Bench Pressing for Jesus

I cried at the gym today, but I’ve never felt stronger.

That’s not only a strange thing to say, it’s a strange thing to experience. You see, most of my life, I have lived without feeling the presence of God.  Much like Mother Teresa said that she acted in faith, but that she did not feel the presence of God, I have marched through life trying to do what is right without any spiritual confirmation that what I was doing was right.  But the outdoors changed that for me.

Sometimes, in some places, all the walls come down.  The walls that I put up to protect me from the garbage the world throws at me.  The walls I put up to protect the world from me when I am enraged by the injustices of the world.  Sometimes, usually for me, on the side of a mountain, looking off into the great distance, seeing this impossible world that God created, those walls come down and God runs into me like a linebacker and I am overwhelmed by His presence.  I am often moved to tears in these instances, just overwhelmed by the beauty of it all and knowing that I am created by the same Creator as these mountains, but yet I am loved more than these mountains and I am more special than these mountains.  That is hard to accept sometimes.

I have struggled to have that connection in other places, because when I’m in civilization, I don’t allow myself to be emotionally or spiritually vulnerable.  There’s too many forces trying to attack me spiritually, I am at war constantly, I know God is with me, but I cannot allow myself to feel him.  The one thing that has always broken through in this situation is music.  Some secular music, but Johnny Cash’s gospel music has always done it, as well as bagpipe versions of “Amazing Grace” or “Scotland the Brave”.  

Lately, I have been using music to try and have these experiences more often. Listening to the Louvin Brothers’ or Wade Bowen’s gospel music puts good thoughts into my head and facilitates more conversational prayer.  I find myself just talking to Jesus about all the awful things going through my head. The anger I feel towards certain people or certain situations and, especially at the gym, asking God, “Out of all the places in the gym to do squats, why did she have to do them in front of me and tempt me to look at her and have thoughts I shouldn’t be having?” As our pastor says, don’t try to fix yourself before coming into the Kingdom, but bring yourself and your problems with you into the Kingdom.  You can’t fix them by yourself, you can only fix them with the help of Jesus.  

So, I’ve tried to turn everything I do into an act of worship.  I’m often not successful at that.  However, when I am successful, it changes everything.  Today, while at the gym, I felt Jesus there with me. I bench pressed more than I had in years (not quite to my personal record, but getting close again – though I am probably stronger now than then, but I don’t have a spotter to push myself) and there was a strength in me that was beyond me.  I just felt like I wasn’t the only one pushing and at a certain point His presence was so strong I found myself crying a little bit.  I just couldn’t control the power of it.  

I think until you feel this feeling, it’s hard to believe that it exists or is even possible.  However, once you experience it, you want to work as hard as you can to live in a constant state of it.  If I could live my life like that, there’s nothing I couldn’t accomplish.

There's Nothing Like Another Soul Who's Been Cut Up the Same

In all honestly, the last fourteen months since coming to Colorado has been a struggle for me.  I faced all the usual struggles of moving, like making new friends and getting settled in, but I have not been able to find meaningful work and that has come at the expense of my family’s financial security.  I’ve been open about this struggle and I’ve also been open about the blessings in my life such as my family, our adventures, our new friends and our church.  There’s been a lot of good that’s come out of our move and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

However, in the alternate universe of social media, I hope I haven’t given anyone the opinion that (1) I live a perfect life or (2) that my life sucks and I’m lying about living a perfect life.  My life is awesome, that’s true.  Jesus promised us an abundant life, not a perfect one, and that’s the life I live, abundant, but not without problems.  

When I post quotes from Marcus Aurelius or from Scripture, it’s not because I’m preaching, it’s because I read that and it spoke to me.  I needed to hear it that day and if I needed to hear it, then maybe someone else in my life needed to hear it too.  I know that’s true because numerous people have bought Meditations due to my repeated quotations of it. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing a brother or sister strive for that wisdom and try to improve themselves. I’m glad to have played a part, but I think it says something of the caliber of people I choose to surround myself with that they are working hard every day on their own journeys.  

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I love celebrating life’s little moments with all of my loved ones, but my pain, vulnerability and despair are saved for those closest to me.  I know there’s a lot more people out there that love me and would be there for me, but it’s sometimes tough to let some of those things out.  As Brian Fallon wrote in “Handwritten”, “There’s nothing like another soul who’s been cut up the same.”  We reach for those who understand what we’re going through, or we reach for those who understand us completely.  

As a writer, I sometimes bleed onto the page, whether that is the pure written word or one of the many thousands of songs I’ve written over the last twenty-five years.  I give a part of myself away there, or here, but so often it’s cloaked in metaphor or in storytelling so as to not give that pain away directly.  I’m currently working on my memoir and I’m opening my jugular and spilling my pain, heartbreak, joy and sadness all directly to the page. It’s not easy to do, in fact, on more than one occasion I had to stop writing because I couldn’t stop crying long enough to type.  That’ll get released when it’s done, but I can’t let go of that every day to the world via social media.

So, if you see something I post and think thoughts like, “who the hell does he think he is?”, that’s okay, I don’t blame you.  I’m sure it comes off as arrogance or bragging sometimes, but in my heart, I’m just trying to inspire others the way many of you inspire me.  I want everyone to live an abundant life, because it really is magical, even if it’s not without its pain and anguish.  

Your Actions Are Your Faith

Over the weekend, Ben Shapiro had his Sunday Conversation with a Catholic priest. I will first admit I didn’t watch it, however, one of the highlights in the Facebook post was about how the priest says that good-natured atheists will go to heaven.  Of course, the comments section was filled with angry Protestants quoting scripture about “faith alone.”  Personally, I think both of these folks have it wrong.  The priest is wrong because it is not your acts that will save you and the angry masses are wrong because, while it may be faith that saves you, your actions are a manifestation of your faith.  If you’re not out in the world doing God’s work, then how strong is your faith?

I don’t believe these two points are equally important to us.  Who God does or does not let into heaven is His decision, not mine, therefore I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. However, let us break down these two points of view.

 

You are saved by faith alone.

This is mostly a point of view given by those who throw scripture verses at people instead of mounting a logical, and theological, argument.  They claim to be Biblical literalists but eat bacon wrapped shrimp and let their wives sleep in the bed with them while they’re menstruating.  In this case, as my pastor said recently, I can say whatever I want to, but if you follow me around for a week or two, you’ll see what I really believe.

