Human Society Is Losing Touch With Wild Nature


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.



Spot on Gene .. You are right, we need to get the kids involved through education and by experience. I share every chance I get so the kid in leather shoes eating chicken nuggets, doesn’t become the adult who shuts down my farm! I just hope it all works out 😮

Raccoons carry a very bad worm in their scat that can be fatal to humans. They’re so cute, but they’re not good in the garden or back yard.

Peter, I have actually heard of such hens ending up in animal shelters after their owners changed their minds about keeping them but couldn’t eat them! I think that is irresponsible animal husbandry, and I just can’t imagine many shelters having the resources for that! I do think city folk ought to be able to keep a few hens for eggs and meat though–and yes, even pets if they wish. But they need to learn to dispatch them if they can’t otherwise get rid of them.

Last week there was a article in my local paper how some people in town want the city to allow backyard chickens because (aside from the eggs) want them AS PETS. Elevating chickens to pet status is only going to add to the issue of people being out of touch with nature.

    Well I have to admit I have a couple chickens around here that are in the pet category they’ll die of old age here on my farm.One is “Little Big Man” a Modern Game Bantam rooster that no matter where I’m working he shows up and just ‘hangs around’ with me.No way I could kill him to eat.

Why was that editor trying to grow a garden in her tool shed? Didn’t she know it would do much better outside where the sun and rain could get at it, groundhog or no?

I recall a great quote (I believe it originated in South Africa but cannot confirm that) which went along the lines of.. “Never criticize a farmer with food in your mouth”. That to me not only sums up the current situation as discussed on this blog but, more importantly, hints at the wider truth encapsulated in those words. In a former life (as a hort/ag trainer/manager for adults) I tried to get that quote as a bumper sticker along with the polytechnic’s logo beside it to promote the courses and college but was denied permission. The reason mentioned was that it was too long for a bumper sticker (LOL) however I suspect that the real motive was that it had an uncomfortable ring of truth that some in power did not really want to address.

Thanks also for the Wyeth mention and pic. I have been a longtime fan of him (and have your book “Wyeth People”) and often peruse copies of his collected paintings in books I have managed to gather. Superb artist with a natural instinct for the area he lived in and the people inhabiting it. Please note; I have never been to that area but it shows through so clearly to an old-time rural bloke like myself when you look at his collected works.

Thanks again for your witty, penetrating and incisive blogs.

Please don’t stop Gene.

Not losing. LOST! past tense.

Thank you Gene, for yet another great entry. Reading the other comments here, I see many who (rightfully) point to the lack of understanding that our urbanized masses have of the natural world as it relates to food and animal rights. I think this disconnect is far more dangerous than that, however. The disconnect with nature is at the very root of human behavior which looks likely to end human life. That which we no longer understand, we don’t appreciate or strive to protect — even if it’s the very systems which make human life possible.

Once again, you are bang on the money and these are the same people who want to kill every bacteria, not even realizing there are more of them in our own bodies than there are cells of us! Just watched the NOVA episode on introduced predators and it spoke of many of the same issues.

I find it difficult to believe people do not know where food comes from; were they missing from class the day of the field trip to the farm? I think the response is more of a desire to insulate eating food from the market from the often dirty, bloody, violent process of raising and harvesting that food. They don’t have to kill chickens and dig out the still-warm intestines. They don’t have to shoot a creature like a hog who has intelligence and social habits more advanced than most “pets”. Why should they get down in there and roll around in the mess? Just because we all choose to raise our own food does not necessarily make us more moral than someone who likes pork chops and chicken nuggets from a restaurant.

Great post, Gene. Like the Wyeth bit, especially – good tie in. Stunning painting. And the list at the beginning of the 2nd paragraph is a very good list, like the ‘bowling mice’ especially. Blessings your way.

I think part of the problem is, since most people don’t necessarily know where their food comes from (aside from the grocery store) it makes these sorts of issues relating to nature more black and white. So many either could care less (which only allows genuine problems like factory farming to continue) or care with a slightly skewed intensity. As a result, extreme reactions can occur that are a result of this societal disconnect. So even when individuals try to make ethical decisions, they sometimes may not have all the facts and can sometimes be a bit misguided, if not well-intended. Ironic as it may seem, living in cities can be very insular since wild nature has been all but eradicated. Fortunately, the tide seems to be slowly shifting, but it will take time and effort. But blogs like this are really on the frontlines of this tidal shift and do make a big difference in educating people about the agrarian side of life.

