Too often, those of us who call ourselves hunters, are labeled as heartless beings who go about the forest firing at will, taking lives like robots with no feelings. We are ridiculed for harvesting animals for sustenance, attacked on social media for displaying our kill, and basically called killers. I would like to put all of those stereotypes to rest by simply stating that no true hunter enjoys taking a life. Last night I bagged a nice doe and a heartache. Perhaps my emotional turmoil is due to the fact that I am a woman, that I have many pets and love all animals, that two weeks ago I watched someone very dear to me take his last breath, that I keep picturing the deer in my head traipsing along the field road so sure of herself before veering up the hill towards me. The truth is, I have been hunting all my life and I deal with this every time I make a kill. One clean shot and a life ended instantly. I took a moment to thank my God and the animal for the life given and to ask forgiveness for being the one to end that perfect life. Today I am a mixed bag of emotions and I try to keep telling myself that there was a reason she came right to me but it isn’t helping. Does this emotional turmoil make me a better hunter? I think yes. Every time I go out in the field I am reminded of the seriousness of the task at hand. This is not target practice at the county fair shooting at stuffed clowns, this is a life. What people fail to realize is that some of us spend hours in our stands watching these animals in their homes going about their lives first-hand. We establish a connection to the land we hunt and the animals who live on it. We even go so far as to name deer who are frequently seen in our area. Then, when it comes down to shooting time we make the decision and a life ends. In my case, the hunt is done to obtain meat that will last me the entire year and to control herd populations. No matter how I justify it, however, the fact remains that I snuffed out a precious life. With all this being said, why do I do this year after year? I do it because it was a tradition in my family, because I thrive on pushing myself out in the woods to handle extreme weather and terrain, because deep down I know that those animals were put on this earth for sustenance, and because I feel better about consuming something that was taken without being pained or tortured in a slaughterhouse. Hopefully this will make some of you reevaluate your thoughts on hunters and hunting in general. Yes, there are those out there who do not feel the emotions I do when hunting. So much is their loss to not be able or willing to understand that it is more that just bringing home a trophy to show off, it is about playing a responsible role in the circle of life
Lamenting on the events of the past week and the topic of “loss” in this blog post.
We often say “Sorry for your loss” by way of condolences at funerals. Yes, the loss of a life is something to mourn but as I was standing in the receiving line at a funeral for someone very dear to me on Saturday I wanted to yell “Stop being sorry!”
Perhaps I am I bit eccentric in my way of thinking, but I was not feeling a loss. I was feeling inside of me what can only be described as gratefulness that I was blessed to have this,man in my life for however short a time it was.
To me, loss is when your glasses go missing or a tooth falls out and you keep worrying the area constantly conscious of something being missing. The absence hinders you but eventually you adapt.
I could say that last week was the absolute worst 7 days of my life because one minute I was feeding a man, who was like a father to me, an omlette in the hospital and the next I was watching him take his last breath. The reality is, I was crushed, saddened, angered, hurt, lonely, panicked, and feeling like my world had collapsed. Once I got over the initial shock of it all my mind started playing slides of our times together. I could see his smile, hear his voice, and the memories wouldn’t stop. Maybe, the storage of memories is the mind’s way of protecting itself in moments like this when such profound saddness threatens to snap that single cord of sanity we all so desperately cling to. The flashbacks remind us of happier times and we are filled with the warm glow of events long passed relishing each memory like a child watching a favorite movie.
The memories also remind us of how blessed we are when certain people enter our lives who are worth mourning when they are gone. People who love us as we are, who teach us life lessons, who take our hands in time of need, and take our hearts when we vow never to love again. The passage of those lives through the pathways of our own adds color, clarity, vibrancy, new ideas, new ways of doing things, and new ways of viewing ourselves and the world.
We gain more than we could ever lose in these situations because we are left not with an empty heart but a full soul, a scrapbook overflowing with the simple blessings of just living and letting others in, if just for a moment to touch our lives.
Yes, there is immeasurable pain when someone we love dies but there is also immeasurable joy to be found in the simple act of calling upon memories created and lessons shared. As for loss, the way I see it is that the sense of loss is simply a fear that we will return back to the person we were before our lives were changed and enriched by the person who is no longer with us. We fear we cannot be strong on our own, that we have lost our reason to keep up the fight when indeed we have only become tougher and more able to face the challenges ahead.
