Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Living Amongst God's Critters

I awoke this morning shortly before 3 a.m. to the sound of rapid pawing on the roof over my bedroom. I never did figure out exactly what it was, whether a squirrel looking for nuts, a chipmunk in heat, or a raccoon looking for someplace warmer to bed down. It was one of those times when you sit straight up in bed wide awake--in this case pulled from the lull of a dream where I had been conducting a funeral and we couldn't get the lid on the coffin shut. The sound of the scraping and scratching was probably not that loud but, in the context of almost complete silence, it had a sobering effect.

We are surrounded here by the better part of 2500 square acres of state woodland: property off-limits to pets but protective of the native flora and fauna all around us. There are trails that lead off in several directions from our Institute apartments and it is not uncommon, especially at dusk, to see several deer grazing outside in something of a serene manner. Now that deer season is in full stride, the animals seem to almost inherently know that they are on safe ground. With the faint sound of gunshots in the distance, particularly on the weekend, the occasional deer seems somewhat skittish but glad to be where it is safe--a bit like I used to feel as a kid whenever I would slide home in a baseball game and could stand up and greet my mates, knowing that some crazed catcher (substitute gun-running teenager here) would not be after me.

About ten days ago as we were turning out onto the main road, a hunter came driving by with a dead buck sprawled across the roof of his SUV. One of my colleagues here (who is from Australia where guns are essentially banned) became almost apoplectic. With her head buried in the back seat, she screamed that she would never be able to get the picture out of her mind. Though I was never much one for going hunting, I realized that this was a sight with which I have grown familiar. After all, one can reason, if the herd isn't thinned many of these deer will simply die of starvation in the course of the long Minnesota winter. But, then, we Americans (at least in this part of the country) have grown up with hunting as a natural part of our world--unlike the vast majority of people in other first-world countries.

Next week, I'll be returning home to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving repast. At our table will be turkey and probably some ham--meat with which we've all become familiar. We eat it with nary a thought about the animal's life which was sacrificed on our behalf. Our increasing distance from the land assures that we have no real connection with the death of this creature, unlike our ancestors just a generation or two ago. So, on this Thanksgiving at least, let us give thanks for the abundance of food with which most of us are blest and let us remember that we are a larger part of the cycle of life that goes on around us.