Wednesday, November 3, 2010

History and responsibility, and hope

© 2010 Joshua Stark

If you are expecting some reflection on yesterday's election, it ain't happening here.  I'll gladly give my opinion if people want to read it, but not unless there is some email outpouring lamenting the dearth of talking-head spinmeisters.  The only thing I will say is that I completely and totally gave up on the federal government doing anything for climate change in 2009, and I'll keep my focus on California and regional attempts to do right by their people, considering the latest changes in federal vs. state government. 

But this post is another reflection from reading "A Sand County Almanac." No politics.  This is about history, and more specifically, the importance of knowing history and acknowledging and reflecting on our good and bad past deeds.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to sit on a panel at the BlogHer Food '10 Conference (for my take on that great event, read here).  During my short time at the conference, I had a number of fascinating conversations with people well versed in all things culinary.  One of these conversations involved hunting snipe (Gallinago gallinago), which included the typical snipe-hunting conversation - five minutes of swearing up-and-down that they do, in fact, exist (hence, the link on the name).

Then the conversation moved to the notion that the snipe is the last of the legally huntable shorebird game species (okay, there's timberdoodles, but if I mention them, then nobody will believe any of these exist).  Someone showed surprise that shorebirds had been eaten at all, the concept being so foreign, and the cultural knowledge of these supposed delicacies having been removed by law decades ago.

But shorebirds were heavily hunted by Americans for many, many years.  The end of shorebirds appearing on menus and in cookbooks happened because of the efficiency of the market hunter and the flocking nature of most shorebirds, coupled with a new-found awareness that we must protect our wilds, lest we lose them all.

This morning, then, when I read 'May' in Aldo Leopold's wonderful work, I was reminded just how close we came to losing so many birds.  Leopold writes,

"There was a time in the early 1900's when Wisconsin farms nearly lost their immemorial timepiece, when May pastures greened in silence, and August nights brought no whistled reminder of impending fall.  Universal gunpowder, plus the lure of plover-on-toast for post-Victorian banquets, had taken too great a toll.  The belated protection of the federal migratory bird laws came just in time." 

One hundred years ago, the demand for plovers was so great among households and restaurants that market hunters nearly ended them all.  

And the same is true for many, many species.  Egret feathers no longer adorn hats.  Buffalo tongue and wild grouse are no longer on the table as regular fare or ingredients.  Most sadly, there is no longer a popular pigeon pie, because that great biological phenomenon, the passenger pigeon, was shot, netted, and clubbed out of existence. 

Thank goodness for the wisdom, if belated as Leopold put it, of legislators who thought past mere economic efficiency, and looked at the value of things from other perspectives.  

Maybe this is a political post, then.  Perhaps I'm still hoping for that human trait to make a comeback, and for our leaders to note the value of our wild places, the value of what we put in our bodies, the values that we teach our children.  I can hope that our leaders will look past their political affiliations from time to time, and recognize the need for us to directly manage and protect our wilds.  We've done it before.  

Maybe I haven't totally given up hope.


Albert A Rasch said...


Nice post and well thought out.

I also commented on your Take an Environmentalist Hunting post, and will be including it on this Saturday's Rodeo.

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles: High Fence Hunting; Is the Public the Problem?

Josh said...

Thanks for the exposure, Albert!

On a tangent, I'd still like to donate a yo-yo, if it isn't too late (folks, if you are interested in what I'm talking about, please click on his link). I'd planned to, but I've been swamped, what with a newborn and unemployment.