With all of this being said, I hope those of you who take the time to read my ramblings will stop for a moment and realize that when something good goes away in your lives it is not a loss but rather the time to reflect on how much better your life became thanks to that one person or event. Be grateful and not mournful of your blessings however long or short their duration and look forward to what lies ahead. Death does not stop time for those left behind, it simply makes time that much more precious.
So often we lament about how short life is and how we need to strive each day to add quality to the time we are given. We vow to take more time for family, adventures, and all those things that make us truly happy before it is too late. We also look back in regret at all the moments lost and things we failed to do in the past. If I have one single regret, it is that I did not meet my black lab Deshka sooner so that we would have had more time together.
Deshka was a gleaming barrel chested lab with a heart of pure gold and a penchant for popcorn. Her instinct to excel in the field was born of years of field trial breeding that ran through her veins. When I met her I had just entered a new relationship and she was part of the deal, the best part. At nine years old she had already bore two litters of pups and was struggling through a bout of Lyme’s Disease which had slowed her down considerably. Her joints were sore, her gait slow and painful, and her eyes betrayed the agony she attempted to hide from me. Her usual favorite sleeping spot under the coffee table began to collect dust as she was unable to contort her body to fit beneath it due to her illness. I lost a season of duck hunting with her that year but by the following fall she was chomping at the bit to get out to the marsh; all pain a distant memory.
It was the greatest fall of our lives. Ducks were in abundance and Deshka was a machine on the water. From her grassy point she would survey the sky like a soldier standing watch for the enemy to approach. Many a time she spotted sneaky teal before I even noticed them and would give out a sigh of exasperation every time I missed a shot. I could almost imagine her rolling her eyes and requesting a new hunting partner. Retrieve after retrieve she never showed a single sign of slowing down and almost majestically, she would come up out of the water, a duck clamped firmly in her mouth, as the early morning sun shone off her red tinted coat like a polished gem.
Her beauty and gentle soul was second to none. I recall being sick for days at a time and she would only leave my side to eat or go outside. I called her “Mamma Bear” for the simple reason that she was so big and comforting like a mamma black bear with her cub. Deshka was my best friend, my confidant, my protector, and my favorite hunting companion.
When I received a call from a friend who was watching Deshka one Friday in November, 2014, I was unprepared for the news that she had passed away at the age of 13 in her sleep on her bed. I was devastated. No, devastated is not the right word. Is there a word to truly explain the feeling of such profound loss that it is like losing a limb, like having your heart deflate in your chest because the very thing that filled it is gone?
I cried for days, I looked at old pictures, I fell apart over the very clumps of her wayward fur that used to frustrate me when they littered the floor, and I agonized over all the times I let her down when she wanted to play or go for a walk. Sometimes I would even imagine that I heard the sound of her claws tapping a staccato beat across the floor to her water dish. I could still feel her weight against my leg as I sat alone on the couch trying to figure out what I would do without her. I am not ashamed to say that I was a wreck.
As they do, time and fate intervened and two weeks after Deshka’s death the opportunity arose to purchase an 11 week old female Polar Bear English Lab. One photo from the breeder was all it took and no three hour drive in a snowstorm would stop me from getting her. My first glimpse of her was love at first sight. An almost white, pot-bellied pup with eyes so compelling that everyone who met her would say that they made her look like an old soul. I named her Freyja after the Norse goddess of love and now, at 3 years of age she is as faithful a companion as anyone could wish for. While she lacks the drive and concentration out in the marsh that Deshka displayed, and she has her “blonde” moments, she remains a blessing and much-needed balm after such an incredible loss.
Not many can understand the bond people like myself have with their pets. My pets are not mere animals, they are invaluable members of the family, irreplaceable and unconditionally loved. They add purpose and quality to each and every day. Most importantly, they have awakened my heart and soul to the concepts of love, loyalty, and companionship in their purest forms. There is a saying by Anatole France that sums it up “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” No truer words could be spoken. Deshka gave me the love and companionship of a best friend and I cannot look at a bag of popcorn without the memories rushing back along with a smile. She was a once in a lifetime kind of dog and she will always have my heart.