It’s Sunday in the middle of shotgun deer season and there’s no hunting on Sunday so I didn’t wear my orange vest when Tam and I went out this morning.
Shotgun deer season began the Monday after Thanksgiving and runs through Saturday, Dec. 14. I don’t go into the state forest during shotgun season, though my regular walking routes include a stretch of bike path that runs alongside it. Sometimes I see hunters way off in the distance down the fire lanes, but not so far this year.
So far this year I haven’t seen hunters on Pine Hill Road either. There’s private land open for hunting on one side of Pine Hill. Thanks to the Land Bank, there’s a public trail through that hilly, thickly wooded area, but it’s closed from September 1 through the end of February, which covers virtually all the Vineyard’s hunting seasons.
The hunters I’ve encountered on Pine Hill invariably admired Travvy, who was always with me when I walked that way. We’d joke about how it’s lucky there’s no wolf season on Martha’s Vineyard because Trav might be mistaken for one. So might Tam Lin, but the hunters haven’t met him yet. Some people dress their dogs in orange, but I don’t.
I’ve blogged about hunting before (see, for instance, “Shotgun Season,” from 2015, and “Blaze Orange,” from 2014), but when shotgun season rolls around each year I think about how moving to Martha’s Vineyard in 1985 changed – or maybe “deepened” or “expanded” is the better word – my attitude toward guns. I haven’t shot a gun since I was about 11 years old. No one in my family hunted. My father did own a .22 and a couple of times I got to use it for target practice. During my city years, roughly from 1969 to 1985, firearms were the prerogative of men I didn’t trust: law enforcement, domestic abusers, and criminals (which categories sometimes overlapped).
Within a year or so of moving to the Vineyard, I knew a few hunters and had friends whose friends and family members were hunters, or had hunted in their younger years. No longer could I see hunters, or gun owners more generally, as the Other, as a monolithic, overwhelmingly male demographic that got off on killing things, or maybe just the idea that they could kill things. Hunting, like fishing, like farming, was a way of putting food on the table. Even if one opposes the practice of turning animals into food, that isn’t only, or even primarily, about hunting. Most of the meat we carnivores eat is raised for that purpose, not shot in the wild.
Recently a Facebook friend railed against hunting for sport — shotgun season inevitably flushes out posts like this — and several responded by noting that on the Vineyard most hunting is for food. Some added their own hunting stories, or mentioned the neighbor who always gifts them with venison this time of year.
Hunting, I learned in my early Vineyard years, is also a family tradition, and integral to an island way of life that stretches back many generations, to before the Europeans got here. It’s no longer necessary in the same way, but neither are many of the other traditions that present-day Vineyarders are dedicated to keeping alive, from institutions like the Agricultural Fair, to crafts like spinning, weaving, and quilting, to livestock raising and farming.
In politics (where I spend a lot of time these days) George Santayana’s famous line is often quoted and misquoted: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I’d add that those who cannot remember the past of the place they live in have lost something precious, and if you cannot remember it because you never experienced it firsthand, there are other ways of learning it.