Monday, March 26, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt eight)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

The poet Wallace Stevens made the statement “We were all Indians once” (current DNA studies say that further back we were all black). This seems technically true and led me to the uncomfortable conclusion that because of my familiarity with the natural world I identified strongly with those who until recently had depended on such familiarity for their existence. I had also long understood that my most intense pleasures came in activities such as hunting, fishing, and studying wild country that were the same for any Pleistocene biped. The essential difference between me and Native Americans was that my people never got the rawest of deals. My people were never reduced from a possible ten million down to approximately three hundred thousand between the years around 1500 to 1900.

I know men both white and Native who go into the mountains or forest, on horseback or on foot, to kill deer for their families. In impulse this is not unlike riding the subway to an office job. I have been told countless times that hunting is no longer a necessity for anyone in the United States, but that assumes you relish food stamps or the predominantly ghastly feedlot supermarket beef that oozes pinkish juice as if it has been injected with water. I’ve been to dozens of venisons “feeds” in my lifetime, which are celebratory occasions where whole groups of families sit down and eat as much deer meat as possible. With the Chippewa (Anishinabe) you eat venison and corn stew at a Ghost Supper and afterwards go outside and throw some tobacco in a bonfire to say good-bye to your beloved dead whom you might have been clinging to in a mentally unhealthy way. It is believed that the dead wish to be relieved from our sorrow so that they may freely enter the next world. We can be taught by these ancient and traditional aesthetics of grief. I am amazed how throughout the United States the rich, the mildly prosperous, and those in cushy government jobs are eager to tell our dirt-poor Natives how to live. After being massacred at Wounded Knee the Lakota were forbidden even to hunt or dance.

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