Book Review: Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt
By: Norma Woolf Date: 01/14/2012 Category: | Wildlife Journal |
Upon reflection Bloodties can be (and is being) used to justify both hunting and anti-hunting philosophies, depending on the reader's preconceived notions about the issue. But readers who come to the book with an open mind will also find a wealth of information to aid in making a decision about hunting - not a decision about participating, but one about the place of hunting as a integral part of the man-animal bond.
Kerasote is a naturalist, not by trade or career but by choice and lifestyle. He lives in the Wyoming wilderness in an inholding in Grand Teton National Park, and hunts, forages, and gardens for his food.
"As the years pass, all three activities take more of my time and an ever-increasing commitment to what most people consider 'living off the land,' and which I have come to think of as 'living with the land.' I have to admit, though, that it is the hunting and gathering, rather than the planting, that pull at me most, but for different reasons than when I was younger. When I first began to hunt, I assumed that the pull was born from long hikes in the high country, the stalks, and the exciting closeness to large wild animals, an excitement that gardening could never reproduce. But when I began to gather wild plants for food and medicine, I realized that a far deeper compulsion than excitement was moving me when I hunted. Whether it's gathering meat or berries or roots, eating from the wild entails a different relationship with the earth than does agriculture. As a farmer, you reap what you have sown; as a hunter-gatherer, you reap what the land provides from her pagan solicitude. A different sort of work is traded, and another humility created, when plants and animals you can't buy or raise build your flesh."
So says Kerasote in the prologue to his book, and so he confirms as he travels from Greenland to Siberia and back to his own backyard.
Bloodties is divided into three sections: Food, Trophies, and Webs. The first is devoted to the hunters in a Greenland village who need the flesh and skins of seals and polar bears to survive a harsh existence. The second explores the psyche of trophy hunters, those sportsmen who roam the world in a quest for bigger and better specimens to mount on the wall or in the den. The final section is a diary of sorts, written at home as the author moves through his day-to-day life, hunting, hiking, and musing about the notions of deep ecology, animal rights, and mainstream environmentalism.
Kerasote spent several months with Greenlanders to gather information on subsistence hunting. The Greenlanders are of Danish and Norwegian descent, not Inuit, and live in harmony with the animals and the environment in villages that depend on seals and narwhal for sustenance and videotape players and televisions for entertainment. Kerasote lived in their homes and huts, rode in their dog sleds, listened to their stories, and accompanied them on hunts in late winter and early spring. "In April we went bear hunting. As the moon came into fullness, in the first stable weather after several weeks of storm, we left, sledding northwest into the icebergs, the pinnacle in the center of the island becoming visible as we rounded the headland under which the village was built. The wind was on our right shoulders, coming off the ice cap, and we crossed foot-high waves of hard snow, running west. Ahead of us, under the great blue bell of sky, the features of the coastline - islands, glaciers, and mountains - sprawled north to meet the frozen line of the sea. Over that place, Thule land, a faint brown smudge hung. It was arctic haze, crossing the pole from coal-fired electricity plants in Siberia." Kerasote's descriptions of land and people are loving but not sentimental. He sees the land, the animals, and the people as intricately woven together, as warp and weft of the same tapestry.
Kerasote opens this section of the book with a description of trophy hunter Bob Kubick drawing sheep horns in the air with grand gestures to illustrate the trophy he will seek in a trip to Siberia. As Kubick finished the demonstration "his face becomes illuminated. The stress lines disappear. The under-eye pouches recede. His cheeks blush and he wears the expression of those looking at Michelango's David. He's visualizing what's physically attainable in the genus Ovis. Of middle age and middle age, of uncommon good cheer and well-fed frame, Kubick's heading to the other side of the world again, to the trophy fields, making memories with his rifle."
Kerasote accompanied Kubick, owner of a construction company in Alaska; Paul Asper, a retired snowmobile dealer; and four other hunters to a hunting camp in north central Siberia. Each hunter paid $16,000 for the privilege of hunting Ovis nivicola, the rarest of mountain sheep.
October in Siberia is bitter, snowy, and very cold. Camaraderie was missing from the group; some of the guides used a helicopter to haze sheep towards a couple of the hunters, and the other hunters were disgusted.
