I started asking guys why they hunt and head out into the wilderness. I would ask at a shooting range, or on the river, or at a campfire. Sitting and standing around a group of men, I would say, so guys… tell me why you do this, why you hunt? Why you fish?
People would kinda start stratching their heads. Looking around. Wanting to avoid it.
It was a party killer. Silence would come. Guys would kinda stare at each other, nervous, and then mad at me for asking such a question. I had asked them to think about it, and it seemed counter-intuitive to why they were here. It wasn’t a place you asked life’s serious questions. You just came out, and took place in it. You left all that at home.
It was weird because people would look at me, like what? Are you really asking me that? Other guys would just have no answer. Avoid it. Turn away. Even though they had been doing this for ages, and ages, they had never thought about it. As one guy said, “ya just hunt.” Another guy told me, “I like to hunt.” Which was not really answering why, but I took it. One man said, “I was asking too many damn questions.”
The weird thing is these men weren’t just Joe Dirt rednecks with a Rambo blood lust. Some were CEO’s of logistic firms, bankers, others drove delivery trucks, engineers, white collar bankers, and blue collar car mechanics, it was a smattering and mixture of a little of everything, every type of man. There was no way to pin down fishermen, backpackers, and hunters. They came from everywhere. And it seemed, few of them were talking about why.
If they didn’t say anything, often I would break the silence by opening my mouth, and telling them what it was like for me. Why I started doing these things. Trying to find initiation, and fathering, and stepping into a man’s world, and where I could experience these things and God.
The air would thin out, the mood would shift. Men would start acting shifty. I couldn’t understand it.
At first, I thought I was being the hero. Helping them. I am a writer, I like words. I thought I was helping them name, and explain things. I thought it was my contribution to these men. Help them out a bit.
The more I went, the more I saw, they actually knew this. Not in direct words, but from their stories, and how they told it. The way their faces light up when they at around each other. You could feel it from the stories of who was with them, when they killed the longhorn sheep, or buck off ranger mountain with their son. All the themes of why I was there, were in them. They just didn’t say it.
They didn’t need to.
It seemed they started getting mad at me for exposing this. They wanted it more of a secret. Even though one guy would say he wanted to kill giant elk, I realized it had much more in it. It was for the men, and what happened with men. The stories, the friendship, the laughter, sitting under a clear sky with a fire. This hunting and fishing thing was just the place it happened, the excuse to experience and feel it. It was starting to make more sense.
I stopped asking men. Started enjoying it instead. Tucking the need to put words to things aside.
I started feeling Ron’s love, when he whistled from down the river when I had a trout on, and said nice fish. I knew what he meant is “I love you, and care about you deeply, and I am so honored to be in your life.” The same when I got a knife from Jere who said, “this is for when you kill your first elk this season.” I knew in that was much deeper than kill elk, what he also meant is, “you have what it takes as a man. And I was thinking about you today when I bought this for you.” If PJ called to want to watch a hunting video, it meant as much that he was kinda lonely, and would love to hang out. It was kind of code. Man code. All of this stuff was.
I started seeing this as I ran across various men in their cubicles, and offices. I would walk into a man’s office, and there were pictures of trout on the wall. Or maybe some mounted ducks. It was kinda of life a sign to other men. Like in the movie Fight Club. Although most people saw it as displays of animals, or death. It was actually a picture of life. Those were the symbols, and signs that said, I am part of that group. Again, no words. But just the signs that said, I hunt. I fish.For those who understood this code, as I was starting to pick up, there was just a bond. A connection.
I started noticing a lot of men at coffee shops, and bagel shops in the morning, hanging out doing a bible study. Grown men, sharing their words, and feelings, about life, and pain, and the bible. I knew it was a good thing, but I wanted to go over, and hand them a gun. I wanted to grab the dudes and take off the white collar shirt, and place them in some camo overall bibs, and say, this is your bible study, go into the woods, and figure this thing out. Pray there. You really need this. You really do. I know it sounds whacky, and weird, and unspiritual, but I promise, you need it.
I started seeing that we had lost that as men, a place to go. Not a place to put words to everything, like sitting at Starbucks, doing a bible study, and sharing our thoughts and feelings.
We needed a place where we could get out, into something larger than ourselves, close to nature, and wild, and feel the dirt and the wind. We needed to sleep on it, have it rub across our faces, and talk about the things that were in creation we wanted to find, hunt, or fish. We needed all that together. That is really why I had come. I had sat in enough square rooms sharing my feelings and using words, but I had not been out in the world, exploring it with men.
It seemed all this hunting and fishing was really just a way for a man to get back in touch with that. As God said, from the dust you were made, and dust you will return. It seemed we needed to enter back into that story, of the ground, and the earth that had been taken from us by all the building and development. We needed to feel the cold water of a stream rushing down the mountains, with the hope of a rising trout, not just the demands of a deadline and numbers on an excel spreadsheet. We needed to head out into the outback of mountains that we didn’t have a paved road, and street light to guide us. We needed to run into the woods with fathers and sons together. We just needed to be together.
I finally came to see there where all these little secrets. And it seemed the best to leave them that way with each other. You didn’t have to speak it, just enter into it. Receive it. Give it back. You didn’t have to spend an hour processing it, and sharing your feelings, and all that. It had been happening for thousands of years, men doing this. That was the sacredness of the time.
I don’t ask men anymore why they head out to fish, and hunt.
Ya just hunt. And you let them figure it out.