Faculty Writing Project

225 Humanities Building

Martin, TN 38238

Ph:

(731) 881-7300

Em:

David Carithers, Facilitator

Faculty Writing Project

Eric Pelren
Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources

 

"The workshop has been of tremendous benefit to me in a multiple of ways. Most obviously, it has increased my awareness of ways to more effectively incorporate writing into my courses. This is a critical component of my field of study, and one which I was very interested in working on. Secondly, the workshop has provided me opportunity to better know my peers from departments across the campus. These relationships, I believe, will be invaluable in my ability to teach and use resources across the curriculum here at UTM."

 

I am a hunter. None of the other things that I am provoke stronger or more varied responses from people. Many express confusion. What shall I say when they ask why I hunt? Will I speak of heritage? Of rights? Of fellowship and sportsmanship and honor and ethics? I don't know. Memories from every day afield come crashing in, confused, painful, but yet irresistible.

Age six, a duck blind. Cold. Shivering dog. Jerking the pull string. Feeding chatter. Peeking up under hat brim at cupped wings. Smoke, shells on plywood, spent powder. My dad's profile, confident and quiet, eyes skyward. We ate hot strips of duck breast fried in butter on an old pie plate over a propane stove.

How can I not feel defensive, and anger at my defensiveness, when they ask why I hunt? Shall I discuss human evolution? Or the fat, antibiotics, and hormones in their bland beef, swine, and poultry? Shall I ask why they don't hunt?

Autumn 1993, a year into my marriage, was physically idyllic, fiscally taut. We were living on an assistantship stipend and a preschool teacher's salary in a 1-bedroom apartment. Long hours, day and night; a precious few days afield for grouse. I remember an afternoon argument over the checkbook. She did not think we could afford for me to hunt. I did not think I could afford not to. It was the only time I had slammed my hand down in anger at her. And in confusion.

Why am I so quick to distance myself from those killers who seek trophies with their technology, and parade them around on distended tailgates? Do not I, too, feel the racing pulse? Don't I feel joy in the pursuit fulfilled? And don't I toe the line of fair chase with gun, scope, and camouflage? My resentment that a few unethical hunters are soiling the reputations of the rest of us has been overcome by dismay that my moral majority has been overturned.

Another day afield, collecting data. My acquaintance asked how I could stand pursuit of birds by hunters. "Well, I hunt them, too!" I remember my surprise at the shock on her face. She had seemed so enlightened. I felt compelled to justify, and there was time. "Ok. First, death is natural, right?" "What? No!" We both stared, at an impasse. Later she insisted that, although her perspective disturbed me, it was a common one. That haunts me.

To hunt well takes time. A lifetime. To hunt well, one must know the land. The plants, the animals (all of them), the contour, the weather and the smells. A guided hunt to a new place is not a true hunt. It is, at most, an enlightening visit. At the least, only a kill. How can we properly respect and honor what we do not know? You know when you begin to hunt well. Really well. That moment when you are accepted by the birds and rodents, and when your senses expand, so far beyond the tunnel vision trained by televisions and freeways, to encompass the oikos. I have never hunted well when I was accompanied by others.

I was fourteen the first time I killed a deer. The emotions were dizzying. Excitement, intense sorrow, pride, gratitude. Reverence. The pelage was thick; it was a doe, a large one, but I didn't care. My reaction was seated in the memories of my first hunt. Of one or two (three? four?) that I had crippled and failed to recover. I remember the knife through skin and cartilage and tendon. Puncturing the stomach. Nausea. Blood, heart and lungs. Viscera.

Why do I hunt? I hunt because I prefer to take direct responsibility for at least some of the death and displacement that my existence causes. I hunt because I honor diversity: I prefer intact ecosystems that support all life, to mono-cultures of genetically modified and imported fescue and soybeans that create nothing but beeves and tofu. I hunt because I like meat. Shall I apologize? Should the lion? I hunt because I have found no more powerful communion with my maker than when I actively participate in Creation. I am a barbarian, you say? Perhaps. But only in that I have hunted poorly at times.

March. I sit in high-graded wood, yet with early sign of recovery. It's muggy and damp; a light rain has just passed. Trillium, foamflower, a hummingbird on his crossvine route. My back to a green ash, feet among poison ivy, farkleberry and seed ticks, I doze. The hens are not aware of my awakening. Three of them. Purrs and clucks, an occasional yelp. They move beyond me. Red swollen caruncles betray the tom...two toms. They follow the hens, into the range of my gun. Scratching, beards sliding across leaves and sticks. Occasional sounds, deep in pitch. Wary, heads up frequently, snoods dangling. A squirrel hops between them. A wren, territorial, rasps a warning. They pass on. I smell wet feathers. The sun breaks through the edge of a cedar's thin crown. A box turtle eyes a euonymus leaf, head cocked, then moves on. A male. An errant breeze makes a brief shower under a nearby yellow buckeye. Nobody else had leaves to capture the rain...not yet, it's too early. A good hunt. Successful.

I am haunted by disharmonious events afield. I have put the gun away at times, and explored the gatherer in my genes. I've consumed the sumac, morel, poke, dock, sassafras, redbud, oak, and sorrel from lawn and wood. Even the imported dandelion. I keep gardens, fruit trees, berries. I am often afield gun-less, binoculars in one hand, child in the other. But I continue to feel dis-ease without the occasional pursuit in my life. What shall I say when they ask why I hunt? I shall say, I suppose, that I am a hunter.

Email: epelren@utm.edu

Who We Are

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225 Humanities Building

Martin, TN 38238

Ph:

(731) 881-7300

Em:

David Carithers, Facilitator