Saturday, March 08, 2008
Beautiful Dead Animals
Okay, Dear Readers, this is a post about disturbing stuff. Consider yourselves warned.
Let me begin by saying that I'm not ashamed to be a carnivore. ("Top o' the food chain! Top o' the food chain!") I eat meat and wear leather. I know and like people who hunt, and I have no trouble with hunting if people do it responsibly and eat what they kill. In fact, I often think that those of us who eat meat ought to be reminded where our food comes from by having to, oh, kill a chicken once a year. I've eaten and enjoyed venison, and I understand that hunting can be a very important part of culling animal populations (although those populations are often out of whack because of other ways humans have messed with the food chain, but never mind). I know that most people who hunt are sane individuals who are rigorous about gun safety. Okay?
Today Gary and I went shopping. I needed a new pair of hiking boots for Kaua'i. Usually we go to REI or Patagonia for that stuff. REI and Patagonia are, of course, populated mainly by NPR liberals like us, who trek into the wilderness to improve their cardiovascular health and take pictures.
But last week, Gary had said, "Oh, there's a big new outdoor store that just opened. We should go there to look for your boots." So this morning, I suggested that we try out the new place.
The new place is Cabela's. It's huge. And it's full of dead animals.
When you enter the gigundo building, the first thing you see is a taxidermy exhibit of African animals, including an elephant, a lion and a leopard. That bothered me so much that I made a beeline for the shoe department, where a stuffed turkey and a stuffed wolf, among other critters, watched me shop from their wall mounts. There were more deer heads (and bodies) in this place than I could count, but I know that deer become real pests in places they overpopulate. Also bearskin rugs from formerly live bears. Those were hanging on the wall; I don't know if they were for sale.
Some of the animals bothered me more than others. I eat turkey, but who eats wolf? Much less leopard? (Excuse me: Aren't most big cats endangered? Am I missing something?) Gary told me later that he'd seen lots of stuffed fish -- okay, I can deal with that, mostly -- as well as a stuffed polar bear. Polar bears are definitely endangered. I'm sure this one was either a clever fake or had been killed before the bears became endangered (or had been killed in self-defense in some Alaskan village) but it still bothered me. The store cafe serves game meat like elk, and that bothers me less.
I found a pair of hiking boots, although the selection of women's shoes wasn't very good. I wandered around trying to find Gary, and instead found myself blinking at displays of what looked like hunting camouflage for infants. (Turns out I wasn't hallucinating. Now, class, let's discuss gender stereotypes. Look at the baby boy wearing a camo t-shirt that says, "This is what a real hunter looks like." Now look at the baby girl wearing a camo dress -- with lace and ribbon -- that says, "Cute as a button.") The store was mobbed, and there were lots of kids.
I finally found Gary, who told me that the gun and ammo selection more than made up for what the women's shoe department lacked. He also said there were lots of toy guns, and lots of kids playing with them, presumably so they'll be ready for their first .22 when they're eight and their first hunting rifle when they're twelve. (Yes, I know: most hunting families are obsessive about gun safety for kids, and good for them.) Also, the store sells blowguns: what the hey? Are these used for hunting? (Silly me! I should have checked on Google before I wrote that question. Yes, blowguns are used for hunting. Also fishing.) The store also sells archery equipment, which is really kind of cool. Gary and I agreed that anybody who can sneak up on a deer and kill it with an arrow has our utmost respect: that takes skill and also gives the critter a fighting chance, unlike hiding in a tree until the beastie shows up and then blowing it to Kingdom Come with a high-powered rifle.
The store had an archery range -- Gary told a funny story about a salesman trying to teach a ten-year-old girl not to shoot her arrow straight up in the air -- but no shooting range, thank goodness. There were laser guns people could use for target practice, though.
It all made me very queasy. I kept thinking about the leopard. I kept thinking about the couple Gary and I met about ten years ago who were in Reno for a Safari Club International convention. The woman told us brightly that one of her life goals was to kill a leopard. The man explained that the organization's very active in wildlife conservation: they don't want leopards to become extinct, because then there won't be any left to kill. (Okay, he didn't exactly phrase it that way, but that was what I heard.) Gary and I just looked at each other. Why would anyone want to kill a leopard? If it were attacking you, okay, you might have to, but why would you pay big, big bucks to fly halfway around the world to find a leopard and kill it?
I don't get it.
Killing deer for food in your own neighborhood, I get. Really, I do. But the "Fly to exotic non-Western countries! Trek through gorgeous landscape! Find beautiful animals -- and kill them!" thing just goes right over my head.
When we were leaving the store, I said, "I don't think I want to come here again."
Gary said, "This is the mainstream. Welcome to America."
I said, "I'll stay on the margins, thanks. The next time I need hiking boots, I'm going to REI or Patagonia."
As we were leaving the parking lot, we passed a group of Goth kids headed towards the store. They were dressed all in black, and one of them, a tall young man, was making rat-a-tat-tat shooting motions with his hands while the others laughed. Gary said, "Don't worry. I don't think the store sells semi-automatics or assault weapons, so if they're planning to shoot up their school, they'll have to go somewhere else."
I don't buy into stereotypes about Goths, who are consistently among my best and most personable students. I'm sure the kids were going to the store to write an article about it for their school paper or something. But it was still a disturbing image.
Meanwhile, speaking of hiking and disturbing images, the other day I took a walk on the paved paths that wind between the housing developments in our neighborhood. There are strips of wild land here, and we have coyotes in these parts, so when I see the remains of small animals, I usually figure some coyote has just had a meal. But yesterday I passed a dove or pigeon that had been shot and was lying dead on the asphalt. A little later, I passed a lump of fur that looked like the tail of some animal (I'd say fox, but I don't think we have those here). A little after that, I passed a doll lying on a rock. Sometimes people find toys and put them on rocks or walls where they'll be visible if kids are looking for them, but this doll looked odd because it seemed to be doing a pushup: it was lying face down, but with arms extended, so it was propped up on its hands.
I picked it up and turned it over. The doll's face had been burned off.
Cute as a button.
I wonder if I'd be less sensitive to all this if Brianna Denison hadn't just been murdered.
I've never felt unsafe on the paths between the developments before -- for one thing, there are almost always folks walking dogs there -- but I have to admit that this time, I turned around and hightailed it for home. The walk was just starting to feel a little too much like a horror movie.