As I mowed today for the last time this year, I observed that it is an unalterable law of the universe that no matter how fine a man a person a pet owner is or how thoroughly he searches his yard, he is still going to get poop on his shoes and in his lawnmower tires. This constitutes my chief argument against the existence of a benevolent deity.
Peggy and I took three bike rides last week on Weyerhaeuser roads, which we like because they are usually gated. It being hunting season, the gates were open, and we encountered several hunters. They were mostly young men, wearing camouflage, and driving pickups. We worried little about them running over the dogs, because they were barely moving. Presumably, they were looking for things to kill. I don’t know if hunters actually shoot their prey from inside their trucks, but I have only seen them outside on two occasions, and on those occasions they were leaning against the side panels. This raises the question of why hunters wear camouflage. All I can figure is that they want their prey to think their trucks are unoccupied.
The sport of hunting differs from human-against-human sports in two ways. The most obvious is that hunters kill things. The other is that human-against-human sports include rules that favor skill and fairplay. Even I could beat Tiger Woods at golf if I poked his eyes out, or I could knock Mike Tyson right out of the ring if I hit him from behind with a steel pipe. Such rules don’t apply in the world of hunting. If they did, hunters would attack grizzly bears with Bowie knives instead of shooting them from distant hillsides. Such considerations cause me to hold hunting in very low esteem, yet I know several people who hunt, and they all seem fair-minded and even kindly in their ordinary lives. I think of them this way …
Ken (a non-hunter) was my best friend in Mississippi. One day, Ken and I were at someone’s house, and this person’s little girl was flirting with us by “making eyes” as it is called in the South. After we left, Ken said, “That kid sure did want it, and someday somebody’s gonna give it to her.” I first tried to convince myself that I had heard wrong; then I felt dismayed and heartsick. All of the many little things I loved about Ken were still there, but I could never get past this one big thing.
Hunters say they hunt because they enjoy the outdoors, or the camaraderie, or the thrill of the chase, yet none of these things need end in the death of an animal. Some few say they hunt because they enjoy eating game. If you are going to eat meat anyway, I suppose you might as well kill it yourself, yet I find even this reason suspect due to the amount of money the meat costs. The price of trucks, guns, licenses, clothing, and, in some cases, trips to faraway places, make for some awfully expensive jerky.
I have no doubt that many hunters are among the finest people in the world except for this one thing that they do, but, as with pedophilia, it ranks as a very big thing in my eyes, and I can never get entirely past it. My life would be easier if I could. My best efforts involve a remembrance of my own sins, including that of hunting. From ages eight to eighteen, I hunted—nearly always alone even when I was eight. My reasoning was threefold. First, I was curious about death, and I thought I could better understand it by being near it. Second, I believed that hunting was what real men did, and I wanted to be a real man. Third, I hoped that the power of the animals I killed would pass into me. This sounded idiotic even at the time, but as with other magical thoughts, I later learned that it was both common and ancient. The best face I can put upon my years as a hunter is to say that what I wanted with animals was intimacy, even oneness. The problem with this is that I wanted them to be absorbed into me, and most definitely not me into them.