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The Hunter


This is one of those found stories you simply cannot refuse. Sit back, my reader, relax, allow me the lead.

I've known B for 11 years by now. We needed 5 years easily to let the guard down between us. He is an internationally recognized scientist and up there in the hierarchy. I'm so low on the org chart's food chain I like to joke that the plankton scare me. Only, I don't have enough sense to be afraid of power, can almost involuntarily raise my hand in the presence of an emperor in his new suit of clothes. B didn't like that about me at first. It made him edgy. It didn't make sense to him. My thinly veiled, pointed questions usually delivered in such a way I get to savor how my subject often squirms his way through a needle's eye. I didn't care for him because it seemed to me he took advantage of his position. He could joke around and tease without allowing himself to be teased. So we needed long, sometimes 15 hour days in bee yards, in the heat and cold, sometimes out of state, on the road, bodies pressed hard by the work load, it needed the leveling between two too proud men for us to warm up to each other.

When I went through the bad surgeries and chemo therapy, this was last year, B was there in the hospital. Once for several hours. I knew he was uncomfortable in my room and I didn't blame him. I gave him leave to go home, go about his business, no shame, but he stayed put, sat with me and the thousand tubes sticking through my abdomen. The day I was discharged, probably too early and replete with a piss bag, he got me home. When I returned to work he was the man to tell me I had returned too early. He watched over me like a mother coon can. After I ran out of annual and sick leave accrued, he along with others donated time so that I could keep getting a paycheck. Actually, I could say that all the people with whom I worked tended, ministered to me when I felt myself down for good. But this is B's story.

B is an unusual man, and an unusual scientist. He is a word man. Scientists, at least the PhD types, are no longer doctors of philosophy but just technicians. B is different. He is a natural born intellectual, and you bet it is a type that is born, not made. But his sensibility is also blue collar, working class. He told me once he would rather be home, talking with the tradesmen who were then putting in a swimming pool in his back yard, query them about their craft, than sit in yet another convocation of scientists and bureaucrats talking procedure, policy, technique, theory. But as I say he is a word man. He will agonize over a prepositional phrase or a clause in order to get the sequencing right. Not just with his own papers but with those of others under peer review. Sometimes, and this tickles me, he can call me into his office to review, say, a paragraph that pre-consciously strikes him as wrong-headed, still puzzling because he cannot yet figure out why. I don't know. Maybe that is something else we have in common.

B is a thin man. A really thin man and a runner, sprinter. He might be the strongest, skinniest man I've ever known. At 6 feet tall he weighs less than a 150 pounds; about 20 pounds less than I weigh. Damn skinny. But he doesn't groan the way I do when pulling supers of honey weighing up to 95 lbs., pulling them off, lifting them up onto a flat bed truck. B is also unusually sensitive to the cold. From Pennsylvania, I think it is part of why he takes to the Deep South. I am sensitive to the cold too, but not like him. This last characteristic of his is worth keeping in mind.

So if I say B is a hunter that would not be adequate to his portrait. B is a hunter's hunter. I remember once in an assembly of bee keeepers, good old boy types, rednecks mostly, big, corpulent men mostly, B gave a power point presentation on some aspect of bee biology, behavior, and genetics. Closing his presentation down, and for the fun of it, he showed a picture of his retriever. Nike is her name. A damn good duck dog who can exhaust herself in the marshes. Some self-assured country boy in the room, and by way of a put down, said something like: that dog looks like she needs a hunter. B let the comment pass through the room, came back to it as if it was a gnat barely worth noticing, said: she's got a hunter.

B has to hunt in the same way I have to make a poem. That is how I can understand him. It is essential to him. If he can't hunt he goes fishing. He has two camps. One for duck hunting, situate somewhere in the Atchafalia river mouth, and one for fishing, out on a spit of land jutting into the Gulf. Hunting is not a sport for B. Not a passtime. It is a need. He is not a liberal arts kind of intellectual. But I put him on to a book, once, written by Ortega y Gasset, the 20th C Spanish moral philosopher who accurately predicted the damaging, spiritually debiliting affect the, then, new conditions of mass-society would have on the scope of what it means, should mean, to be a human individual capable of thinking and feeling her way through things. I figure Ortega was spot on in his reckonings. Mass society has resulted in a human diminishment. But, like B, he was an inveterate hunter. He wrote a book on the subject, something I read decades ago. Spaniards are pretty much little understood. They are different from other Europeans in the same way that Slavs have never fully grafted to the ideals of that, so-called, Age of Enlightenment. Take the bull fight, for example. It is not a sport either. Never has been, never will be. Go down any Madrid street, notice the plastered bills announcing the next bull fight and what you read is this: the sacrificial murder of the bull. That is what "the running of the bulls" means. It is not a sport. It is a pre-Christian sacrifice for the sake of tribal, village, even cultural renewal now debased by consumer-man. Anyway, Ortega was a moral clinician. He didn't bother himself with some platonic notion of what could or should be. He focused on what is. His book on hunting comes down to a single insight. From memory he said: The hunter does not hunt to kill. He kills to hunt. That is B. In a parallel way that is me. B went out and bought the book. I know this because he has twice taken it with him when we've travel by jet plane. Maybe carrying it like that is his way of talking about something he can't actually talk about.

