To a hunter, Thanksgiving has its own traditions. Historically, the day is about finding peace between natives and pilgrims and celebrating the harvest of autumn by sharing its bounty.
With the acrimonious campaign for the presidency building in intensity, let us take a moment to set aside our differences and welcome each other into our homes and into our hearts. Let us give thanks that we live in a country where its citizens can choose how they relate to the world around us.
Rather than give energy to what’s in the news, let us instead practice gratitude for the way our neighbor says “hello” or waves when we pass by. Let’s all find what’s right with our lives and say it out loud, “What a beautiful sunset.”
Look at your family, and instead of judging them for what we don’t like, let’s pick just one thing that we like about them and share it out loud.
This is the time of year that a hunter will journey into the woods in search of connection to our true nature. We hope that we can return with a gift for our family, or those who struggle with food insecurity. We contribute our rewards to the community. Perhaps a deer, or turkey, perhaps a few squirrels, or a big Canada goose for roasting.
For those who do not hunt, it may be difficult to understand why we hunt at all. Let me share with you what motivates the spirit of the hunter.
The energy and mindfulness that is required to take an animal is a profound expression of devotion. When an animal “presents itself” to us it is a moment of divine connection. The hunter may reflect on the moral equation of whether to take this life that is being offered. We do not “play God,” but we do follow our nature. The circle of life requires that, for life to continue, just as with energy, it must change shape and form but does not end.
When we eat broccoli from our garden, we take in the energy and nutritional value of the plant. When we eat fish, chicken, venison, turkey or beef, we become what we eat. From the perspective of the hunter, the purity and grace of the animal is shared when we ingest the energy and beauty of the life we’ve been privileged to harvest.
Big Thunder, a Wabanaki Algonquin who lived in the late 19th century said, “When we go hunting, it is not our arrow that kills the moose, however powerful be the bow; it is nature that kills him.”
Accepting that we are a part of that nature and that we are connected to everything around us is the basis for respect and compassion. In his epiphanic book “Beyond Fair Chase,” Jim Posewitz writes. “If there is a sacred moment in the ethical pursuit of game, it is the moment you release the arrow or touch off the fatal shot.”
It is precisely in this moment that we are sharing the soul of the animal, and after the shot has been taken, the responsibility to care for and properly use the animal is paramount to maintaining the sacred nature of the event.
Several years ago, I took a long shot on a buck that stood for several minutes in front of me. As the “green fire” of his soul left his eyes, I sat with him, asking for forgiveness and thanking the Great Spirit for allowing me to harvest him. I was filled with pride and remorse. I cried and I prayed.
Arriving back at camp, I was greeted with congratulations and a toast. That night, I prepared the backstraps for my closest friends over the gas stove. I seared the medallions in butter and deglazed the pan with the finest merlot we had in camp. I set the red meat on a plate accompanied by broccoli grown in my own garden and garlic mashed potatoes. As my camp members sat anxiously awaiting the delivery of this epicurean delight, I asked for a moment of silence. We all sat still for a minute, each of us honoring the deer in our own way. This was followed by another toast and throughout the meal, I felt as though I had discovered a level of grace and gratitude that I had never known before. The memory of that meal still lives in our camp, and in my mind. I have never had a finer meal.
This Thanksgiving let us all take a moment and recognize that, although we may have different political affiliations, seemingly opposing religious beliefs, maybe even be non-hunting, let us all hold hands and be grateful for the wild spirits that nurture our collective soul.
(Bradley Carleton is the director of Sacred Hunter, that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature.)