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The Grey Matters

Naturalism and Elk Hunting

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NATURALISM and what HUNTING taught me.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Nature is a beautiful thing. The trees, the way they sway in the breeze, the fresh air, sounds of birds chirping all over the place… the cool and crisp morning that wakes you up. It all amounts to that stereotypical way many of us view nature- as a very peaceful, harmonious place. That’s so very true on many levels, but then again, there’s the side that is pretty downright vicious and mean and relies solely on survival of the fittest.

WHERE BOTH BEARS WERE SIGHTED!!!!

Take for instance, seeing my first BEAR. This might sound fun, like a movie or something, but I’ll tell you right now- it was scary. Greg saw two bears! I am thankful I only encountered one. After a day of calling elk in and not seeing any movement, I took the arrow off of my bow, made to leave the area, and when I stood back up there was a HUGE cinnamon bear (which we learned is technically a black bear) not more than twenty-five yards away. I began whispering to Greg (Fantastic Mr. Fox style, here) “Oh, cuss, oh, cuss, oh, cuss…” and hyperventilating. Greg kept calm, reminded me he had his pistol, while I’m shaking and trying to get my arrow back on my bow. The bear looked at us with its stuffed-animal-perfect -teddy-bear-face, and then disinterestedly walked away. WHEW. Talk about dodging a bullet, and that bullet is being eaten by a freaking bear.

Katniss style- my view when I hold my bow :)

NEVER before in my life had I been

a) in the wilderness for a full day of my life, from sun-up to sun-down

b) in a close proximity with something that could take my life in one swift move, or

c) so afraid for my actual life.

The whole aspect of nature and naturalism suddenly became close to home. I understood it better than ever before.

Amazing

In Jack London’s To Build a Fire, naturalism is quite clear. The man screws up, and the dog remains alive because of instincts. When my dad harvested his elk (woohoo!) I asked him if perhaps that cow elk’s “family” would miss her. He told me with confidence that no, nature is pretty indifferent to that sort of thing. The rest of the elk would move on without her and a new mature cow elk would take her place in keeping everyone together.

Now isn’t that a reality check? Nature is INDIFFERENT. None of those animals actually gives a care about us. They might care about each other, but that’s because as a group they are more likely to stay alive.

In Stephen Crane’s The Open Boat, nature is personified and glorified until the men realize it’s going to kill them. All of a sudden, nature isn’t such a beautiful and peaceful thing.

“If I am going to be drowned- if I am going to be drowned- if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?” (Because nature is indifferent!) …….

This man feels that nature wanting to kill him would be unnatural after all of the hard work he’s done in his life. It isn’t fair. He knows others have died the same way, but can’t help thinking it’s still unfair to HIM…

…”When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.”

Later, perhaps the best line of the entire story: “She did not seem cruel to him then, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent.”

It’s easy to lash out at something that “doesn’t care about us.” But isn’t it also a comfort to know that it isn’t all about us? That there’s a bigger picture of this Earth? That the world around us has many concerns and ways to survive? I think it’s humbling. I think it’s a reminder to work hard and stay as strong and fit as we possibly can. It’s a good incentive, don’t you think?

Before this hunting trip I tried getting into shape. I was doing it for my body (mostly just how it looked…) and so that I could keep up with my dad. My thoughts on physical health now? Stay in shape for that time when nature may get the better of us. When Greg and I were splitting our second protein bar out in the woods I kept thinking, “If I had to live on these…if I had to sleep out here…if I had to kill my own food for each and every meal…COULD I?” Would I survive? I went back and forth between “Yes, of course I could survive that. I’m tough” and “I would die right away.” (kind of like this…)

A good thought: even if nature is indifferent, there are people in my life who aren’t. Human love is unbeatable! My dad and my husband were there. They cared about whether the bear killed me or not. My family was praying for us while we were out in the wilderness. I have God, who cares about me more than any person, too. He created a nature that may be viewed as indifferent, but I care about nature even if it is indifferent to me.

Perhaps that’s why humans can’t simply live in peace. There will always be war (unfortunately) and destruction and people will always disagree. I love the idea that peace is possible. I am hopeful for it and I pray for it. But at the end of the day, I think it’s a very unrealistic thing to wish for. We are a part of nature, as much as living in our homes with our technology may feel like a separation from that. If we are a part of nature, it means it’s normal for us to have some tension and chaos and for moments to be anything but peaceful. If the world broke out into panic and all technology was gone, or food ran out, or some other disaster hit EVERYONE, I’m pretty sure we’d all be feeling a little bit more “survival of the fittest.” Even the most peaceful of person would want to survive, want their children to survive, and would go to almost any means in order to make that happen. This is what I truly believe, but I’d like to hear other thoughts.

Being that nature is so beautiful, I think that it would be a disservice to forget the other side… the side that isn’t so forgiving. That, in its own way, is beautiful too.

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Author: Melinda Haas

I write, I read, I love to laugh. God, my husband, and my step children make up my world. I am working on publishing many novels, three of which are completed manuscripts.

4 thoughts on “Naturalism and Elk Hunting

  1. Great writing….profound insights….more!

  2. Great read. I love how you explored nature from so many new and different angles that I had never thought of before! My favorite line was, “..I care about nature even if it is indifferent to me.” Thanks for providing a window into the woods…as I feel very far from them, sitting here staring at a computer screen.

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