Thursday, November 12, 2009

Deer Meat

When I was little, the holiday season did not start with Thanksgiving or Halloween. The holidays began when Deer Season shifted from bow to firearms.

How festive and peace-on-earthish of us, right?

Deer season meant aunts and uncles and cousins driving in for the weekend and everybody getting together for dinner at Aunt Tammi's house. It really was the beginning of the holidays--a chill in the air, a warm and brightly lit house at the end of a long gravel road, the scent of chili simmering on the stove, men's muddy boots standing up by the front door, Carhart coveralls smelling faintly wet and woodsmoky, the low baritones of men comparing hunting stories, punctuated by little kids laughing and women talking in the kitchen. There is still a particular kind of minty chewing tobacco that makes me think of deer season and being a little kid whenever I smell it.

I think it is important to note that I've been an animal lover my entire life. I've never had interest in hunting. I've been a vegetarian for the last seven years. And yet I still think of deer season with a kind of warm nostalgia.

My mom kept a journal when I was a little girl and in it she recorded an incident when I was about three years old and I saw a deer that my dad had shot. It was lying in the back of his truck. I understood that it was dead but I kept asking why its eyes were open.

And then told my mom that when I got to heaven, I was going to lie down beside that deer.

Which must have been a kind of creepy thing for a little kid to say and suggests that from the very start I had some serious misgivings about this killing animals thing.

My sympathy for deer (perpetuated, no doubt, by Bambi) only increased as I got older. By the time I was nine or ten, I began to vocally protest hunting season. By which I mean I tried to convince my dad it was cruel to shoot deer. He explained to me that the population needed to be controlled or they would overrun the woods and starve or get hit by cars on the highway. I was only somewhat mollified by this explanation.

I still hated the idea of deer being shot but more troubling for me honestly was the thought of a general state of anxiety in which I imagined the poor deer must live for the entire extent of the season.

Perhaps I gave deer too much credit for their cognitive abilities?

In spite of my misgivings about shooting furry animals, it was hard not to enjoy the side effects of the season. After all, it was like a cultural ritual in our small town and the excitement was sort of contagious. I admired my aunt who hunted with the guys for ignoring the traditional gender roles even though I personally had no desire to get up that early in the morning only to sit outside in the cold without being able to talk (let alone actually having to shoot a deer). Kids would come to school with their carhart coveralls still on, the top half unzipped and hanging down so they were just wearing the pants and a flannel shirt as evidence they had been up at the crack of dawn deer hunting before school.

Deer season didn't just mean grabbing a gun and hitting the woods, it meant families getting together, a certain sense of cameraderie in the hunting section of Wal-Mart (yes, some Wal-Marts have a hunting section), men growing beards and wearing camouflage, people stocking up on groceries to feed extended family, good-natured boasting about the first deer of the season or the biggest deer in the group. The season seemed to be full of family and food and a general sense of goodwill--no wonder it felt like Christmastime.

Deer season doesn't really make a blip on my radar where I live now. And I have been surprised to find that I kind of miss it.

I don't like violence and I don't like cruelty to animals. But I'm no longer sure that deer season is those things.

Now that I've learned more than I really wanted to know about factory farms and chicken factories, I have more of an appreciation for hunting wild game. I suppose it is something of a skill and while human beings clearly have the advantage, I would wager that the deer who are hunted this year have lived a happier existence than most of the turkeys that will be consumed this Thanksgiving.

Personally, I still don't particularly want to eat deer meat, but I'm glad that the hunters I know eat venison steak and use ground venison in spaghetti and make summer sausage and jerky out of deer. I see it as a responsible use of resources. Take your share and leave some for others. All things considered, I think it is a relatively humane way to feed a family.

I still don't want to see dead deer hanging in trees. (Especially within the city limits--shouldn't there be some kind of ordinance about that?) But in a world where we lived so far removed from nature, I'm glad that my family is part of a tradition that respects the meat on the table and that we've all seen the animal that used to be. We recognize that food that doesn't just come pre-packaged and de-boned at the grocery store.

So you definitely won't see me wearing camouflage and carrying a gun out to the woods, but as far as I'm concerned, the holiday season has commenced.

Happy Holidays!

1 comment:

  1. Two things:
    A.I think you are giving deer too much credit for their cognitive ability-they're really not that bright. They will be off the highway, look at a car and jump right in front of it. How bright is that?
    B. There should be an ordinance protecting me from looking in my neighbors yard and seeing a deer gutted and hanging in their yard!