Do I believe that, as Paul said, I am saved by faith through grace? Absolutely.  100%.  It is because of that I want to live that life.  Not just go to church on Sunday, not just tell people I love Jesus, but I want to be like Jesus.  As much as I can be anyhow.  I believe that one day I’m going to be asked things like, “Why did you do this?  And why didn’t you do that?”  I want that questioning to be as short as possible (prediction, I’m going to be there for a while).  

I am a firm believer that what you put into yourself is what comes out of you. Whether that is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  If you eat like crap, you are going to feel like crap.  If you’re inputting hate into your heart, hate is going to come out of you. If you put Jesus into your heart, truly put Him in your heart and not just pay him lip service, something Jesus-like will come out of you.  You will live a life of service to your loved ones, to your community and to Him.  It is my observation that many Christians, too many Christians, like to play the part but they’re afraid to do the work on themselves and therefore, they do very little work to serve others.  

I believe that the folks who are always screaming about “faith alone” are doing so because they’re worried about their own faith.  Let’s be honest here, a judgmental Facebook comment is not going to convert anyone to Christ or change someone’s theology.  They’re posting that to try and alleviate their own fears. The reality is, if you talk the talk, you better walk the walk.

A good-natured atheist will go to Heaven.

I don’t know.  That’s the simple answer.  There is far more to God than what we can find in scripture.  The Bible is for humans, so that we get to know God and what God wants for us.  It’s not a biography of God, nor His memoirs or a list of questions and answers humans will have.  Sure, there’s a lot of that stuff in there, but it’s far from a complete picture.  While I don’t think a priest should be advocating for “saved through works,” I do think there’s a sound theological argument for it, but it has more to do with the eternal spirit than it has to do with works alone.

This idea first came to me from Fr. John Dear, a priest (former Jesuit) I was acquainted with in Chicago.  We had this conversation on my back porch over beers and brats along with my friend Doug. At the time, it blew my mind and caused me, as humans are wont to do, to go extreme in my counter-argument, “I just can’t believe Hitler is in heaven.”  The conversation went something like this:

Fr. John: What is God’s sole desire of us?

Jeremy: For us to love Him as He loves us.

Fr. John: Do you believe the soul and our consciousness is eternal?

Jeremy: Yes, of course.

Fr. John: So, what do you imagine a life-long atheist will say to God when he dies and comes face to face with the awesomeness that is God?

Jeremy: He would immediately realize he was wrong, beg for forgiveness and worship and love God.

Fr. John: And does God forgive, always?

Jeremy: Yes, of course.

Fr. John: So, then, the atheist, now being a believer, would be welcomed into the kingdom?

Jeremy: By that logic, yes.

Now, is that true?  I don’t know. While I studied theology as part of my degree from DePaul and I have wrestled with many of these issues over the years, I am by no means an expert.  I do believe that the theology is sound and I do believe that in heaven there will be none of the things that sew evil into the hearts of man like there is on earth.  There will be no mental illness, no hate, no greed, no lust for power, no abuse and no violence.  None of the things that cause us to harm one another here on earth.  I also want to believe in an inclusive God, who understands His children, what they went through and why they may not have been able to find faith in this lifetime.  As my buddy Rob said recently at our small group, maybe some people, after death, will still deny God and those people will go to hell.  

This second point is a fun and interesting intellectual exercise, but ultimately, it’s something I spend little time thinking about.  Your soul is your responsibility the same as mine is mine. Don’t worry about who goes to heaven and who doesn’t, that’s God’s responsibility, not ours.  

As to the first point, I believe that I have a duty to talk with fellow Christians and try to inspire them to do more, to help more and to live out their faith. Yet, even that, there is a limit to my ability to influence.  Again, your soul is your responsibility and mine is mine.  If I ask you if you are living out your faith, and you tell me yes, then I will believe you, but only you and God know if that’s really true. Though I will say, no matter how good of a person you are, the reality is, the honest answer for all of us is really “no” because there’s always going to be areas where we could be better.  

Ultimately, this all comes down to common sense.  If your desire is to spread the love of God, you just have to stop and ask yourself before you act, “Is this going to further God’s message or not?” If the answer is no, leave it.  No one is going to be converted to Christ through your Facebook comment, but they might be by your actions of love and generosity.  

Life is All About Conflict

Once upon a time, life was nothing but conflict and struggle. Struggle to keep yourself and your children alive, struggle to find food, struggle with disease, struggle to stay warm and dry in the winter, just struggle and more struggle.  In modern times, we’ve solved many of these issues that we dealt with for thousands of years but what we cannot solve is the fact that we’ve evolved to overcome adversity.  If there is no adversity to overcome, we need to create it.  This is why many people run marathons, do crossfit, take incredibly challenging jobs and this is why many people hunt.  These people have found healthy outlets for their need to struggle.  However, there is a growing segment in our society that wants to deny their nature. I won’t go into all the areas where this is happening, because you could write a book about it, but there is a general emptiness and unhappiness that resonates from people who deny their nature in the name of “progress” or modern times.  Sometimes their goals are well intended, but you don’t undo hundreds of thousands of years of evolution just by saying, “this isn’t the way it should be” and then getting mad at those who don’t comply and calling them nasty names.

There is infinitely more peace and freedom in accepting your nature than in trying to deny it.  

Paraphrasing John Lennon, peace is here if you want it.  I don’t mean it in the same way he did, I don’t have the same faith in human nature that I think we will end all wars, but I do think internal peace is here if you want it.  And who knows, maybe if more people find that internal peace, we can end all wars. But you have to have some peace in your own heart before you can make peace out in the world.

We crave that conflict and struggle.  But instead of looking inward for conflict, we glue our eyes to social media to find out what crazy thing Donald Trump or Maxine Waters has said today so that we can get outraged.  We crave those dopamine hits from the anticipation of our anger no differently than a drug addict or porn addict crave their next hit.  We focus on the brokenness of the world so that we don’t have to face the brokenness of our own hearts and lives.

Life is about conflict, but you have the choice of where to go to battle. You can go to war with the world and you will continue to struggle and never get ahead.  You will never find peace because you will never conquer the world, in fact you will only sew hatred and vitriol as you fail at saving the world.  Or, you can go to war with your own heart.  You can heal yourself, find your true nature and embrace it, becoming a happier, more loving and better human being.  Not only will your life improve, but you will improve the lives of the people around you.  