This being said, it is a form of animal cruelty if cows get cut off from their hooch as been proposed by the FDA. I think steps to improve food safety for both humans and animals is critical, but cutting off cow’s “happy hour” just seems plain nasty.

this – “food chain battlefield.” amen. i keep telling people that the Peaceable Kingdom is for the hereafter… it is not the barnyard.

    I upset a coworker when, after we had a big Popeyes chicken lunch, I went to the farm store and picked up some chicks before the store closed. He thought it sick i was going to raise them up (something so cute!0 and then eat them. I kept trying to explaint hey were the same as those popeyes chickens. didnt get it

You are so right Gene. My granddaughter would think I were cruel if she were to witness me butchering a chicken. Of course she would still eat Nuggets afterwards since they come from the “store”. I suppose it is our job as grandparents and parents to reverse this trend as much as we can.
I have experienced Opossums in my chicken coop and the aftermath. Half eaten hens that were setting on their eggs is not a pretty sight. Catching that critter was not either.

Personally I think the biggest problem we face with people starting small farms and getting the public involved in agriculture is the high cost of land. Although I am not a proponent of wealth redistribution something has to give.

Tangling with mother-nature brought me a new understanding of the brutality that lurks in the human breast. Three years ago I had a groundhog visiting the garden (which I rely on for >50% of my food). He ran under the porch of the house when he saw me coming, so I got a 22 and shot him. Unfortunately the angle was poor and I didn’t kill it with a single shot. When he ran out I snatched a handy metal bar from the porch and proceeded to clobber it the rest of the way to death with two huge over hand swings of said bar.

I am slow to anger and not an impulsive person (in most situations), but when presented with the right set of circumstances I can barely believe the atavism that I displayed. That experience gave me some understanding of, people who have hair-trigger tempers and hurt others with them.

Dear Gene, the same folks you write about have funded the Mayor of New York City and are using this influence to rid Central Park of the carriage horses. They believe it is animal abuse for the horses to work and think the horses should be sent to mythical farms to roam in pastures all day. The back story is the value of the real estate the carriage horse stable sits on in the city.
But on another note my Grandfather always told me there is no such thing as a no kill farm.

A great read that really hits home with me now as I have been battling Coyotes,Coons,Possoms and Foxes this Winter with my livestock and poultry.Most people these days have learned about wildlife from things like Disney movies and animal cartoons where animals all get along in ‘perfect harmony’ ‘in the woods’.Nothing could be farther from the actual truth as nature is a violent unforgiving world where its a rare animal that dies of natural causes or old age almost all animals meet a violent death to become food for another animal or exposure to the elements.Its a constant battle 24 hrs a day for wild animals to find food and to keep from being killed by another animal.Its not like that old groundhog would have retired somewhere that you killed it’d more likey would have become dinner for a Coyote or Fox.Survival of the fittest is what nature is all about keeps the species as a whole strong but individuals are constantly scraficed to the cause.Humans fit right in either do the necessary deeds or let the wild animals get your chicken dinner and
garden produce.Most Americans aren’t forced to see and accept the laws of survival and nature as they are removed from the realities of the food supply,not a good thing in my opinion.

    Gary, I so agree. But when I kill my animals, I try to do it quickly and humanely so I KNOW they have a far kinder death by my hand than they would by the claw or talon of another creature. That said, Gary, Gene, anyone else, do you think humane killing affects the quality/taste of the meat? Do you think the adrenalin “taints” the meat? Just wondering–ever practical me.

      Betty, my husband is a hunter and has been for over 45 years. His experience is that animals that have been chased a long time before they are killed or that are wounded and travel a while before they die or are given the coup de grace are more likely to be tough and the meat has a bitter tinge. We have never had that experience with the animals he drops with a single shot as they graze quietly in the field.

      Betty and Beth, this is a subject that has long intrigued me too. I have always thought and been told that the meat of animals stressed at death suffered in taste. But I just don’t know anymore because of an experience we had. Our son raises a few beef every year for family meat. Once he had a terrible time, or rather the butcher did, with one of his. It just went crazy as the moment of shooting approached for reasons still unknown and bolted from the barn. They had to chase the poor thing down, hunt it almost like a wild animal, and shoot it several times. We thought the meat would have a taste, but it was very good. This was pasture raised beef, no grain, but diet doesn’t seem to matter, as Beth’s husband attests with wild game. Gene

Constant Gardener April 2, 2014 at 3:58 pm

“…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.” Wow, that writing is dazzling! Even if I didn’t share that view, I think I’d be just as stopped-in-my-tracks by that prose.

