Today, on the first official day of spring, I went with my dad and uncle and cousin—and Harley, Dexter, Nyx and Cedar—to go hunt birds. We left the city in the dark, weaving our way up the mountain as the sun gained steam, and set out a few hours later under a bright blue sky. To say it was a clear day does it a disservice: it was crystalline. Not too hot, not too cold. The air was crisp, the sun gentle. Around us the white shoulders of peaks broke up the flat line of horizon, and it felt as though I could reach out a finger and swipe it down the moutainside’s snow like icing on a cake. The dogs worked hard, and worked well together. We had two flushers and two pointers, and it took a minute for them to find the rhythm but once they did we were dialed. We left with birds in hand, the sun on our faces, a few good stories to tell. I will eat pheasant later this spring and summer and feel so grateful for the day we had.
These are all good things. But sometimes also hunting is very hard. Knowing the animal that dies for you is gratifying but also horrifying. I don’t know if we talk about this enough, and maybe if we did our culture would treat eating animals differently. I know it would, actually. It’s not that I would change anything that I do, because I have made a commitment to only eat meat I kill. I can do it, and I want to do it. I want to live honestly, truthfully, even when it’s painful. I try so hard to do that in so many aspects of my life. But it is also hard to cause pain. When it works perfectly, and you shoot exactly right and the bird is dead before it hits the ground, it’s not so hard to offer up thanks. But when you don’t, and it’s messy, and the neck must be wrung and the bird beats its wings against your back in the vest in one last desperate bid for freedom—well, it’s harder to feel good about it. It’s the heavy part that weighs on your soul at the end of the day, even when you’re doing your best to do it well and right and respectfully.
It feels cruel sometimes to live this way, to choose a life like this. But it is on days that it’s the hardest, which is every day, I remember why I do. Because it matters to me that I know what it takes for me to eat meat. It matters that I know the cost.