I cannot tell you what this looks like for you, only that I can easily tell the difference between those who go to war with the world and those that go to war with themselves.  I can tell you to look at biology, evolution and history for clues, but there are too many variables and one size does not fit all.  I can tell you that all human beings are spiritual creatures and you should pursue that, but, in spite of my own beliefs, I cannot tell you which path to take.  I can tell you that you should put down the phone and turn off the TV and the laptop every now and again.  It’s good to ingest as much knowledge as possible, but unless you spend some quiet time in reflection, your ideas are not truly your own, but rather a regurgitation of something you heard or read somewhere.  Go get quiet and make up your own damn mind.

I can also tell you that while you alone cannot change the world, you can change the world around you.  Redirect some of that energy you spend on politics or sports on your children, your spouse and your friends and family.  Your relationships will improve which will provide you with a happier and more emotionally stable life.  

Hunting is one way I exercise my true nature.

Hunting is as human as sex.  Those who would tell us to give up hunting are the same ones constantly pushing sex in our faces.  Sex is part of being human, it’s part of being a mammal, but so is hunting.  We are, thanks to technology, more often predators today than prey, but sometimes, we’re still prey.  I live in bear country, but every time I go off into the mountains and sleep in a tent, I inevitably hear from multiple people, “Aren’t you afraid of bears or wolves?”  Usually I answer, “no”, but this hunting trip I’m about to go on, I have to admit that I am a little afraid.  If all goes well, I will have an elk on the ground and I will be focusing on dressing and butchering it to pack out.  Bears are looking for one last meal before hibernation and it doesn’t get much better than a dead elk.

That fear makes me feel human.  And feeling human, truly human, is one of the most liberating feelings there is.  Rather than running from that fear, or letting that fear control my life, I am embracing that fear.  When I am in the mountains with bears and wolves, I am at the place in the food chain God intended me to be.  I am not in some high-rise apartment in New York protected by armed guards having my food delivered to me.  I am taking risks that others cannot or will not take and because of that, I will have rewards that others will not reap.  

I’m not really much of a 21st century man, but I’m trying to be where it makes sense.  My wife is currently the breadwinner in our family and I do my best to support her.  I usually am the one who quits work early to pick up our daughter and my ego is not bruised by any of this.  However, though I pray I never have a need to, I will not hesitate to resort to violence if necessary to protect my family.  I will leave my family for a period of time to go hunt.  I will be the Christian leader of the household God calls me to be.  Not everything that has been done for eons needs to be replaced.  In fact, I’d argue, we need to keep tweaking how we do things, but in America at least, I wouldn’t call for an overhaul of any institution or cultural more.  

Conflict is natural.  Conflict can be good.  Conflict, when handled properly, is how things grow.  So, the question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I engaging in conflict that is going to make me be a better person?  Or, is the conflict I’m engaged in really only designed to make me appear like I’m already a good person?”

Forging New Traditions

Restless Native is one of my favorite podcasts and its host, Brad Luttrell, on almost every episode, says we have to stop talking about “heritage” and “tradition” because new hunters don’t have a heritage or tradition.  I don’t like agreeing with him on this point, but he’s right.  At least in general, he’s right.  The younger generation especially, they’re going to do things differently, use different equipment and come to hunting in new ways.  However, I do think these new hunters are interested in tradition, they’re just interested in doing it on their own terms.

A perfect example of this is the backcountry fitness trend.  Sure, the folks who participate in this are using gyms and modern chemistry in the form of protein powder, pre-workout drinks, and other supplements.  However, the idea behind it all is getting deeper into the backcountry, getting out there where there are animals, but no other hunters and being able to haul that animal to camp on your back.  If that doesn’t take you back in time, before the age of four-wheel drive trucks, ATVs and side by sides, I don’t know what does.

Another example, though I admit I have no data to support this, is the interest in bowhunting seems to be rising.  Although a lot of these guys are using modern compound bows, more and more are switching to recurves and traditional bows.  Both of these hunters, even the compound bow hunter, are learning and mastering ancient skills that humans have used for thousands of years. Sure, a compound bow has a lot more range than a spear or atlatl, but the bow hunter connects to his or her ancestors and the animal in a very real and spiritual way.

Like a lot of things in life, I find myself caught between two groups, in this case, the old guard and the new.  Being an adult onset hunter myself, I was not initiated into any particular tradition.  Much like the fact I chose the Chicago White Sox as my baseball team when I was a kid (my dad hated baseball), I have chosen certain traditions and honored certain aspects of the hunt based on what I want to get out of it.  With baseball, it was as easy as the fact Bo Jackson was so incredible to watch, but with hunting, the connection is much, much deeper.  Coincidently, Bo Jackson’s life-long passion is bowhunting.

Many folks in the outdoor world talk about using food as the gateway into hunting.  It is true, that the desire to produce one’s own food and for stewardship of the earth are pushing new people into hunting.  It’s also true, that food is steeped in tradition, in everything from cooking to sharing a meal with loved ones.  Hunting, however, takes a lot of time and money and gardening and shopping at Whole Foods is a lot easier.  What are the traditions that are going to keep these new hunters in the field year after year?  Is it camaraderie?  Hunters have said companionship is a major draw for years.  Is it being alone and connecting to God?  Is it testing one’s self against the elements, other hunters on public land, and connecting to our ancestors through a shared experience?  To hunt is to be human in much the same way to love is to be human.  Not everyone does it, but it certainly makes life a richer experience.  

As Joe Byers recently wrote in Outdoor Life, there is a new kind of hunter.  However, new doesn’t mean alien.  These younger and mostly urban folks are still human.  Maybe grandpa didn’t give them their first rifle when they were ten, but they’re not getting into something as ancient as man himself without a desire to connect to something deeper and greater than what modern life has to offer.  I think food and the other things our community is using to attract new folks to hunting is great, but unless we support and nurture their ability to connect to spiritual aspects of hunting, many of them are not going to stick around.  They have to be able to have the experiences, even if it doesn’t look exactly the same as it does for the rest of us.

 

Everyone Has Faith in Something, Even if That Something is Nothing

In my last post, I used a phrase I find myself using a lot these days, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”  But what is evidence?  There’s empirical evidence and there’s spiritual evidence.  This is not to say that what I feel is scientific evidence, it is definitely not.  Feelings are not facts.  However, when there is a lack of empirical evidence and you’re putting your faith either in the existence of something greater or putting your faith in the presumption there isn’t something greater, what are you looking at to push you one direction or another?

