Had a good hike today. Three days of rain cleared into a beautiful autumn day, so I hit the woods and let both my feet and my mind wander. Passed a couple of guys in the parking lot who were donning camo gear for some bow hunting in the area, and that prompted the majority of my mental ramblings. (Disclaimer: As with everything else I post here, what I'm about to state are my own opinions and ideas, and they're not even terribly well informed ones, at that. I'm not looking to offend anyone with these opinions, I'm just putting my thoughts into words. So, my apologies in advance to any cattle ranchers or Bambi fans who may be reading.)
I decided long ago that I have no problem with hunters, even when their hunting grounds coincide with my hiking trails (Becoming common practice where I live. The deer population is huge.). Poachers and trophy hunters disgust me, but someone who goes out with a bow and spends the time to familiarise themself with the animal's habits, learns to think like the animal, and then actually makes use of the meat after the kill, seems to have more respect for the animal (though I don't generally poll the hunters I meet on their intentions and practices, so for all I know the guys I saw today were just looking to score a big rack). Since humankind was stupid enough to kill off most of our predatory competitors, we've put ourselves in the position of having to control the populations of herbivores like the whitetail. Controlled, managed hunting culls the population and helps to maintain the health of the herd. That's how nature intended it, and by decimating fellow predatory species we perverted the cycle of life. Hunting somewhat helps to restore it.
Another element of this equation is the whole meat-eating question. I've been considering this more and more frequently and, as usual, I'm conflicted about it. I vaguely remember my parents dabbling in vegetarianism at one point back when I was a kid. Or at least Mom did. Dad's always been one of those guys you see in the current Wendy's ads, screaming for meat as if it were the source of all manliness. But anyway... Since I began reading about Buddhism and the Yogic concept of ahimsa, you'd think that going veg-o would be a natural course of action. Thing is, though, that I don't necessarily believe that humankind isn't supposed to eat meat. I believe that we evolved to be omnivorous, similarly to bears and raccoons. We developed rudimentary canine teeth and the ability to digest meat proteins. Our bodies actually require a certain amount of protein to function properly. Evolution just did not develop us to be herbivorous grazers. Where we went astray, though, was in allowing our appetite to consume us.
Think about it. In the beginning, humans had to work for their meat. It was a "special occasion" kind of thing, depending on the success of the hunt. But that bit of protein helped our brains to grow, and we ironically became smart enough to begin coralling and domesticating some of our more gentle, less-skittish protein sources. From that point on, meat became a staple in our diets and the Big Mac was the unfortunately inevitable outcome.
It's always our intelligence that gets us in trouble. From throwing up a fence, we moved on to members of the tribe learning to specialize in butchery and, voila!, the Meat Industry was born. What we have today is such a perversion of our original instincts that it's almost on a par with the atomic bomb coming from the ideas of someone like Einstein. Not only have we industrialized our consumption of something we originally had to work for, we've allowed that industry to become a filthy, corrupt thing that's cruel to the animals in question and, by ironic extension, hazardous to ourselves. (What's being fed to animals raised for consumption is disgusting and frightening. And that doesn't even get into the chemicals and antibiotics they're pumped up with.)
But what's a lazy slob like me to do? I hate to admit it, but I'm a slave to convenience. If I can't nuke it, order it, or pick it up at the drive-through, then I don't eat (cereal and fruit are nifty alternatives, though). This doesn't mean that I can't cook, just that I choose not to. I go through periodic phases when I make use of a few pots and pans and my handy-dandy George Foreman grill. It ain't gourmet, but I can make some fairly tasty meals. But then there are all those pots and pans and dishes to clean up... I'll admit it again: I'm a lazy slob. For someone like me, going vegetarian is decidedly challenging. Until Chick-Fil-A changes its name to Tofu-Fil-A, I'm a pawn to an industry that I'd rather have no part of.
And that's what it comes down to. For me, if I were to get off my lazy ass and make the decision to go veg-o, it would be as a boycott of Meat Industry practices, not out of any ahims-ic feelings towards my fellow creatures. I'll emphasize, again: I feel that truly needless killing is reprehensible. But if a bear or a wolf or a lion can remorselessly consume an animal that sits lower down the food chain, I can as well. And when I'm mindful enough to stop and think about it, I try to do so with respect and gratitude towards that animal. I'll admit, though, that my conscience would rest more easily if I were out there working for it, rather than having it neatly sliced, diced, and packaged, then handed to me at the drive-through.
Life feeds on life feeds on life...
So, spending much of today's hike pondering my feelings on this subject was a good break for me. It predominated my thoughts, allowing only a short time to brood over a sick cat, necessary home repairs, and problems at work and the terribly un-skillful ways in which I've been dealing with them. Another good distraction was a very cool animal encounter. I had stopped for a bit to just take in my surroundings, when I caught the flap of large wings out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head in time to see a Barred Owl settle on the limb of a tree just a couple hundred feet away. There were a few leafy branches between us, but I was able to very quietly maneuver myself to an angle at which I could see its eyes as it turned its head from side to side. At one point I let out a low whistle and it turned to stare directly towards me. Then, stupidly, I tried to slowly move a few steps to get a clearer view, which prompted it to spread its wings and swoop off to a further tree. So I apologized for disturbing it and hit the trail.