Thursday, June 24, 2010

Connections and connectedness

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Last week, at an environmentalist convention (I live a very unorthodox life, I'll tell ya), I had a typical lunchtime conversation that I thought you all might be interested in.
I attend many environmental get-togethers - conventions, seminars, "summits", annual meetings, those sorts of things - and almost inevitably, at lunchtime, I find myself sitting at one of those large, round tables in a convention hall of some big hotel.  The food is almost always the same, and oddly enough, is just like everybody else's conventions:  Hotel-catered lunch meats, but with a slightly more robust veggie section, to give the vegetarians something.  Most environmentalists, even here in Northern California, are not vegetarians.

Anyhoo, I find myself sitting at a large table, and the conversation always goes to food and where it comes from (odd, that...).  At some point, I give my philosophy (that animals should get to live as they were intended to live, wild when wild, and that we should take responsibility for the lives that sustain us).  Then I tell the folks that I hunt.

Every time I have done this, one or two people at the table begin talking in hushed tones:  "I've always been interested in hunting.  I've never had the chance (oh, I shot my friend's uncle's gun when I was a teenager), and it has always appealed to me as an idea."  They are truly excited, they are looking me straight in the eye, leaning across the table, no longer eating.  I can see their eyes focusing on something else sometimes, even, somewhere else.  They have that spirit within them, but they've never had a conversation with it, and now they see that it isn't just a little, dirty secret, it isn't just some vague blood-bespattered notion without a word to give it a beginning within their hearts, it isn't some voyeuristic vision which they can only feed by watching Shark Week.  It is alive, it is a part of them, and it is shared.  It has an ethic, even.

So we talk, mostly questions asked of me, and always in hushed tones.

What do you hunt?  Do you eat what you kill?

Where do you go?

What do you need/use?  How do you learn?

Well, this week, I offered to take a fellow out to the shooting range, and he bit.  Next week some time, then, I'll be teaching a man how to shoot, as well as just showing him around the American River parkway and fishing with him (he's fished in the past, and wants to start again).

Interestingly enough, a couple of times I've mentioned my hunting to get a rile out of somebody, but it has never come.  The people who have dedicated their lives to environmental action, who have chosen livelihoods to complement their passions, have never once been offended by my statements at lunch, including every vegetarian I have ever spoken to at an enviro. get-together.  There is an honest respect for and understanding of ecology, food webs, habitats, etc., and there is also a deep desire within the community to connect with the land.  Many of these folks were compelled to become biologists, ecologists, guides, because of a need to be in the wild, to know it deeply and respectfully.  I am always happy to find myself in their company, happy to be among folks who so deeply love the wild for what it is.


Tovar said...

Bravo, Josh! A very fine post.

I think there is a huge opportunity right now, with folks thinking more and more about food and our connections to nature, to expand the space available for respectful, insightful conversations about hunting.

It sounds like a lot of the folks you interact with are already there, or ready to go there, engaging in the discussion and sometimes the hunt itself.

I'm going to be doing some research this coming academic year and want to focus it along related lines. I hope to find a way to craft long-term work around such things, too.

Let's keep in touch about these things!

Josh said...

We really do need to keep in touch about these things. My dream would be to run a non-profit that enhances the environmental/conservation/EJ connections in our community. I've seen so many chances blown by other politics in my career.

So, while many are there as individuals, the groups are not yet there, because of other politics.

So email me when you get a chance. I'd love to work on this.

Tovar said...

Will do. Feel free to drop me a line as well. There are lots of different angles one could approach these things from. I'm not yet certain what mine will be.