The article points up one benefit of urban gardening, at least downtown in the sixth largest city. Bugs are the only threats to the garden and there are no real threats to the hens. Well, maybe the hens are a threat to the garden, but only because they are congenitally incapable of walking around anything.

    I agree, that was a brilliant piece of prose, thanks Gene

    I completely agree with your choice Constant. That was the money-line that jumped out at me on the first read through.

    And to you Gene, I like the way you you wrestled with your “fact”. There is certainly empirical evidence to support it but you like the great majority of your readers find nature to be extremely personal on many levels. I think you have written some excellent dialog for the theater of the paradox.

The important point is that too few folks understand where their food really comes from and what’s involved in producing and processing it. That means we must inform and teach at every opportunity, especially the young people who are still flexible enough to learn. If we just shake our heads over the widespread ignorance, we contribute to the problem.

They symbolism of the naked truth in Gene’s writing is delicious. Well done again sir. Does anyone have a coon or groundhog recipe to share?

The same ones who are appalled at hunting raccoons, will happily buy pesticides to kill the mosquitoes that live near their summer cottages, and cut trees where birds are nesting, in order to ‘improve their view’.

Dad always said,”Eat or be eaten. Now, get back to butchering or you can’t go fishing!”

Thank you for this (breath of fresh air) common sense.
So many people just don’t live close enough to the food chain and I think that’s a shame. We raise our own chickens (eggs and meat), pigs, and trade for beef from the guy down the road. We have a garden and what we don’t eat fresh goes into jars or the freezer for later. It’s a lot of work so when, on our occasional trip to a restaurant I hear the folks at the table next to us chewing happily on a steak, or chicken filled burrito I hear comments about animal rights it’s difficult not to get up on my soapbox right there on the spot.
You are right and your lady editor who learned a hard lesson about the food chain is a good example of the best way to get the point across…we need more people out there on the ground before real understanding can happen.
I appreciate that you included the “Virgin” painting in your blog today. I have never seen it before and I especially love the story behind it. You can see the intensity of the moment in the sideways look of the woman and that’s what’s captivating about it. Otherwise it would just be another nude. I can imagine her racing out to get that varmint!
It’s a battlefield out there and we humans are just one of the animals trying to survive.
On the other hand if you are talking about someone abusing an animal or killing it just for the sake of killing…that’s another whole story and not the one we are discussing today.

This post brings to mind the documentary “Grizzly Man.” It’s about a man who did not believe in killing anything in nature and who lived in the wild with the grizzlies for a time, believing they were his friends. Spoiler alert: they ate him.

There was a clipping posted on FB recently of someone writing in to a newspaper to say that hunting was horrible and people should just go to the grocery store and buy their meat there because no animals were harmed.

My husband and I were city folk, until we bought the farm 15 years ago. I took a meat short course at Ohio State it we took live sheep from pasture to meat on the table…involved in every step of the way. I felt it was important if I was going to raise animals for food that I experience the process. It’s part of being respectful of the animal, IMHO.

I wonder at the animal rights loons who think all farm animals should be sacrosanct. Just what should be done with them? And vegetarians who think we could all do without farm animals really must not know where fertilizer comes from (the good kind that doesn’t require zillions of dollars of petrochemicals to make and transport). I wonder what they will think when their veggies won’t grow because nutrients are no longer readily available on the farm?

On the other hand, there have been and still are farmers, ranchers, and others involved in livestock handling and care, who are cruel and abusive to their animals. Some are just ignorant, though I find that excuse weak as information about the profitability of humane livestock handling has been well documented. Others are just evil and should be drummed out of the profession.

Everyone who likes food on the table, really should be a fan of farmers and ranchers. What can we do to counter the bad press?

    Actually, leaves and grass clipping make a real nice compost./fertilizer. Don’t really need manure to grow a great garden. But it does need those micro and macro animals that digest and change the soil structure for plants to make use of. North America has many non native species, Cows, goats, sheep, apples, wheat….. Heck My family is from Europe someplace a few generations ago. I’d prefer to eat deer and bear, that way I don’t have to raise them……….. and the non native apple..

Or, as my father always said, “One half the world don’t know how the other half lives,”

I am so completely out of touch with Nature that I don’t even know what a bowwow is! 😉

    Chimel31, I hope you are joking…but just in case…
    A bowwow is a dog. The reference is, of course from the sound it makes.

      Have to admit to not getting that either. Thought it must be an Americanism I wasn’t familiar with and yet I’m well aware of the threat dogs can pose to sheep. Lol, oh well! Must try and think of the obvious next time.

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