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Sniffing Blood: Reflections On Hunting, From Erika Fredrickson And Galway Kinnell

"A Bear Hunt in the Rocky Mountains," by Paul Frenzeny and Jules Tavernier, Jan. 15, 1876, wood engraving with later hand coloring for Harper's Weekly

"Ten years ago, my dad told me I would be inheriting his 30.06," writes Erika Fredrickson, arts editor at the Missoula Independent. "I nearly choked on my coffee. My grandfather, who died before I could meet him, had passed the gun to my dad, and my dad wanted to do the same. But I was a writer, not a hunter.Though I had accompanied my dad on a few hunts, I never thought I’d pull a trigger. I liked the idea, though: if you’re going to eat meat, harvesting it seemed like the most ethical practice. But it also carried responsibility—wielding a weapon, engaging family tradition, knowing the land, taking a life.                                          

I did it though. In the years that followed, I killed a few antelope and a deer. (One bullet each, my dad says proudly.) I’ve learned to pull the trigger steady, to field dress and butcher. But more than that, the experience forced me into a relationship with nature marked by both complexity and clarity. It’s the same with writing.

As a young writer I romanticized the West and wilderness. But with hunting—my senses sharpened—I saw details I hadn't noticed before. The wild is beautiful as well as bloody, sharp and harsh. Humans are desperate when it comes to it: desperate to dominate it, preserve it, love it, to climb inside it and be it. Poetry is a kind of hunting, too. Searching for the perfect word is a navigational art. We sniff blood, sense our mortality and, in that way, find nourishment."

Erika pairs her reflection with an excerpt from a poem that also connects hunting wildlife to poetry. Galway Kinnell won the Pultizer Prize for poetry in 1982.  In the beginning of the "The Bear," the speaker uses ancient tools to track a bear he has wounded.


On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,
steamy hulk,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.
I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,
the dismayed
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
flared, catching
perhaps the first taint of me as he
I hack
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink,
and tear him down his whole length
and open him and climb in
and close him up after me, against the wind,
and sleep.


And dream
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra,
stabbed twice from within,
splattering a trail behind me,
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch,
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence,
which dance of solitude I attempt,
which gravity-clutched leap,
which trudge, which groan.
Until one day I totter and fall—


I awaken I think. Marshlights
reappear, geese
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lies, licking
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue. And one
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the next,
the next,
the rest of my days I spend
wandering: wondering
what, anyway,
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?

(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 6/15/16 and 12/21/16. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)

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