When I move to the Yukon I begin fishing again for the first time since I was a girl. I buy a cheap rod and spend my time casting into whatever lake my friends are going to. My first catch is a pike that makes me feel uneasy, yet empowered, as I learn to kill it and remove its guts. After a few more fish I begin to feel proud. I’ve finally taken on my responsibility as a meat eater. I eagerly anticipate hunting season.
Soon I start spending a lot of time with a beautiful Buddhist man, and it is like a light turning on in a dark room. Slowly, but steadily, a strong meditation practice develops. Morning and night my legs are crossed and my mind is stilled. Answers to confusing existential questions I’ve always struggled with, like “what is the point of anything?” suddenly seem uncomplicated.
And the stark simplicity of the Buddhist value Do No Harm strikes me as clear as the unblinking eyes of those fish I killed.
When I repeatedly bludgeoned them over the head while their bodies twitched and tried to writhe from my grip, I certainly felt like I was harming them.
My interest in hunting evaporates. I shrug out of fishing plans. And I find myself stricken with a moral dilemma: if I’m not willing to kill the meat I eat, am I comfortable allowing others to kill it for me?
To avoid hypocrisy I become a vegetarian.
I spend my winter learning all the different ways you can combine grains and legumes and vegetables and end up with different dishes. By spring I’ve developed a stomach ulcer and I’m craving every piece of meat I see.
Then I meet a man who lives in the woods and hunts for his year’s worth of meat and owns three guns, which he takes with him on casual walks in case he comes across something in season. The first time we speak on the phone he tells me he’s cooking ground squirrel, which he uses for target practice but, not wanting to be wasteful, makes sure to eat afterwards.
On our first date he cooks us steak. It’s the first red meat I’ve had in months, and I’m able to eat the whole thing without aggravating my ulcer. I feel great. I start spending as much time eating dinner with him as possible, enjoying the freedom of digestion I feel with the hamburgers and short ribs he prepares for me.
One day he suggests I try shooting his gun. I agree, curious, wondering if my return to meat means I must again take responsibility for the animals whose bodies I use as sustenance.
After a short safety lesson we choose a fallen tree for me to shoot. I aim, mentally prepared with memories of firing plastic guns in arcades. I pull the trigger and without warning the gun kicks back, hard, like a foot to the shoulder, a threatening rip explodes in my ear, the creek shatters where my bullet hits it, missing the log.
I quickly hand the gun back, terrified.
In the following days a new certainty comes to me. I want to eat meat. And I don’t want to kill things. But here I am, spending time with a man who is respectful, thankful, spiritual about his process of taking the lives that feed him. He is happy to do so. He is happy to be the one raising the bludgeon, aiming the gun. And he is happy to share the food he finds.
I am not a hunter. Not everyone has to be.