Thursday, August 2, 2012

Omnivorous Responsibilities

We just returned from our annual camping trip on the Stanislaus River in the Sonora Pass country of the Sierra Nevada.  I realized during our drive into the mountains that I'd spent part of every summer and/or autumn for the last 40+ years in that part of the Sierra range.  This year, my daughters were more interested in fishing than they've ever been, which sparked a fascinating discussion about the responsibilities of people who eat meat.  My youngest, Emma, generally doesn't care to eat trout - but she loves catching them!  We talked about only keeping the fish that we were going to eat.  Ultimately, Emma decided that she'd eat some of the fish she caught as long as I'd help her consume the entire fish.  We decided that we'd stop fishing or release our catch once we'd caught enough to feed our family.  Emma, who turns 9 next week, even helped with cleaning the fish.  I would think that most 8 year old girls would be squeamish about this task, but Emma handled it with calm respect - it was part of her responsibility as the person who'd caught the fish.
Lara and Emma with our first day's catch.

My folks joined us on Saturday afternoon, which was wonderful - my Dad gave me my love of trout fishing (and my Mom always let me clean my fish on the kitchen counter!).  Dad told a story about our friend Mel, who turned 96 this year.  Mel grew up in Tuolumne County.  During the 1930s when times were tough (this recent "downturn" is no comparison), Mel and his brother and father would hike into the Stanislaus near the present-day Beardsley Reservoir on a regular basis.  They'd each catch all the fish they could carry (70-80 trout). On the way back to what is now Highway 108, they'd each shoot a deer and pack it out, too.  They provided meat to their entire "neighborhood" (near the mill town of Standard) - when their supplies dwindled, they went back and repeated the process.  They ate everything they caught/killed.

This fall, I intend to go deer hunting for the first time.  I didn't grow up hunting or with firearms, but I have enjoyed the venison that friends have given me over the years.  Last year, I purchased a Marlin 30-30 rifle, which my brother-in-law Adrian has helped me learn how to use safely.  In several weeks, I'll attend a hunter safety course and get my first hunting license and deer tags.  In late September and October, I'll start looking for a deer.

I'm still working out my motivation for hunting. It's not for sport - I see lots of deer during the course of my daily work, including lots of bucks.  I'm always thrilled to see wildlife - it's part of the reason I've chosen a life of working outside in nature.  For me, taking direct responsibility for the food that sustains me and my family is a critical factor - I've raised the lamb, beef and chicken that we put on our plates each night (we've not consumed meat that we didn't produce for several years).  Since I like venison, I feel like I have a responsibility for putting it on the table.  However, my motivation runs deeper than that, I think.  I feel like taking the life of an animal to sustain my own life requires respect.  For me, the only way to show this respect is through my direct participation.

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