Now for the sweet spot in B's story, something story telling must always have.

The first time he went deer hunting he was about 14 years old. His father must have decided the boy, who was not yet a noted scientist, had come of age. The ritual of passage thing. B went up into the mountains with his father and his father's friends. In preparation, and keeping in mind he is a born intellectual, B read up on what should be expected of him. He book learned how to best bring down a buck and even how to dress the carcass. Still a boy, he could not have known what the expedition was all about. It was actually an occassion for men to get together, alone, roughing it, if in comfort, fraternizing and drinking. This they did. Early the next morning they all got going, hung over, broke camp, went to their appointed deer stands. B was apportioned his own. I asked B once how he could do it, knowing how sensitive to the cold he is. How does he get out before dawn in the cold, here in the wet cold of the marshes, and somehow keep warm enough. His answer was simple: Adreneline. That is how I picture him when he was 14.

I've never asked how many points was his first buck. I should. I damn near can see the scene. The field, the valley, trees and all probably, predictably, copper colored in autumn. B takes his aim, holds his body in predator perfect stillness. Squeezes on the trigger, the mechanism. Buck still standing. He pulls back on the bolt. Fires again. And then a third time. Buck still stands. I bet he was pissed with himself in the way I've seen him get, that time for being such a lousy shot. He moves out from his stand. To his surprise the buck suddenly falls on his side dead. He got his first buck. He walks to the deer, studies the moment, walks back to where the grown men are positioned. In ritual fashion he is looking for them to guide him now. He finds his father and the others, only, they are all asleep. Sweet sleep. So B goes back to his buck. Dresses it right there on the spot. His father comes up as he's finishing the task. I can't know what might have transpired between the two, father and son, at that moment. B is not that forth coming.

A couple of years ago B won a lottery ticket for gator hunting, something alloted out on certain nature reserves LA. Gator hunting is a lousy business to me and I think to B too. He's only done it once. Take a wire or a rope. Hang it from a thick tree limb reaching out over the water. Attach to it a heavy gauged hook baited with a dead chicken. Gator leaps up, out of the water, for the sweet smelling bird, gets hooked, then dangles. Hunter then shoots the gator in the brain. I asked B what it was like killing an alligator. I can't remember his exact words. He kind of shook his head as if if in disbelief. Said something about it being hard work to finish off a gator. His meaning, I think, being that the reptilean brain is hard to shut down. I gather he had to shoot several times. This at close range. B will never read this story, not if I have anything to do about it. The affection I feel for him would make him uncomfortable probably. Odd thing having to be a man. A man's man. A hunter's hunter.

Terreson

Last edited by Terreson, Aug/17/2013, 10:19 pm
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Christine98 Profile
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Re: The Hunter


Thanks for this, tere. It's the first thing I read this morning and I wasn't disappointed.

The image of the kid experiencing a rite of passage, only to discover his elders/guides were asleep on the job--strikes me very funny.
Also lonely and grown-up/independent.

I never will get that hunting thing though,

Chris

Aug/18/2013, 8:51 am Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
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Glad the story pleased you, Chris. That coming of age scene still tickles me too. As for the urge, beyond what Ortega said not sure there is anything else to understand. Kind of says it all.

Tere
Aug/18/2013, 11:10 am Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: The Hunter


Terreson,

This has your trademark effect written all over it. There is the modern American, perhaps European, discomfort – men displaying affection, or having to display affection. Either way. I don’t know how far back this subject goes. Hemingway deals with it in one of his short stories, but there it’s simply two young men having a good time fishing, and so forth. There is an earlier story, I believe it’s called “The Three Day Blow.” Not at all what the title implies. Great story.

How the man responded to your illness is also instructive, and a mystery. I had a similar experience with a man I worked with when my father died. This man, a thorn in my side, someone whom I saw as untrustworthy, also came to visit me in my hour of grief. To this day I have mixed feelings about his visit. Did this mean he wasn’t as bad as he was, or is this simply a mystery? I’ve seen many contradictions in the behavior of people I’ve known.

