The twinkle in my stepson’s eyes should have told me I was in for it.
He and his wife were up from Jersey for a Christmas visit. It was a month after I’d killed my first deer. And we were opening gifts.
The box was small. Pushing aside the tissue paper, I saw the silvery gleam of spreading antlers. Uh oh. I drew out a shiny reindeer, an ornament for the tree.
He’d taped a tiny circle of paper to its chest. Drawn on the paper were the concentric circles of a bull’s eye target, reminiscent of the old Gary Larson cartoon: “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.” Also attached to the ornament was a tag—“Tovar: Let my people go.”
We laughed so hard it hurt.
When I broiled venison tenderloin that weekend, my stepson ate with gusto. He also snapped a photo of the meat starting to sizzle in the oven and emailed the picture to his brother, who’d just moved out West—with a caption: “There’s an opening on Santa’s sleigh team this year.”
And just a month ago, after Cath and I had our vehicular encounter with the doe, I talked with him by phone. He suggested that I might soon receive an anonymous letter composed of alphabet characters clipped from magazines and pasted to a sheet of paper, reading: “Mr. Cerulli: That was a warning shot. Next time we won’t miss.”
Every time he cracks a joke like that—gently razzing me about having become a hunter—I laugh. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously, even when life and death are on the table.
It reminds me, too, of how much I care about animals and their perspectives. Though I doubt ungulates quote the Bible or conspire to launch themselves at hunters’ cars, I do ponder what an old Koyukon man told anthropologist Richard Nelson: “Every animal knows way more than you do.” And I wonder: Given how much I care, is hunting the right path for me? I think so. But how sure am I?
Better that I shouldn’t lose sight of the questions. Better that I shouldn’t slip into certainty. “Human beings,” as Laurens van der Post put it, “are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.”
© 2010 Tovar Cerulli