Some people find it easier to believe in nothing because there is no evidence to show that there is something greater.  I get that, because “seeing is believing” is definitely easier.  We can’t see gravity itself, but we can see the effects of gravity, therefore we know it is real.  That is how I feel about the existence of God.  All the hard sciences are just studies of the universe God made and quite frankly, evolution is a much more powerful creation story than what you find in Genesis.  I know all the arguments, I love evolutionary biology, I find studying the way God made the world to be endlessly fascinating.  If Genesis was a biology text book, it’d be boring, but it’s a spiritual text book.  How God actually created the universe is such a wonderful example of what God is capable of that’s well beyond our human means of understanding.  

What I ask is, when you’re looking out onto a Pacific sunset, or watching the sun rise over the mountains, or see a baby calf nursing on her mother, when you look at your child, when you see all the beauty and love this world has to offer, don’t you feel something?  I know it’s easy to say that’s just an emotion, but why do you think you feel this way?  What is the evolutionary purpose for appreciating beauty and feeling connected to it?  Is it scary to think there may be something bigger behind your soul?

Forget Christianity for a minute.  Forget all organized religion.  Just walk into the woods, walk up a mountain, and look out on a magnificent vista.  Tell me we’re alone as intelligent, spiritual creatures.  I dare you.  I don’t think anyone being honest can do that.  You can believe in something greater or not, but every human is an agnostic because we don’t know, we believe in something or we believe in nothing, but not one of us, at least for the last 2,000 years knows scientifically.  This is the very purpose of faith.

Almost everyone has faith (I’m allowing for a few poor souls who may not). Faith that the sun will come up tomorrow.  Faith that their spouse is being the person they claim to be.  Faith that our children will grow up to be good people. Sometimes that faith is not rewarded, but we still have it until we choose not to have it anymore.  Maybe one day science will be able to prove that God doesn’t exist.  If that’s the case, I’m sure there will be a lot of folks who lose faith, but until that day, we’ll keep it.  And I highly doubt that it will ever be able to be proven or disproven, but I have been wrong before and there’s a good chance I could be wrong again someday.

For several years, I tried to let my doubts take over.  I tried to let my logical, data driven mind rule my consciousness.  I really tried hard.  However, when I went into the mountains, when I got away from my fellow man in the urban centers and looked up at the stars in a clear sky, I knew in my heart I was wrong. I tried to block it out, but it was way more powerful than me.  I realized that the choice I was making was no choice at all, but simply trying to ignore what I knew to be true.  I think people do this every day, not just in regard to the existence of God, but people ignore all kinds of things they know to be true because they don’t want them to be true.  

Ultimately, faith is a choice and it’s one you have to make on your own.  No parent, no pastor, no astrophysicist, no blogger can make this decision for you.  I just implore you to go spend a couple days in the wilderness, turn off your phone, quiet your mind and see what you can connect to.  We spend our lives so connected to so much that sometimes the most important connection we can make gets crowded out by thousands of insignificant little things.  No matter what you choose, take a minute and reprioritize your connections, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The Importance of Rituals to the Hunt

Ever since the first man killed his first game, there have been rituals associated with the hunt.  Perhaps it was simple superstition.  Perhaps it was a sacrifice of gratitude to the gods.  Whatever it was, humans are ritualistic creatures and although we only know of some of these rituals, it is safe to assume almost everyone had one.  Today, most of those rituals look very different than the rituals of the past, but not always.

Before we go any further, we should define both “tradition” and “ritual” because people often use them interchangeably.  Although traditions can be religious in nature, ritual is more specific to spiritual matters.  So, for the sake of clarity in this article, we will use “ritual” to describe spiritual matters and “tradition” to describe non-spiritual matters.

Most rituals, even for Christian hunters like myself, originate from our pagan ancestors.  Some of these rituals are pre-hunt and some of them are post-kill.  As humans, we have always asked for blessings before the hunt and given thanks for our success after it.  This is not so different than the pre-planting rituals and the post-harvest rituals in our agrarian history.  We need food to survive, so we ask for assistance and when we’re full, we express our gratitude in hopes that our appreciation will be looked upon kindly when it comes time to ask for assistance again.

Studies show that today, most American hunters identify as Christians, but I think it is important to recognize that when it comes to hunting, our faith overlaps quite extensively with our pagan ancestors and those modern-day pagans who hunt.  A few months back, I had the pleasure to sit down with Chas Clifton, a wonderful writer who I became acquainted with thanks to his essay, “The Hunter’s Eucharist” that was published in David Petersen’s classic A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport.  We had a wonderful, albeit rambling, two-hour conversation centered around hunting, but one thing he said to me has stuck out ever since.  “The hunt is complicated, so I think the only way to approach it is to ritualize the shit out of it.  Because otherwise it becomes too complex to realize that you love something, but you kill it.”  

Here we will look at three of the more popular rituals.

·     Prayer– This is undoubtedly the most popular no matter the hunter’s personal spirituality and it takes many forms. Saying a simple prayer, asking God to keep you safe and help you ethically harvest game really makes too much sense not to do.  However, some hunters are more elaborate.  When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s white tail hunting every fall, I used to say a little prayer as I buried a small bit of tobacco as a sacrifice before walking into the woods in the morning. It’s a ritual that I borrowed from the Cherokee to not only bless my hunt, but to connect me with my distant Cherokee ancestors who held the white tail in such high regard.

·     Blooding– People are starting to have mixed feelings about this ritual thanks to diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), but many people, myself included, still find meaning in using the blood of the freshly slain animal to mark your face (there is no evidence that disease can be passed through the skin, but I would advise you to be careful to avoid the eyes and mouth).  This is especially true for hunters on their first kill.  According to Patrick Durkin, “This rite traces back to the 700s A.D. as a tribute to St. Hubert.”  However, this ritual most certainly pre-dates Christian Europe.  This can be used as an initiation to a group and also as a way to connect yourself with the animal and with your ancestors.

·     Eating Raw Flesh– Thanks to the worries of diseases such as CWD, this one is quickly going out of fashion.  In fact, many hunters do not want to eat any meat at all in camp, even cooked, until it has been tested for CWD.  This too is a ritual based on ingesting the essence of the animal you harvested.  Many animals we hunt have many admirable traits and this is seen as a way to give yourself some of their strengths.  Personally, going forward, I am not sure what I will do, but I will say it depends on the animal and location; bear absolutely not, North Slope Caribou in Alaska absolutely yes.  The question for me soon will be whether I eat Colorado elk in camp.  

