A major issue of the future will be how we resolve the conflict between people who want to protect the lives of every raccoon in Christendom and those who want to kill at least half of them. From the responses to this blog’s posts, I know that many of you are aware of this widening gulf between purely human affairs and the natural world and wonder, as I do, what will come of it. So many people today live in high rises and along crowded, wall to wall streets where about the only contact they have with nature is what they experience from their balconies and decks. A popular cartoon says it all: children walking through beautiful natural scenery but never once looking up from their cell phones.
The majority of Americans today have never butchered a chicken, been sprayed by a skunk, listened to mice bowling hickory nuts across the attic floor, watched squirrels chew holes in house walls, baited a fish hook, seen the friendly neighborhood bowwow attack and tear the guts out of my still-alive ewe, milked a cow, hoed weeds, been butted by a ram, witnessed blacksnakes eating chicks, tried to stop a runaway horse, lived without electricity, found their chicken coop full of dead hens killed by wildlife, pulled a birthing calf, heard a meadowlark sing, observed cute little kitty tear a bluebird apart, etc. Without any experience in husbandry, let along wildlife management, such people develop a different attitude toward nature than those of us who have to deal firsthand with natural adversity. For example, the high rise society tends to believe that animals, or at least certain animals, have rights not unlike humans. They may agree that rat populations need to be controlled but that wild mustangs should be allowed to overrun rangeland no matter how great the expense or environmental damage. Or that deer have just as much right to the earth as humans, and it is just too bad when deer-car collisions cause both human and deer deaths.
The subject can’t even be discussed in a calm and even-handed way because there is right and wrong on both sides and hardly anyone appreciates the fact that nature is not a loving mother but an impersonal theater of life and death that does not care at all whether humans continue to exist or not. Many of us, myself included, make the issue more confusing by insisting that farmers should work with nature not against her. While that is true in many ways, it encourages people unfamiliar with the food chain battlefield to believe that we must treat animals, plants and bugs as lovingly as we are supposed to treat each other. I should be preaching that agriculture is not a love affair with mother nature but a commitment to “root, hog, or die.”
I once had a really nice, cultured editor criticize me sternly when I wrote a gardening article in which I said that I killed raccoons and groundhogs in my garden just as readily as I killed rats in my barn. Killing rats she would excuse but not raccoons and groundhogs. She did not seem to see any arbitrariness in that conclusion. Then she decided to take up gardening herself. She wrote to me several years later and asked my forgiveness. She had finally cornered the groundhog that was devastating her garden in her tool shed and beaten it to death with a shovel.
I am reminded of a story that the artist Andrew Wyeth told in one of his art books. He was painting a young woman standing in her barn. The painting would become “The Virgin.” Although a full frontal nude, the picture seems almost modest in a way. The girl is not looking suggestively at the viewer, but away, as if something outside the barn is attracting her intention. “I could see her staring intently out the crack in the door,” the artist recalled. “All of a sudden she rushed out, grabbed a club, and killed a groundhog that had gotten into her father’s garden and was eating the vegetables. She just clubbed it to death. Terrific….”
That’s when I realized why Wyeth has never been well-received in the urbane circles of the current art world. Most people today would find his reaction repulsive. The silk-gloved culture of the balcony society does not understand the sharp-clawed world of the food chain. It is a hard lesson to learn. If you want to eat, something must die.