Listening to friends who hunt talk of their adventures with a bow, a rifle and a one-shot musket, the kind you pack the powder and the ball down the barrel and hope it works. I don't take an interest in guns, nor do I have an interest in killing a conscious being who has the same right to live as I hold for myself. I like to listen to my friends tell about getting a "ten-pointer" or a "twelve-pointer" with a rack so wide, measured by hands like the length of a fish, "they was this wide!" I like to listen to hunters talk about their different kills. Justin told me one day that hunting is better than sex. Hunting is different every time; sex is the same every time. He is the kind of hunter who will not take a shot unless he is certain he can hit it so the deer will drop straight down. He doesn't like them to suffer. Nor does he like to track their blood trail with a flashlight in the dark and drag the dead weight up the side of a mountain to a place where he can get his truck. His aim is that they don't feel anything; suddenly fall asleep, knees give out. I appreciate that in Justin, as well as in other hunters I know. It's hard for me to listen to the accounts, yet I enjoy hearing them. I am one who sees the deer of a level of consciousness about the same as the donkeys. From knowing other four-leggeds, I can project, I feel fairly accurately, that the deer fall in love, have partners, love their young, and probably live closer to love than we humans do. My impulse is to want to know the deer the way I know the donkeys, a dog, a cat. I want to know the individual personality, aware they are as individually unique as Jack and Jenny.
Deer run for their lives, literally, when they see a human. It's like they believe we can kill them just by seeing them. I only see deer by chance, as I never go looking for them, and when I see one or more I feel a longing to know who the individual is, same as I do when I see a crow walking in the donkey meadow. The Australian Aborigines and American Indians called them people. They are. I've learned like they did, from knowing some and paying attention. I don't attempt to tame any of the the deer by putting food out for them and earning their trust. I'd love to have a deer feeding station close to the house and get to know some. I remember in my first years in the mountains the news one week of someone who had raised a deer from a fawn found in the woods, brought it home and raised it a pet. The young deer was tethered in the back yard when somebody drove by, saw it, stopped, picked up his rifle, shot it, and drove on. Something such as this is inevitable. I'm recalling in my first weeks on the farm, I was introduced to some Park rangers to give me some tips on growing Christmas trees. The one talking was telling me about hunting. He justified it with Bible, "It says in Genesis God give us dominion over the beasts," which he interpreted the right to kill. I had to double-take. It shocked me. I was thinking it a tyrant's interpretation. For me, it means the responsibility to take care of them. If I ever had a lifetime long ago as a king, I hope I was one who treated his people with care, not a tyrant. I could have been either, according to the belief system one grows up in, the culture, the place, the time, the context.
Though I automatically recoiled within hearing the man talk so casually of killing gentle, harmless beings to eat them and display their horns on the wall, I reminded self that I'm here to learn the culture, know the people, have a Blue Ridge experience. I was here for the culture. The culture was not here waiting for me to shape it according to my whim. It is my role to allow the people around me to live as they live, believe as they believe, be as they are, not to judge them, but to support them. Learning the culture through the people, I have learned to appreciate the mountain people on their own terms, not the terms of an outsider. All Justin's life he has known that I don't like to kill anything, but that's only for me. It has nothing to do with him or anyone else. It is mine for myself. I don't like to presume my rights more important than another's. We talk in terms of people, but I include raccoon, possum, crows, every sentient being, including spiders. Justin's girl, Cheyanne, found a common window spider in a plastic grocery store bag I'd brought something in. She showed it to me squeamishly, like, Eeu. I carried the bag outside to the deck and turned it over above a flowering bush next to the railing. Cheyanne watched. I turned around and she said, "Why didn't you kill it?" I took it she had never seen anyone let a spider live. I said, "I don't have to kill something just because it's living." She got it. It was a brand new concept in her six year old mind. Every adult in her life killed spiders. Many years after I'm gone, I'd like to be remembered by Cheyanne as the old man that didn't kill spiders.
I think our bond has something to do with me as perhaps the only adult in her life who takes her seriously as an individual instead of a mindless kid who needs to be told what to do. She lives with her mother and sees Justin every other weekend. I am an adult in her life who doesn't judge her or threaten her, doesn't want to control her, always open to listen to her. And she listens to me. We communicate. This is how I am with kids I know. It's so easy. I was this same role for Justin from the time he was the age Vada is now, 3, I was the adult in his life who affirmed him, listened to him talk like he knew what he was saying, and he did. I paid attention to him as a consciousness in a human body like everybody else around me. The same with his sister Sheena I've known since birth. Now that they're grown up, Justin past 30, Sheena approaching 30, they're the closest friends of my life. Justin said to me a few months ago that I have known him through all the phases and experiences of his life and he has only known me with white hair. I've had white hair the whole time he's been living. I've never given him advice. I don't do that, because I don't know. We talk things over and look for practical solutions. When he's troubled, he comes to "the calm down place," and tells it all, sometimes stressed so much he's red faced. I let him tell it until there's nothing left to tell. I know that in the telling, he heard it too. In looking for what to do, I let him figure it out; he's a lot closer to it than I am, knows it from the inside. My goal in his childhood was to pass to him self-awareness, somehow. I believed he could make it through the gauntlet of his childhood with self-awareness. I don't know how it happened, unless it was the listening and letting him search for his solution in the context only he knows. His self-awareness helped him grow into the ethical man he now is.
tony smith himself