No matter what you choose to do or not do, adding a ritual to your hunt will give it more meaning.  Getting spiritually connected to the land isn’t something that just happens, it’s a relationship and that means you have to give in order to take.  Whether you are a monotheistic Christian or a polytheistic pagan, it’s really the same thing, you want God or the gods, to know your heart is pure and that you are grateful and humble.  You’re not an observer or a user of nature, you’re a partner or participant in nature.

God, Transcendentalism and Modern Conservation

In the woods is perpetual youth…In the woods we return to reason and faith… I am part or particle of God.

 Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

 

Almost every religious or philosophical tradition has at least a few stories of their heroes going into the wilderness to seek answers or to seek the truth.  Perhaps the most famous of these is the story of The Temptation of Jesus, and, according to Jeffrey Ryan Dickson in Deserts of Development: How God Shapes His Leaders in the Wilderness, “according to Jewish tradition, an entrance into a wilderness meant that God was preparing the individual for a new beginning.”  It should not be a surprise then that immediately following Jesus’ temptation he started his ministry (Matthew 4:12-17).  However, it is arguable that no school of thought lobbied more for the interaction of man and nature as a mechanism for communication with the divine, than Transcendentalism.  While its heyday might have come and gone a long time ago, I think there are some tenets that are more relevant today than ever.  

What is Transcendentalism?  

Roderick Nash, in his legendary book, Wilderness and the American Mind, wrote,

The core of Transcendentalism was the belief that a correspondence or parallelism existed between the higher realm of spiritual truth and the lower one of material objects… Transcendentalists had a definite conception of man’s place in a universe divided between object and essence.  His physical existence rooted him to the material portion, like all natural objects, but his soul gave him the potential to “transcend” this condition… he could discover his own correspondence with the divine being and appreciate his capacity for moral improvement.  Every individual, the Transcendentalists emphasized, possessed this ability, but the process of insight was so difficult and delicate that it was seldom exercised. The great majority was indifferent, yet even those who sought higher truths intuitively found them in frustratingly brief flashes (85).

Nash also discusses, in the same chapter on Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau’s frustration with civilization.  “By mid-century American life had acquired a bustling tempo and materialistic tone that left Thoreau and many of his contemporaries vaguely disturbed and insecure (86).”  Walden was first published in 1854, and if that’s how Thoreau felt then, how do you imagine he’d feel about America in 2018? By any definition, we live in a more materialistic, more distracting and faster paced society today than ever before. 

It’s also true that society has never been more secular and an even greater majority is indifferent.  Although many people will say they are “spiritual” even if they’re not “religious”, very few people (whether they call themselves “religious” or “spiritual”) actually put in any spiritual work because spiritual work means a great amount of time and effort with intermittent tangible returns.  Deep, purposeful work on one’s self requires a lot of discipline and effort.  For a society constantly chasing the next, hippest, instantly gratifying, shortcut to happiness, making a trek into the wilderness, whatever that might mean for each person, is not a popular pastime.  

I Never Considered Myself a Transcendentalist Before

Wilderness, to me anyhow, always seemed like the closest I would ever come to the Garden of Eden.  Sin is something of man.  Man is in civilization.  Avoid civilization, avoid man, avoid sin, or at least that’s how I’ve always painted the picture even if that is not entirely true because my sin travels with me. God created Man after the Heavens and the Earth were complete.  It was perfect, at least until that fateful day at the forbidden tree.  

I’ve always imagined what life was like in the Garden prior to the Fall of Man.  Adam conversing with God like they were old pals.  I think that’s something every human being has been envious of since that time; we pray, but we really don’t hear that voice talking back to us, not like Adam did anyhow.  

So, what does God sound like today?  I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but there are moments, as Nash said, “frustratingly brief flashes”, where I hear God loud and clear.  Right now, in my office with the window open, a swollen Coal Creek is carrying God’s voice to me.  The difficult part is interpreting it.  That’s why I’m envious of Adam’s conversations with God.  I really wish it was easier to understand what he was saying.

As frustrating as it is to have to decipher what God is saying to me sometimes, I take an immense amount of comfort in the fact that God talks to me. Me, an incredibly flawed mortal. No matter what, when the trail gets quiet and I can hear the creek, when I am out in the woods backpacking, hunting, fishing, or whatever I’m doing, if I’m out there, really out there, going places other people rarely or never go, I hear God loud and clear.  I just wish that was the case all the time, but either I am not able to drown out all the noise of humanity or perhaps the wilderness is just the place that God has chosen for the two of us to converse and it is up to me to get out there more often.  If nothing else, it is a good excuse to get into the mountains more.

I would never actually call myself a Transcendentalist because there’s a lot of things about the philosophy that don’t fit me (Indian religious influence, the idealism, etc.) but I believe they were pretty spot on in their belief in the possibility of transcendence through nature and the belief that institutions often corrupt the purity of the individual (as much as one can be pure).  In the wilderness we can take our place amongst all of God’s creation and, if we are alone, we can get a taste of what those first moments must have felt like before God gave Adam a partner.  In those moments, we can be alone with God.  

So, What Does This All Mean?

I believe that wilderness, those last refuges of land uncorrupted by man, are the closest that most of us will ever get to the Garden of Eden and that open conversation with God, at least in this life.  I believe that protecting these wild places are one of our most sacred duties.  In Genesis 1:26 God gives us this responsibility, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let him have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  This is our sacred duty and it is entirely a self-serving one, as it is ourselves who most benefit from the places and things were entrusted to protect.  The land provides resources to make and heat our homes, the animals provide food to nurture our bodies and the places they come from nurture our souls.  

People always ask me why I go to such remote places, so far away from other people and it almost always ends with, “but what if you get hurt out there?” or “aren’t you scared of bears?”.  The truth is, our local parks are nice, but they don’t recharge me or fill me up with peace like the wild does.  In the parks, when I pass large groups on the trail, their stereos blasting, I always wonder why people are so afraid of the quiet?  Why can’t they leave the trappings of civilization behind for a few hours?  I wonder what it is that they think they’ll hear that fills them with fear?  Are they afraid of their own thoughts?  Or is it that when their mind is unoccupied for long enough they will start to dwell on their failures and shortcomings?  I don’t know, but I know for myself, I do often dwell on those things, but instead of fear, in the quiet, I find answers.  

