This is an excerpt from the draft of the novel EcoGuerrillas, which follows a band of ecoradicals bent on destroying the industrialized world’s infrastructure.
The whiteness of the birch trees contrasted against the pines, which looked all the darker for the magenta and orange streaking across the sky, presaging the dawn. As the light grew, the swamp grass around the pond glistened with frost. A beaver’s head broke the stillness of the water with a V of wake spread out behind it. As the sun hit the pond, a slight mist rose from the still-warm water into the cold air. Chickadees in the branches fluffed their feathers and sank back onto their perches.
Behind Eric, a red squirrel hopped over the forest floor, stirring up dry leaves in a series of triple jumps. Eric wasn’t a ponderer or over-prone to deep philosophical thoughts. He was not a stoic; he tended to talk a thing until it was no good. Sitting here on the edge of the pond, though, he couldn’t help but think.
The pond was the same as last year’s, at least on the surface, but in another sense, it was all new. It was his conception of the place that stayed the same. All the water in the beaver pond from last year had evaporated or flowed away as it was replaced with fresh precipitation. The trees wore new bark from what he had seen last fall. The swamp grasses, mosses, and ferns were in the same place as their predecessors, but they were all new growth from the spring. The leaves on the ground were fresh from this year and the top layer of soil now contained remnants of the leaves from the year before.
I guess, he thought, I recognize the patterns of this place rather than the specifics. Who, then, am I if all my cells are replaced every ten years? Is a whirlpool the same whirlpool when new water replaces the old? Didn’t George Carlin have a bit about a radio station that moved its studio, got a new frequency and call letters, changed its programming, and hired new announcers—was it the same radio station? At what point does it stop being one and start being the next?
His train of thought was interrupted. He heard the slower leaf disturbance across the pond; more steady than the squirrel and punctuated by pauses every few seconds. Eric saw the deer when it dropped its head to feed. With the deer’s attention diverted, Eric pulled up his binoculars. This was a young buck, maybe two or three and a half years old. It had brown antlers that faded to four white tips. As he looked, Eric heard more rustling just below him. He eased his head back from the binoculars because the buck was looking in his direction. Just below him was a small doe, working her way through the swamp grass.
He felt the adrenaline rise as soon as he saw the deer, but he breathed calmly and rode the feeling without letting it take over. The doe could smell something. She stomped her hoof and snorted. The buck watched her but she looked around for the source of the smell: animal body odor, wool, leather, and acid chemical smells all hit her nostrils, even if she didn’t know the nylon backpack and boot soles were the source of the artificial smells.
As she wandered off to the west on semialert, the buck browsed in the grasses, his jaw working side to side, watching the doe angle away. As he followed her, the smells hit his nose. He looked at Eric, just thirty feet away, but Eric stayed motionless, not blinking or breathing lest the steam of his breath give him away. The buck looked for the doe. Eric reached for his camera, but the buck’s head snapped back, catching him midmotion. Even though Eric froze, the buck’s tail stood up and he bounced away. Eric could tell the buck wasn’t fearful; his interest was casual and after fifty yards, he stopped to stare at Eric again.
As the buck had started to bound away, Eric pulled up his rifle. He checked the safety and sighted in the buck as he turned broadside. Sensing no danger, the buck turned to follow the doe. Eric let out a whistle and the buck stopped again to look back, giving Eric another opportunity had he wanted it. This was the first hour of the first day of deer season, and Eric had decided to let this buck pass as soon as he saw him across the pond. The season was two weeks long, Eric thought, no sense in rushing it. It was, though, a chance to try getting in position. Practice doesn’t make perfect but it does make habitual.
As the buck left his range of view, Eric’s thoughts turned to his friends and their aversion to his hunting. He had felt uncomfortable about it in his liberal social circles. Most of them were meat eaters, albeit “organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed, hormone-free” meat eaters. He had at first tried humor: “You think they tickle your hamburger to death?” But that had not worked. The best strategy he had found to justify his hunting was to ask what attributes they thought exemplified ethical meat consumption. Most mentioned quality-of-life issues, treating the animal with respect, feeding it a species-appropriate diet, and avoiding artificial hormones and antibiotics as standard practice. Many mentioned a quick death and sanitary butchery conditions. Eric then pointed out how any deer’s life far surpassed a cow’s in both length and quality. It was free to eat acorns, clover, and scrub, not to mention the lack of chemical or medical adjuncts.
“But how can you kill an innocent deer?” some would ask.
“It isn’t done lightly and I don’t enjoy it,” he would respond, “but if I am going to eat meat, I think it shows respect to the animal if I am willing to take responsibility for my choice. I avoid chancy shots and most of my deer die in less than five seconds. I dress the deer out, skin, and butcher it, and then eat it over the next year. It allows me to avoid buying industrial meat, meaning I do not contribute to the environmental degradation, emergence of MRSA, or the diminution of the quality of life of cows, pigs, or chickens endemic to the modern meat industry.”
He didn’t want to shame anyone or pretend to be holier than thou. The effortlessness of buying meat at the grocery store and the sanitizing of death, though, made it easy for others to feel superior to someone who thought and felt deeply about what he ate; someone who was willing to face the truth behind his food. What had started out as embarrassment about how he grew up eating wild game had become a point of pride as he learned about the modern meat industry.