Heartsblood
  
Heartsblood
Hunting, Spirituality, and Wildness in America
Published:
6/1/2014
Format:
E-Book (available as PDF files) What's This
ISBN:
978-1-46894-777-9
In Heartsblood, nationally acclaimed nature writer and veteran outdoorsman David Petersen takes a clear-eyed look at humans and hunting, and reaches conclusions sure to challenge everyone's preconceptions. He draws clear distinctions between true hunting and contemporary hunter behavior, praising what's right about the former and damning what's wrong with the latter. Along with his extensive personal experience, Petersen draws on philosophy, evolutionary science, biology, and empirical studies to create an engaging and literate work that offers a unique look at hunting, hunters, anti-hunting, and, in the words of the author, "life's basic truths."
ONE OF MY MOST CHERISHED TEACHERS, the late Paul Shepard, liked to point out that "in defiance of mass culture, tribalism constantly resurfaces." The minority of hunters who are true (to their heritage) and authentic (in their goals and actions) form just such a tribe, though many hunt alone. IT'S MID-AUGUST and hot here in southern Colorado. Just two more weeks until the opening of archery elk season, which I await each year with all the patience of a child counting down the days to Christmas. To help me through this anxious time, to facilitate getting in shape for the vertical challenge of elk hunting and just because I like it, I'm spending a few days alone, out among the crafty creatures locals know as "prairie goats," albeit with no real hope of bringing home anything meatier than memories. As one frank friend once observed, stalking pronghorn with two sticks and a length of string is about as productive as chasing farts in a hurricane. So true. And so what? In three years of hard trying, I've yet to work close enough to a wily pronghorn to loose a conscionable arrow. No matter. In hunting as in life, it's essential to avoid tunnel vision. Plenty good enough just to be alive, free, healthy (so far as I know), and semi-sane in a world gone largely mad. To the point: It's a multiple blessing just to be here now, in this quietly spectacular high-desert place, so near to home in miles, yet so geologically and thus spiritually foreign: a Nearby Faraway if you will (with apologies to Georgia O'Keeffe). How different this place is from the lofty, lime-green mountains I call home, over on the far side of the Continental Divide-visible even now, off in the western distance, quilted here and there with raggedy hold-out patches of last winter's snow, shining cool as a promise beneath a roaring late-summer sun. Well, that promise--of dark-forested mountains animated by bugling bull elk in their piss-perfumed rutting wallows beneath brassy autumn aspens rattling in a cool mountain breeze-all of that and more will just have to wait. For now, this rocky pronghorn heaven will do just fine. Not your typically pan-flat, cow-burnt, gnat-tortured prongy stamping ground, this, but scenic basin-and-range country: rolling, rugged, vulcanized and cliffy, punctuated with verdant pockets grown waist-deep in aromatic sage and yellow-flowering rabbitbrush. Average elevation: eight thousand four hundred feet above the far-off sea. This is national forest land, mostly, just like at home. But here, ironically, there is no forest; none of the "timber-quality" trees the USDA Forest Service so loves to cut and sell well below cost, at taxpayer expense, ripping the landscape with (taxpayer-subsidized) roads while they're about it. In light of the lack of logging, the federal keepers of this sparse land manage to find other uneconomical, unecological "uses" for it, allowing it to be sheep-burnt just this side of hell every spring by a brainless blight of woolly maggots. Domestic sheep, here and everywhere they roam throughout the semiarid West, overgraze the vegetation, foul the water, denude riparian areas, and import noxious invader plants-thistle, leafy spurge, and the like-that squeeze out native vegetation, thus poisoning and starving the ecosystem. Additionally, domestic sheep harass and even kill wildlife (coyotes, bears, lions, and wolves in particular) with help from gun-toting ranchers and tax payer-subsidized government trappers, spread disease to wild animals (especially bighorn sheep, of which a secretive few lurk hereabouts), and otherwise displace wildlife. And more. All of it bad for nature. For wildness. Bad for you and your children, and devastating to the feral likes of me. Private livestock belongs on private range, not on America's nominally communal, nominally "wild," public lands. But let's forget the stinking sheep for the moment. What else defines this place? Prickly pear here and there, mostly in whiskered clusters; claret cups and spearlike yucca; too many ugly dirt roads with their cruising patrols of pathetic road warriors-pretend hunters looking for easy targets to plug, illegally, from their vehicles. (A losers' game, start to finish, but a popular game nonetheless.) Knotty little pinon pines are ubiquitous all across this rocky, semidesert landscape, though curiously you won't see a one of their sympatric, symbiotic sylvan sisters, genus Juniperus, a shag-barked juniper known locally, and incorrectly, as "cedar." Even so, despite the scars of the long-term, private-interest, coldly commercial abuses the USDA Forest Service euphemizes as "multiple use," this is one of the loveliest places I know. And. much of its beauty arises from its eerie ambiance. The view all around is long and lean, framed on three sides by a majesty of rocky mountains-San Juans south and west, Sangre de Cristos (sweet Blood of Christ!) eastward-arid in the near north by stark volcanic cliffs the color of cowboy coffee. Additionally, owing to this anomalous high-desert basin's altitude and proximity to major mountains, brief violent thunderstorms erupting from massive dark clouds-great steely-blue anvils, pregnant with pyrotechnic energy-come grumbling and flashing through most every afternoon in summer, blessing this parched place with a benediction of chiaroscuro (visible-beam, some call it "God") light. To many who know and appreciate it, this arid, parsimonious landscape evokes the Alaskan tundra. To me, the travel this place implies is more in time than in miles, all the way back to the icy old Pleistocene, that finishing ground of human evolution.
David Petersen lives year-round in a hand-built cabin at 8,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. David is the editor of five volumes, including the literary hunting anthology A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport. He has written ten books in addition to this, all concerned with “wildlife, wild places, and wild people with wild ideas”—from backpacking the American West (The Nearby Faraway) to exploring the secret lives of bears (Ghost Grizzlies) and wapiti (Elkheart) and, most recently, A Man Made of Elk. Petersen is a life member of the “highly ethical and effective” sportsman-conservation groups Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and in 2010 was honored as Conservationist of the Year by the Colorado Wildlife Federation.
 
 


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