, and his neighbor who flies 10,000 miles to
Antarctica to watch penguins be termed a nonconsumptive user of the
planet's resources?" Kerasote asks in the essay "A Talk About
Ethics." Hard questions such as this one are at the core of
Hunting is a reoccurring
topic for Kerasote. His earlier book, Bloodties, which examined our
culture's relationship to hunting, helped spawn this new genre of
literature within the nature-writing canon.
Perhaps the most unexpected addition to the literature is Mary
Zeiss Stange's book Woman the Hunter, which gives a much-needed
voice to the 2 million women hunters in the United
Zeiss Stange writes, "It had begun to
occur to me that unless I participated in some way, at the very
least imaginatively, in procuring meat, I would feel impelled to
give up eating it. I could not let the blood be on somebody else's
hands, the dirt under somebody else's fingernails."
Richard Nelson also explores new ground with
his book Heart and Blood, Living with Deer in America. His
reverence for deer is apparent, but he also accepts responsibility
for their death as part of a cycle of life. "Death is the rain that
fills the river of life inside us all ... Nature is not fed by
Unlike many of us lapsed vegetarians,
Kerasote is an active participant in those deaths that sustain him.
In "Knowing November," the author sends a freshly killed elk's
spirit on its way with a song. "Fly on, fly on, you who feed us.
You who scent our breath, who shape our limbs, who let us see. What
can we say of this trade that is no trade?"
Although none of these writers could ever convert me to buy a
rifle, or kill an elk, through their prose I'm beginning to
comprehend how hunting is another form of connection to the natural
world, and yes, as odd at it might sound to this lifetime
environmentalist, an important step toward preserving the best of
what is wild.
author of Landscape of the Heart, published by Washington State
University Press, lives in the Palouse area of
Books mentioned in his review
include Woman the Hunter, Mary Zeiss Stange. Beacon Press, 1997.
240 pages. $25, hardcover, and Heart and Blood, Living with Deer in
America, Richard Nelson. Knopf, 1997. 432 pages. $27.50,