“We cannot hope to create a sustainable culture with any but sustainable souls.”
—Derrick Jensen quoting a friend in Endgame, volume 2
A few days ago I intentionally caused the death of another living being. (I won’t be graphic but stop reading if you’d rather not hear about this.) I am of the belief that we cause the deaths of other living beings every moment that we’re alive, but it feels different to do it with intention.
The hunting community in general refers to this act as “harvesting.” People “harvest” elk, deer, moose, and all sorts of other animals. I have a strong reaction against this word applied to animals that I’ve spent many hours observing and whose world I’ve tried to understand. Which makes me wonder if “harvest” is too life-denying for other things too, like carrots and kale and wheat. Certainly for trees. Collect? Gather? It’s always death-causing, no matter how we refer to the action. I pick kale and cause its death. I kill it in order to care for others, to live. Same for the deer I shot last week.
All of those words sound brutal. But after three years and countless hours I haven’t yet found hunting to be brutal. I find industrial agriculture brutal, whether of cows or of kale, but those long hours spent slow-walking in the woods, smelling snow, looking for signs, being scolded by squirrels and becoming weirdly obsessed with crows and the liquid call that I didn’t know they possessed—the end purpose of all of it is, yes, final, but the process is an act of building relationship. Even this particular endpoint, which involved a friend’s field rather than public woods, was integral with that community ecosystem, as the friend was the person who’s spent an enormous amount of time teaching and guiding me in this lifeway.
I know it doesn’t sound like it. It sounds like . . . something else. Hatred maybe. Cold-heartedness.
To depend entirely on your local ecosystem for your food (which, to be clear, I don’t, though as far as protein goes we’re pretty close) requires you to both know that ecosystem and to care for it. Derrick Jensen, quoted above, has said that, though you can’t help taking from the world in order to live, what that obligates you to is not guilt but care. I believe he said it initially of salmon, that if he takes a salmon from the river near him, it obligates him to care for the rest of that salmon’s community, including the water and the wider ecosystem on which it survives.
Reciprocity is clarifying; it gives purpose and meaning. When I look inside my freezer now it feels good in a complex kind of way. Good to provide for my family but good also because I have a clear vision of where my obligations lie: with caring for what it is in this world, especially where I live, that allowed that animal to flourish.