Yesterday, on Sunday, I shot my first Caribou. The experience was exhilarating, terrifying and humbling. Aside from fishing, that caribou was the first animal I’ve ever directly killed. Since we started trapping Maple and I have been responsible for the death of a few animals, but it feels slightly different in that you set a trap, and you come back later to (mostly) empty traps and (rarely) a frozen animal stuck in the trap. The death happens when you’re not physically there and, in that way, you’re separated from it.
On Sunday there was no separation; I took aim, fired and the animal was dead. And in many ways it was much, much easier than I thought it was going to be.
I’m a firm believer that the way the United States industrial meat industry functions is beyond reprehensible. I hate buying meat at Kroger’s because I know what horrible, short and inhumane lives those animals led. Even the brands that promote their ‘Free Range’ and ‘Organic’ values – though a little bit better than the massive dairy farms – are still not all that humane; I don’t think anyone would really volunteer to be one of those cows. I feel that Americans are incredibly disconnected from both their food and food production and that we eat an unsustainable amount of food.
I have struggled with the choice to eat meat for several years, even though my body has definitely reacted well to eating meat – I get sick less, I have more energy and feel stronger. I was raised vegetarian (though we ate fish and occasionally chicken) and struggled with various sicknesses throughout growing up. Five years ago, when I started eating red meat, I stopped getting sick almost immediately.
After being vegetarian for many years (and vegan for about five months before I broke – I needed cheese) it was interesting how quickly my body adjusted to eating meat 2-3 times a week. My body likes animal protein, some bodies don’t, but mine sure does. My attitude towards meat now is: If I eat it, I should be willing to kill it. If I’m going to eat meat I need to be willing to do everything eating meat entails; killing, skinning, butchering and processing. It’s work and some of it isn’t very pleasant, but meat doesn’t come in saran-wrap Styrofoam containers in a store and I’m interested in living a life that recognizes the reality of life; in all it’s beauty and harshness.
I honestly thought it was going to be harder to kill a caribou than it was. When I’ve been out hiking in the mountains I’ve often seen caribou and regarded them as beautiful, wild animals that I would never think of killing. But when it came down to getting meat for my family’s freezer – to getting out of the grocery store and to live what I believe to ethically correct (‘If you’re going to eat it, you better be willing to kill it.’) – it became the most logical thing in the world to look up from a front leg and behind a shoulder, and to pull the trigger.
After I killed the caribou I held Maple’s hand and laid my free hand on the caribou’s pelt. I said thank you three times. Once for the meat, once for the bones and once for the hide. Once for myself, once for my family and once for my community. Once for the earth, once for the sky and once for the herd.
I hope to be able to get a caribou next winter. And the winter after that. I hope to be able to teach my children how to shoot, how to treat an animal with respect after it’s dead, and the necessary (and sometimes unpleasant) work that eating meat is. I want my children to understand how life is simultaneously fleeting and forever, harsh and beautiful, barbaric and incredibly giving; and that the joy of living is finding your footing in all the shades of grey and complexity that these contradictions present.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.