Beyond the male appreciation for the discipline and commitment of another male, you do also touch on how men approach the killing of animals. Hunting is something many of my friends and relatives do. They take great pride in doing so. As long as the practice isn’t abused, I can accept it. I can accept the concept of “culling” the herds. I’m a strong advocate for proper and vigorous policing of what hunters do. I watch the channels on the tube and see the carelessness of many hunters, unnecessary suffering they cause to the wild animals through their self-indulgence and thoughtlessness. Most don’t appear to have the attitude of the Native Americans who, it is said, thanked the animal for his sacrifice.
 
I had to run your wonderful piece here through my own filter. Forgive me for being self-absorbed (I suppose), particularly about the fate of animals on the planet vis-à-vis the “hunter.” Here I’m going way beyond what your friend is responsible for. You mention Ortega y Gasset, and how mass production, mass society, would destroy us spiritually, and as individuals. The cruelty and disregard of some hunters aside, the real damage is caused by factory farms. There is unbelievable cruelty perpetrated every day at the slaughter houses. I’ve heard this from first-hand accounts, relatives who worked there. The companies, corporations, could be more humane about it, but the priority is to push the “product” out the door. The profit margin always wins out.
  
For many years, as a young man, I visualized myself doing the Hemingway thing. Perhaps hunting in Africa some day. It never became an obsession. Maybe because my generation, the trend-setters, didn’t take to it. Woodstock, drugs, sky-diving were more important. Still it was in the back of my mind. Then I began encountering other men who expressed compassion for the animals, men who had hunted but no longer did. Men who never saw it as a noble thing. I can still accept it, though. It’s just that the hunters tend to be rolled up into a big blanket with the others who practice factory farming. It seems to reach all the way to Biblical inscriptions. They’ve been quoted to me: God put all animals on earth for the benefit of man.

Bullfighting. You explain it quite well, how for the Spaniards it’s never a sport. How it’s a sacrifice. I’m reminded how the Maasai coming of age ceremonies for young men meant killing a lion. Except that lions are now in danger of extinction. So the Maasai are being encouraged to participate in sports, like spear throwing, during the rituals. It’s a hard sell. Many Maasai don’t want to change. Yet, to save the lions, they must change. It’s never a sure thing that they will.

Likewise, with bullfighting. I think there’s a new and growing consciousness now that these animals do suffer in ways human beings never considered before. Like the Maasai, the Spaniards will eventually feel the international pressure to change. I believe in some areas they are already changing. Yes, we need the rituals. Definitely, but we’re going to have to find substitutes. This includes both the Spaniards and us. We need the rituals too. Maybe rituals where some of us lose our lives in the process: short of war.
  
Bullfighting is very ancient. But the gladiatorial combats and the sacrifice of animals in the coliseum were also very ancient, and eventually the new Gothic overlord of Rome outlawed the practice. Hemingway embraced all the blood. But eventually he blew his own brains out. Perhaps he didn’t have the proper attitude. Or maybe it just ran in the family. But that’s another subject for another time. This subject about hunting, bullfighting and the sacrifice of animals, the human rituals, is a subject that can take some time to exhaust.
  
I realize fully I went off on a tangent. But that was because I felt you were reacting to your friend’s hunting proclivities with responses that were good fifty years ago. The whole concept behind hunting, bullfighting, manhood, has been dwarfed now by a greater concern for the Eaarth (yes, the new spelling: more later) and for the welfare of animals, those we are devastating, and those we factory farm.

Thanks for posting. Greatly enjoyed it. Zak
Aug/18/2013, 11:15 am Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
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Re: The Hunter


To be clear, Zak. In the great divide I am personally, ideologically, on your side of the barricade. Not long ago Costa Rica banned hunting, all hunting I think. There it is now illegal. Were a referendum taken tomorrow in the U.S. I would campaign and vote for such a ban. I can't tell which it is. In my case you are either speaking to the pulpit, to the choir, or maybe you're not speaking to me at all. Attributing to me a response mechanism that, as you say, is fifty years old is misplaced. I hunted once, this at the age of 14 I think. Dove hunting. I discovered I have no taste for it. About a decade ago I was given permission by the state authorities to kill a black bear that had become a locally famous nuisance bear, and that was causing problems on the fifty acre estate I caretook. With means and opportunity, on the day of our closest encounter, I satisfied myself with scaring off the bear with shots fired over his head. 12 guage, triple ought buck shot, thirty feet separating us. That's my story.

