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On Hunting

Nothing but net … for now

By Anna Mitchael

 

Some mark this time of the year as back-to-school season. But in our neck of the woods, it’s back-to-camouflage. With just a few greenbacks and minutes to spare at the local Walmart, a person can be outfitted from head to toe in clothes modeled after shrubbery.

It’s not fashion in Carrie Bradshaw’s neighborhood, but around here people care less about runways and more about sneaking up on a deer before it runs away.

Hunting season always presents a bit of an inner conflict for me. Before moving out to a ranch in Central Texas (a ranch which, incidentally, is a cattle ranch overflowing with deer that can be turned into venison sausage so delicious your knees will tremble), I was a vegetarian for nine years.

Do you have any idea how much tofu a person can eat in nine years? Take it from me — a lot. And now I have made it my personal dining mission to balance out all that soybean with steak. If PETA doesn’t get me first, it’s likely my arteries will.

But I enjoy the disconnect of shopping in the meat market at my grocery store, where the cuts of rib eye are so neatly arranged it lets me pretend that the meat was softly, gently, magically transported there without the killing of any cows. I like it when someone else takes the deer to the processing center and the links simply appear in my refrigerator, ready to be sliced and served with cheese, maybe some crackers.

How civilized.

How humane.

How about that river in Egypt, de-nial.

Once the hunters take the price tags off this year’s wooded wardrobe, and the gunshots start sounding in the distance, it will be more and more difficult for me to exist in this la-la-land. And every year I seem to handle it better, which is a good thing, especially considering some of those guns are ours.

Andrew is a hunter. He was when I met him, and he will be forever, and that’s not something I want to change. The truth of the matter is that his love of hunting means someday he will offer our son the chance to learn rules of engagement and riflery skills — in short, to be a sportsman.

And while there are still many, many years before that day arrives, it’s smart for me to start inching toward a place where I can stomach the idea of my sweet, gentle son stalking Bambi in our backyard. Sort of like sticking your toes into a piping hot bath while you wait for your body to adjust to third-degree burns. Or just cruising your cart in visible distance of the camouflage aisle so that over time you can silence the “remember when you used to shop regularly in Soho?” voices ringing in your head.

This inching toward the inevitable is how my son came to be the proud owner of a bug home. Proud is one word. “Joyful,” “elated,” even a bit “obsessive” are other words that come to mind. When our little guy spies his bug home on the front porch, his eyes light up and he starts to clap his hands and jump up and down.

“Buh!” he exclaims. “Buh! Buh! Buh!” (In case you aren’t fluent in toddler — a puzzled-together dialect that includes bits of English, bits of grunting and also bits of occasional barking — “Buh” is toddler-talk for “bug.”)

I exclaim, “Lunch? Lunch? Don’t you want to go inside for lunch? Did I mention we’re having chicken nuggets shaped like cartoon characters?” But there is no dissuading this young man once he’s got his heart set on a bug mission. And so we start off on a hunt.

All you really need to hunt bugs is a net, a good place to store them once they are caught (I like having a bug home, but I hear that in the olden days glass jars worked fine, too.), and if you’re in Texas during the month of August, some sunscreen and persistence. Don’t worry, eventually you’ll adjust to the third-degree burns.

There are literally a thousand acres that we can explore but, luckily, a whole host of bugs live within a five-minute walk from our house. When I planted my garden this year I had dreams of what it would supply for our dinner table. I underestimated how helpful it would be for our budding bug hunter. Ladybugs, grasshoppers, crickets — the garden is a hotbed of insects ripe for the catching. The insects were not nearly as susceptible to 110-degree heat as my summer squash proved to be.

Every hunter has a unique style and, true to form, we’ve perfected our unique ritual. He sits straight up in his red wagon, waving the bug net in swooping S’s above his head while I trot circles around the perimeter of the garden screaming things like, “Buh, buh, where are you buhs?” and “Your time has come, buhs, show yourselves.”

It’s not pretty, but it is fairly effective and yields at least one insect we can transfer from his bug net to the bug home and then stare at through the small wire squares of the cage off and on for the rest of the day.

We ask the buh if he’s hungry, and we ask if he’s sleepy, and before my son goes to bed we say good night to the buh. I’m fairly sure that in the real world of hunting, these niceties don’t occur, but when you are inching toward the inevitable you can take your own route.

Once my son is tucked into bed, I cannot help but creep back onto the porch where the bug home lives, slide open the smiling bug face that is the door to the cage, and watch as the insect escapes. I’ve eaten far too many veggie burgers in my life to let insects suffer senselessly.

And I like this la-la land I live in at the moment, where chocolate-covered grasshoppers just magically appear on the tray at the specialty candy store, and I can give my son everything his heart desires by simply spending our summer days on the hunt for bugs.

 

This column appeared in the September 2011 issue of the Wacoan.

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