We should always be searching for the truth, just know that it may come to you by the sound of the wind through the trees or of water coming down the mountain making its long journey to the ocean.  In this post-modern world, we hear more things than we can comprehend, but are we listening?  Our wild places are great places to go listen, whether it’s a small issue you’re struggling with, or you’re Thoreau venturing off into the wilderness multiple times to seek enlightenment, or you’re Cheryl Strayed trying to re-set your entire life on the Pacific Crest Trail.  What we have to ask ourselves is whether or not these spiritual journeys are important and whether or not it is important to still have wild places to run to for peace and quiet.  If the answer is yes, and I think it is, then there is nothing more human than protecting these places.  

On the Emotional and Spiritual Aspects of Killing

I love reading David Petzal from Field & Stream.  I look forward to his column every month and I often re-read past columns online.  Recently, “Teaching Young Hunters to Cope with Killing” was shared on their Facebook page.  In spite of the fact I’ve been teaching my daughter about hunting and ethical meat procurement since she’s been born, I have to admit I still don’t know how to properly describe the issue to her.  Of course, she’s five as I write this, so it’s a slow process and I believe a slow process is a lot better than keeping her in the dark and then sitting her down when she’s 12 and explaining where her food comes from.  That’s how vegans are made.

Even at five my daughter understands certain aspects of fair chase. These things have been taught by conversation at the dinner table, lessons during playtime and during episodes of MeatEater and Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg.  However, I still wonder how she is going to feel this fall when we go squirrel and rabbit hunting as a family.  Is she going to be as excited to see me clean and dress small game as she was last fall when she found a freshly killed elk femur in Wyoming?  Or is seeing an animal alive one moment and then hearing the crack of the rifle and seeing the squirrel fall from the tree going to make her sad?  Either way her reaction will be normal and I fully expect her to finish the process in the kitchen with her mother because she loves to cook with mommy.

The taking of a life is a complicated thing, even for an adult.  As hunters and anglers, we do so for a very good reason, sustenance.  Sure, there are many other parts of the hunt, but the bottom line for almost all of us is we are going to feed ourselves and our families with that animal.  The death of that animal is going to provide healthy protein and nutrients to our bodies and hunting and fishing is certainly as animal friendly as meat comes (no pens, no hormones, no anti-biotics, no food that they weren’t meant to eat, etc.).  Killing to eat is as natural as the sun rising in the morning, but as humans, we, unlike other animal species, have a consciousness about the process.

For me, personally, I feel the same emotions before I pull the trigger as I do after, but they come in very different ways, looking and feeling very different.  Even when I’m not hunting, but just out in the woods observing animals, I feel a great love and reverence for all living things.  At no point do I ever take those animals for granted.

The hunt is everything before the pull of the trigger to me.  It’s everything from looking at maps and scouting to setting up camp and traipsing through the woods stalking game.  This allows for the slow process of preparedness. You’re visualizing what is going to happen so that when you lock eyes on your game you can quickly put the excitement of having found it aside, calm yourself and take an ethical shot.  I have always said a little prayer to myself before pulling the trigger to steady my nerves and remember to be grateful to be in the position to take a shot.  You’re about to take the life of a beautiful animal and it’s hard not to appreciate that when you’re in the moment.

Emotionally, I think the toughest part of hunting are those moments between the shot and the field dressing.  Often hunters will become overwhelmed by their emotions even if they act stoically around their buddies.  Many mature hunters will admit that they have cried as they approach the fallen animal. While everyone handles their emotions differently, I love hearing those stories or seeing it with my own two eyes. At this point, all your hard work has paid off, there is a relief in your success as well as a pride for having put in the time and effort.  There is also a deep feeling of appreciation as well as a twinge of sadness.  Contrary to what some anti-hunters might think, or attempt to over-simplify, killing is never fun.  Hunting is fun and joyous, but unless you’ve hunted, I imagine it’s hard to understand the nuance between the hunt and the kill.  

It can be unnerving to have mixed emotions.  In life, one doesn’t usually experience gratitude, relief, joy, sadness and love all at once.  It happens, but not with the regularity that it happens to a hunter or fisherman.  It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but hunters especially, are comfortable in discomfort as we get up early in the morning and brave the cold, the wind, the rain, the snow and all the other elements (usually on vacation days from work mind you, this is how we choose to spend our free time) in pursuit of the hunt.  These mixed emotions and this discomfort, if you accept them, are powerful enough to transform you.  Unfortunately, many hunters choose to bury this instead, as if accepting the emotions somehow makes them less manly.  I believe, based on biology, evolution and my own anecdotal observations, that female hunters are much better at understanding this and accepting it and because of this, I believe that often times they have a deeper love of hunting than their male counterparts.  

I believe that one must accept all the emotional weight of the hunt before one can feel the spiritual connection of the hunt.  This does not mean you have to go around posting videos of you crying over your recently harvested elk on social media nor does it mean you need to start a blog and talk about these things all the time.  You can simply accept it in your heart and your mind.  I do think it’s helpful if you can talk about it, because those folks on the fence about hunting don’t often hear emotional or spiritual stories about hunting in the media.  We’re all painted with a broad brush and the many are convicted of the crimes of the few. 

Killing doesn’t have to be a cold-hearted endeavor.  Show the animal the proper love and respect, perhaps even participate in a ritual to connect yourself to nature in some way.  I once read where the Cherokee would bury tobacco before the hunt as a sacrifice.  I have a little Cherokee in my ancestry and I thought this would be a great way to connect with my ancestors as well as offer a token of love and respect to Mother Nature. Do I believe that the sacrifice actually helped my chances on the hunt?  No, but I do believe that it opened my mind and heart up to connect better with nature and perhaps that made for a better hunt.

What this looks like for you is probably different than it does for me. The only thing I hope is that more hunters are willing to dig a little deeper and then discuss those feelings with others.  It’s truly hard to understand unless you’ve done it, but I believe people, especially young people, are looking for meaning in their lives and hunting is a great way to find it.  Perhaps the person you share your hunting story with will be the next Theodore Roosevelt or George Bird Grinnell.  

Taking Comfort in Feeling Small

My family and I used to do a lot of car camping in the desert when we lived in California.  Our favorite spot was in Anza-Borrego State Park though we also enjoyed Death Valley National Park and Johnson Valley (BLM).  When we go camping, our daughter likes to go to bed as soon as the sun goes down (as opposed to a normal night at home when she wants to stay up all night watching MeatEater).  Usually when she goes to bed, my wife and I will enjoy the time to ourselves, talking quietly around the campfire and perhaps enjoying an adult beverage.  If any of you have ever camped in the desert, you know how impressive a clear night sky can be.

The one thing that always comes to my mind, always, is how massive our universe is.  You look out upon an infinite number of stars and know that they are so far away that it’s incredibly hard for most of us to fathom. Knowing that I am such a small part of the universe, especially given the history of time, is always oddly comforting.  