Truth is, however, your comment kind of surprises me. My position is this. As an artist my job requires of me to keep as a student of human behavior. My portraitures necessitate I leave out of the reckoning the ideological slant. My job is to get to character. In order to do that I have no choice but to try to "get inside" my characters, viewing things through their eyes, from their perspective. Said in other words, I am an artist first, ideologue second. If my reader does not care for B's character, that is none of my concern. It doesn't involve me. I have portrayed that character as honestly as I'm capable of doing. No judgement involved. I think I've shown his complexity. To me that is what portaiture and character study is about. I owe it to my subjects to let them speak for themselves, keeping out of their way as best as I can.

In the overview, through out history the arts have let themselves get subverted to one ideology or another. Always to debilitating, self-destructive effect. It's a sad thing when slant becomes a kind of filtering. An inclination I am not party to. Thanks for reading.

Tere
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Terreson,

I understand your approach, and I admire it. You are approaching your subject for what he is, not for his philosophical or social attitudes. In other words, if his philosophy or social attitude told him hunting was a "need" you would accept it because that philosophy and social attitude was integral to the man he was.

So as I said, you wrote a wonderful piece. Kind of like reading Turgenev, about his walking through the country while hunting, and staying at a peasant's house. I can understand that, too. Just yesterday, my neighbor, a Marine Vietnam vet and I had a conversation about two other veterans we know, one who refuses to hunt (having come out of the war with that attitude) and one who hunts every chance he gets (also a combat veteran). Two very different views: both probably visceral reactions.

There, I'm off on another tangent. Where I was perhaps thrown off the track was when you said your friend hunted out of a "need" to hunt, not just for sport. You lined it up with the Spaniards' need to sacrifice the bulls (i.e., bullfighting is not a sport). I realize you yourself may not hunt, but in those sentences you appeared to be explaining the "need" your friend had to hunt.

Because it's something I've thought about, something in my conversation yesterday with my Purple Heart decorated friend -- the conversation about hunting -- I felt I needed to engage in the conversation.

For me, it's a mystery. It's almost as much of a mystery as why the two combat veterans, both good, forthright people, would have their individual reactions.

But no, I have no problem with your piece. The references regarding the "need" to hunt and the link to bullfighting were probably positions someone like Hemingway would have taken. In that sense they might be fifty years old. But that is still taking the discussion out of your piece -- a fine piece -- and taking it into an expanded plain. In other words, I am merely taking a few references and expanding the conversation. Zak

quote:

Terreson wrote:

To be clear, Zak. In the great divide I am personally, ideologically, on your side of the barricade. Not long ago Costa Rica banned hunting, all hunting I think. There it is now illegal. Were a referendum taken tomorrow in the U.S. I would campaign and vote for such a ban. I can't tell which it is. In my case you are either speaking to the pulpit, to the choir, or maybe you're not speaking to me at all. Attributing to me a response mechanism that, as you say, is fifty years old is misplaced. I hunted once, this at the age of 14 I think. Dove hunting. I discovered I have no taste for it. About a decade ago I was given permission by the state authorities to kill a black bear that had become a locally famous nuisance bear, and that was causing problems on the fifty acre estate I caretook. With means and opportunity, on the day of our closest encounter, I satisfied myself with scaring off the bear with shots fired over his head. 12 guage, triple ought buck shot, thirty feet separating us. That's my story.

Truth is, however, your comment kind of surprises me. My position is this. As an artist my job requires of me to keep as a student of human behavior. My portraitures necessitate I leave out of the reckoning the ideological slant. My job is to get to character. In order to do that I have no choice but to try to "get inside" my characters, viewing things through their eyes, from their perspective. Said in other words, I am an artist first, ideologue second. If my reader does not care for B's character, that is none of my concern. It doesn't involve me. I have portrayed that character as honestly as I'm capable of doing. No judgement involved. I think I've shown his complexity. To me that is what portaiture and character study is about. I owe it to my subjects to let them speak for themselves, keeping out of their way as best as I can.

In the overview, through out history the arts have let themselves get subverted to one ideology or another. Always to debilitating, self-destructive effect. It's a sad thing when slant becomes a kind of filtering. An inclination I am not party to. Thanks for reading.

Tere



Aug/18/2013, 3:18 pm Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
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Re: The Hunter


Do love convesation with you, Zak. Always have. Had I chosen to editorialize the portrait I might've tried to fit something in pointing to some level of sublimation of that same "need." But my characteer is not there yet. I cannot impart to him something he does not possess. Thanks again.

Tere
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