Wood Ducks. Beavers. Jim Harrison.

Ducks. Vegan and other wise.
Wood ducks eat fish and snails. I learned this because one of my friends Googled it. However, when I Googled it, I learned they eat aqueous invertebrates and terrestrial invertebrates as well as insects and acorns. I think somewhere deep down, I already knew this. I probably originally learned it on one of the many walks my dad and I used to take around our property, where he would teach me about animals and plants. Because of him I never had to look up too many of the leaves for my biology class leaf collections, I either already knew their names or I asked him and he showed me where they were in the book. He didn’t believe in short cuts, so he wouldn’t just give me the answers, but he taught me how to find them with ease. He also taught me how to spot wood ducks. They were little and fast, sometimes diving completely under the water to look for snacks. For this reason, I called him first when I spotted the pair of Mergansers on the White River. I didn’t know right off that they were called Mergansers, but I knew that they weren’t the same as the other ducks I had seen along the river. I went home, looked them up, and sure enough there they were: Mergansers.

Beavers. Not beaver areas. Just beavers.
A new river phenomenon that we have noted during our morning walks is the tree along Wysor that is slowly being felled. Bec actually pointed it out to me, right near the corner of Wysor and Wheeling, with a strip of teeth marks around its midriff. Something has been chewing on the middle of the trunk, and Bec immediately thought it might be a beaver. Of course I was skeptical until I saw the little bugger swimming merrily along the river parallel to Wheeling, its little head held out of the water until it did a perfect pike surface dive, looking for something good to eat. We can’t decide where it is living or if it has adequate housing to make it through the winter. I think it won’t be long before it chews through the tree, though. Timber! What makes this whole situation funny? The tree is part of someone’s honorarium. It sits right behind a memorial rock.

Jim Harrison. Why I eat meat. Again.
For one of my classes, ENG 610 Writing Across the Genres, we have read about a book a week. Most of them I have enjoyed. I even put excerpts from a couple of others (Erika Lopez’s Flaming Iguanas and Marguerite Duras’ The Lover) on this blog, but I have found a book that tops the rest we have read. I think that I think this every week, as each book seems to impact me more than the last. This week we read Jim Harrison’s The Raw and The Cooked: Adventure of a Roaming Gourmand, which did not appear to be a book that I would like, nor did it appear to be one that would change my opinions about eating and consumption. Don’t get me wrong, I think Harrison is extravagant in his consumption, though not haphazard in it. Butted up against how I feel about world hunger and poverty, I would be the last person to think his writing would impact me the way it did. However, he did impact me with lines like this, “If you do not believe land can lose its soul, look at land that has lost it” and this, “In Paris there had been a cold sweat when a French journalist reminded me that several years ago I said in a moment of ire that I had become a writer to avoid shitting through my mouth like a politician,” and this, “Ultimately, though, spirit will get you through times of no ritual, but ritual can’t get you through times without spirit.” Three entirely different tones, observations, and subjects, but all utterly and equally captivating lines. I don’t agree with all of his writing, but the whole book is full of things like these lines. What does this have to do with eating meat? you may ask. I will tell you: Harrison has a reverence for earth, nature, life, and death that makes me understand how it all works together. Harmony. Do I now believe that willy-nilly consumptive behavior is harmonious? By no means, but I understood through Harrison’s simple illustration— he deserved to get bit by a water moccasin for shooting a goose—that he doesn’t take his consumption lightly. When he writes about seeing a family in O’Hare airport that can’t afford to buy hot dogs, I realize that he, too, struggles with being overly indulgent. Does he still indulge? Grandly. Do I like this idea? Not entirely. Can I live with myself for it? Partially. What I am working on now is figuring out how I can ethically live in this harmony Harrison describes. How can I consume foods that most people in the world could never afford without feeling guilty about it? How can consume dead animals reverently enough to satisfy my own need for harmony?

EDITED:
Here is another reason I love Harrison: “But to address my irritation about whether I’m good at fly fishing: why bother if you haven’t taken the time to learn to make the throw? Beyond that point, any spirit of competition in hunting or fishing dishonors the prey. It means that you are either unaware of or have no feeling toward the nature of your fellow creatures. Fishing tournaments seem a little like playing tennis with living balls, say, neatly bound bluebirds. Competition also endangers anger, there’s little point in being out in the forest, in a river, or on the ocean if you’re going to be pissed off. A number of years ago a friend was angry and shot a raven, and his life hasn’t been the same since. Of course religious beliefs vary deeply but even Kravis doesn’t have enough money to get me to shoot a raven.” Wow.

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