We humans like to pretend we’re important.  We like to pretend we’re special.  We shout our opinions into already loud echo chambers and feel validated when we hear our voice coming back to us in a slightly different tone. In today’s world, with social media so prevalent in everyone’s life, we know that we don’t even have to have talent to be famous, many people are famous just for being famous.  We crave that attention that will make us feel special and validate our insecurities. 

The truth is, we’re not special.  None of us are really.  Sure, there are those who make an impact that seems incredibly large to us in our time and place, but even the greatest of leaders are mere ripples on the ocean of time. The knowledge of this could be disheartening to some, they may view this as nihilistic, but nothing could be further from the truth.  

Another place that gives me great comfort in spite of making me feel so small is the Rocky Mountains.  When walking through some ancient canyon between mountains that are millions of years old I can see the layers of time on their faces.  I imagine the millions of stories those mountains have in their collective memory and if I get quiet enough and really listen hard, they will tell me some of those stories.  I also know that one day my time with the mountain will be a story it can tell to those still in the “womb of time” (stole that one from Theodore Roosevelt).  

Our goal in life should not be to aspire to be the brightest star in the sky, but to be the Sun in our own solar system.  We should give light and warmth to those in our orbit; our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors.  We are all important in a very real and impactful way, but not in the superficial way that our televisions and iPhones tell us we should be.  Man’s desire to be immortal is as old as man himself, but I challenge us all to be better building blocks of life, rather than aspire to conquer death.  Even Marcus Aurelius once said that even the greatest Roman Emperor will be forgotten in but a few generations.  

There is power in feeling small.  Once you view yourself in the proper context to the universe, your purpose becomes crystal clear.  You know what things you can change and what things you must accept that you cannot change. In feeling small, you become aware of how important you really are.

And the next time you have a clear, dark night, or the next time you’re standing alone next to a mountain, take a moment and listen closely.  You never know what wisdom might be bestowed upon you.

The Power of Unplugging

Every time I travel, especially without my family, I get anxiety.  This is even more true if I’m going off into the woods and I will have no way to know if something happens back home. Sure, there are people who are constantly looking for cell service in the mountains, but I typically shut off my phone when I go in and save the battery for an emergency.  

The first day, I’m a nervous wreck thinking about all the things that couldgo wrong in my absence.  This is partly me and my own anxieties and it’s also partly the world that has taught me to be attached to my damn phone.  As a salesman, my phone is rarely out of reach, and even though that is out of necessity, rather than desire, it has become the new norm and it’s difficult to separate myself from it sometimes.  However, by Day Two, I’m a new man.

Beginning at Day Two, I don’t even remember I have a phone.  Of course, I think about my wife and daughter often, but I know they’re okay and I know my wife can handle any situation that might come up in my absence.  The truth is, there’s too much going on in my immediate situation to think about the trivial things that go on in the world.  Sure, there are serious things going on in the world, poverty, war, etc. but that’s not what most of us are inundated with on a day to day basis; we ignore those things mostly because they’re difficult to think about.  As I write this, outdoors people are arguing over whether or not to buy Yeti products.  I don’t see anything wrong with either the NRA or Yeti, they’re both organizations made up of people with good intentions who sometimes make mistakes. Take a side or don’t, but is something of that sort really worth getting upset about?  I don’t think so.

While we obsess about such nonsense on a day to day basis, when you’re hiking, hunting, fishing, etc., you have real concerns to occupy your brain; the weather, predators, finding game or fish, and perhaps just navigation and not rolling your ankle in a scree field.  Focusing on these immediate issues allows our brains to put the bullshit of civilization away for a while.  No longer are we concerned about pleasing our boss or what our neighbors think of us – they cannot see what we’re up to.  The media, social media, the political conversations at the water cooler are all distant memories for a few days.  

At the very least wilderness is escapism, no different than a comedic movie or a concert or any other form of entertainment.  The wilderness, if you pay attention, is endlessly entertaining. However, I think it’s so much more than that.  Unplugging from the world gives you the time to think about the important stuff in your life uninterrupted.  Maybe you’re struggling in some area (most of us are struggling with something at any given time, no matter how “together” we may have it) and getting away from the noise allows you to meditate or pray on your marriage, your career, your parenting or some other issue.  In the world there is always someone telling you what you should do, but in the wilderness, you get to figure out what is best for you.  That can be daunting, many people prefer to let others make their decisions for them, therefore they have no responsibility or blame if things fail, but that is not a way to live life if you ask me.  Sure, it’s good to seek advice, you’ll already have that in your head when you’re out there and that’s part of the evidence you can examine when making a decision.  However, there’s a greater sense of accomplishment if you solve your own problems.  

If you’re prepared, the wilderness provides all that you need to push the reset button, no matter who you are and what kinds of things you need to do it.  Need action? Go hunting, fishing, climbing, etc. Need peace and quiet?  Sit beside a river under a tree.  Need comfort?  Boil up some tea and sit beside the campfire.  Humans have been going to the wilderness for solace and answers ever since we became civilized enough to separate wilderness from civilization. Wilderness is a part of who we are and I believe if we accept that, it will make us better people and therefore better to each other.

Thoughts from Boise – Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Rendezvous 2018

Every time I am in the woods I am reborn.  Cleansed by campfire smoke and baptized by the rivers and streams. Heaven is America’s wild places and I’m never turned away at her Pearly Gates.  

There is a deep spiritual difference between watching nature through the lens of a camera and watching it from between the pins of your bow or through your rifle scope.  It’s the difference between watching your kids play and playing with your kids.  It’s about participation.  It’s about being engaged.  It’s about being present.

All those who criticize do so because they don’t understand.  Those who say, “you think that makes you a tough guy?” don’t understand the vulnerability it takes to emotionally lay yourself bare to nature, to failure, to rejection and to the cold and frustration.  They don’t understand the internal conversation you have when you decide to take a life, that the life you take is so you and your family can live.  People like simple feelings, but hunting is a complicated mix of responsibility, sadness, thankfulness, appreciation, frustration, joy, calm, peace, relief and more frustration.  

That having been said, it takes a certain fortitude to endure the elements, gain the skills to succeed, get blood on your hands and turn all of that into food. However, I don’t view that as some machismo based in insecurity, I see it as becoming fully human and not being afraid to fully engage in the natural world.  I choose not to delegate the dirty work in life to others.  I don’t see that as being “tough” or “manly”, I see that acquiring basic human skills, skills that are quickly disappearing from our species.