Dinner conversation centered on great hunts the men had experienced and on the difference between hunting and killing; Kubick and another hunter railed against "killing." "We're not here proving ourselves by killing anything*," Kubick said. "We're here to have a sport, to have a challenge. If you're just going to go out and shoot something . . . that's not where it's at. Trophy hunting allows you more days on the field. You want to be out there, having those days* in the field."
A challenge they had, hunting in deep snow, suffering frostbite, hiking through passes whipped with wind and over ridges exposed to the full fury of the weather. Each hunter got a trophy sheep; the largest had a 40-inch horn spread.
When they returned to the US, Kerasote visited Asper's trophy museum in Pennsylvania. Here Asper had mounted dozens of trophy animals, some full body mounts in natural habitat dioramas, others as heads on the walls. He had displays of furs and horns and other animal parts to touch and learn about and lots of wildlife paintings on the walls, preserved the land around the museum in a natural state, and talked about the value of education and the need to preserve endangered species.
But with this lip-service to conservation, Asper was under investigation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for importing endangered animals from Africa, Nepal, and Peru. He was found guilty, fined nearly $200,000, and sentenced to 30 months in jail.
"Trophies" points out a contradiction faced by these particular trophy hunters: they constantly defended themselves against charges of "killing" animals and denigrated those who participate in "shoots" and canned hunts. Although he shows that these hunters had much to apologize for and feel guilty about, Kerasote does not preach or malign these men who are driven by the need to face the challenges of the wilderness to bag a trophy.
Back on his home turf, Kerasote finished his book with several chapters about his life in Wyoming, his feelings about the animals that shared his home and hearth (dogs and cats) and the wild creatures that prowled his front yard (bears, deer, elk, and many others), and a whirlwind visit with Wayne Pacelle, then a staffer of the anti-hunting Fund for Animals, now a vice president for the Humane Society of the US.
He talked of the connection between hunter and prey. In his words: "I look at the rifle in my hands - walnut stock, blue-black barrel, telescopic sight. Its ancestry is more closely connected to the industrial world than to any spear a hunter-gatherer carried across this country, yet what it does in my hands - kill wild animals for food - is connected to our ancient relationship with the earth. . . . Wild elk, along with all other creatures and plants of nature, are what the earth still provides from her initial grace. They can't be planted or harvested or ranched; they can only be received. Whether the means of receiving them is a spear, a gun, or one's plucking fingers matters less than the state of mind moving hands to action."
But in spite of his awareness of a connection between man and the earth, a connection that is in part maintained by hunting, Kerasote became a vegetarian for a while because he did not want to inflict pain. Then he realized that there is no food without sacrifice, whether it is the sacrifice of an elk to a bullet, the denizens of the field to plow and combine, roadside dwellers to the wheels of the truck rushing fresh produce to market, or land and animals to the industry that makes the trucks, provides the fuel, builds and repairs the roads, and constructs the markets.
But it is the chapter that describes the visit with Pacelle that puts the rest of the book in perspective.
Pacelle is a self-described crusader for animals who does not like animals. "I don't have a hands-on fondness for animals," Pacelle said. "I did not grow up with dozens of dogs and cats as many people did.
To this day, I don't feel bonded to any particular nonhuman animal. I like them and I pet them and I'm kind to them, but there's no special bond between me and other animals. . . . It's more of an intellectual/philosophical motivation than it is hands-on."
When Pacelle and Kerasote arrived at the activists apartment, Pacelle underscored his "respect" for animals by ignoring his housemates' two dogs that came to greet him. Kerasote accompanied Pacelle on several speaking engagement and listened to the activist rail against hunting, meat-eating, and other uses of animals. As in the chapter on trophy hunting, the writer does not condemn the philosophy or the actions of the activist, but he gets his points across none-the-less.
Bloodties is a must for anyone trying to put hunting in a personal perspective and for those who already either love hunting or hate it. There's truly something here for everyone - a trick that's hard to pull off, but which Kerasote manages with great sensitivity to animals and the land and great respect for man.
* emphasis in the original
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Woolf |