The modern world is supposed to be connecting us, but is it?  We’re quicker to judge, quicker to hate others different than us and quicker to hole up in our bubbles.  Whereas the natural world, when you engage it, connects you to all of creation including other humans.  When I return from the woods, I’m less concerned with the worries of the day, such as politics, money, etc. and more concerned with the overall well-being of my fellow man and our world.  Things become clearer, priorities readjust themselves to their proper places and what was dark all of a sudden has a beam of light in the distance.

In short, time in the woods makes me a better man, a man searching for meaning and a man who carries a little peace in my heart.  As the time in between my trips to the wild grows longer I become more of a man of the modern world; angry and empty.  The time in the woods calms me and fills me to the brim with goodness.  

Nature as Healer

 

In the introduction to Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash states, “…civilization created wilderness. For nomadic hunters and gatherers, who represented our species for most of its existence, ‘wilderness’ had no meaning.” He later discusses how as soon as we as a species separated civilization from wilderness, we romanticized and sought out the wilderness for our spiritual needs. The wilderness was a place where Biblical figures went to talk to God or have an epiphany. Thousands of years later, many of us still desire to escape civilization to recharge, mull over a tough situation or heal ourselves emotionally and spiritually. Just think of Cheryl Strayed and Wild. Obviously now, “wilderness” doesn’t just have meaning, it is where we go to find meaning.

I am certainly no exception to this human trait. Even just a walk outside amongst the trees, prairie dogs and mallards in my neighborhood can significantly change my mood. The bigger the issue, the deeper into the woods I need to go. As I write this, I am preparing for my fourth attempt at my first solo overnight trip (first three I had to turn around for various reasons, more on that in another post). We recently moved to Colorado and only six weeks in, I quit my new job. It was the absolute right thing to do and it allows me to focus on what I want to be doing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared shitless. So, I’m going into the wilderness to clear my head, get my mind right and in the process, face my fears. Because make no mistake, though I have spent many, many nights out in the woods, doing it by myself for the first time is going to be a little bit scary. However, everything is going to be fine and when you conquer one fear, it gives you the confidence that you can conquer others as well. 

You don’t have to go into the woods alone to have this experience. I take two trips every year with old friends and it just so happened that in 2017, both of these guys got married. Jeff and I went to the Wind River Range in Wyoming and had a great week-long trip where we mixed backpacking and car camping all across the Northern Rockies. Jeremy and I went to Alaska as usual and spent four days northwest of Fairbanks in the bush and also in a cabin near some hot springs. While I enjoy the trips I take with these fellas every year, last year’s trips were special.  We had lots of heart-to-heart talks about serious topics such as marriage, family and work. We had lots of laughs, both at situations and ourselves. We also had long periods of silence where we worked through our own thoughts. Though perhaps some of the obstacles we overcame provided the most amount of personal growth, whether that was roping up and crossing ice cold rivers, holding each other’s life in our hands or simply me walking eleven miles with fifty pounds on my back, feet bleeding, and deciding not to complain about it. 

Ultimately, whether alone or with a loved one, time in the wild, if you’re open to it, will improve you. Maybe you need a little peace and quiet to deal with a tough situation or maybe you need to challenge yourself in some way because you feel hindered in your everyday life. For whatever reason, until you cut the cord with the civilized world for at least a short time, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. The world is there to fill us with information and noise. In order to know what you have to give to the world, you have to take the time to dig down deep inside yourself.  Wilderness has been there for us since the dawn of civilization and it’s still there for us now if we need it. 

My Story

I did not grow up hunting or fishing, though I have always loved the outdoors.  I did not have a father, grandfather or uncle who were hunters even though we lived in a rural area.  I came to hunting on my own in my 20s (and am only now coming to fishing in my 30s) through several unconventional ways.  I believe that part of it was living in urban metropolises and seeing some people’s negative views of rural people and their practices, it was beginning to care where my food came from and it was, perhaps most importantly, just getting to know myself for who I really am.

 

As a boy, I loved being outdoors and I had a BB gun, though that was the only gun that was in our house.  I liked the idea of hunting and fishing even back then.  I remember seeing A River Runs Through It when it came out and ever since then I’ve had a desire to learn to fly fish and go to Montana.  The books and movies stuck with me and I was always drawn to the Mountain West, it just took me a long time to get here.

 

Living in Chicago from 2004-2009 really hardened me in a lot of ways and forced me to figure out who I really was.  All these people were talking about “organic”, “sustainable” and all the other buzz words but when I’d bring up hunting, many people would become disgusted with me.  It never made sense: deer who lived for 2-5 years, free range, organically, hormone free who were then humanely killed seemed to be a lot better off than some farm raised animal (not that I have an issue with ethically raised domestic animals).  What irritated me more was sharing a meal with these folks and seeing them not eat all their food, especially the meat.  They put up a good fight about humanely treating animals and then they wasted their meat.  Almost unforgivable to me.  I know I’m weird, but when I eat, I eat my meat first and I finish it before moving on to my vegetables.  I try not to waste any food, but if I do, it’s not meat.  That animal’s sacrifice so that my family can eat is sacred whether it was harvested from the field or from a farm.

 

My defense of rural people and practices and my concern about where my food came from slowly evolved over time to something deeper.  As I went small game hunting with friends and hunted for whitetail in Indiana and Kentucky and went on multiple backpacking trips out west and in Alaska, I started to feel more connected to nature.  We humans like to toe the line between being above nature and then feeling guilty about thinking we’re above nature.  When you insert yourself into a role that has been played by man for thousands and thousands of years, you open yourself up to being connected to something greater than yourself.  You feel connected to the natural world – and we should – we are animals and a part of nature even if we happen to be the species that has the greatest impact on all other species. 

 

At this point I’m borderline obsessed.  If I’m not able to be in the wild, I’m reading about animals, habitat and conservation, writing about it, watching hunting shows online, listening to audiobooks or podcasts or at the very least thinking about it every minute I’m awake almost.  If it’s a good night, I even dream about it. 

 

My goal here is to simply try and reach other folks who feel like I do and find common ground with folks who don’t understand where we’re coming from.  Not everyone needs to be a hunter, but I am concerned about the future of conservation and wildlife and I am concerned about a lot of people who seem to be very unhappy with the postmodern world.  I think at least a few of them could find peace in the woods like I did.  If I can help introduce people to that joy and peace, then that will make me very happy.