My History With Wild Animals
Some of my strongest childhood memories of growing up in rural Maine come from the hunting stories the old timers used to tell during the winter. Fishermen spend the long, cold winter nights in tiny workshops, building and repairing their traps and buoys. Heated by pot belly stoves, glowing cherry red from burning the soft wood scraps from the traps, I felt the air was suffocating with the acrid smoke of cheap pipe tobacco. To this day, a whiff of Cherry Blend or Half and Half takes me immediately back to those tiny workshops watching various uncles and their friends do their winter chores, and occasionally taking furtive sips of some nasty smelling amber liquid, while telling "whoppers."
The "whopper" is a much maligned and misunderstood, ancient and honorable Maine art form. It consists of telling the most unbelievable stories with a completely straight face. The real fun was telling whoppers to "Summer Complaints" from Boston or New York to see just how far you could pull their leg before it came off in your hands. The "whopper's" (pronounced "whoppah's") only serious rival for home-grown fun was giving directions to lost tourists. If you did it right you could get "summer complaints" so lost that when they thought they were headed for Bah Hahbah (I mean Bar Harbor) they'd end up in Southern Canada. Of course, the real goal was to so misdirect the poor tourist that he found himself right back in New York or Boston!
Now where was I? Oh, yes, that's right; we were talking about "whoppers," weren't we? While any topic was fair game for a whopper, hunting was by far the favorite. Now, hunting in Maine in the old days was serious business. Most of these men had grown up during the Depression and the ability to bag a deer could be the difference between feeding one's family or seeing them go hungry. And if sometimes, the deer hanging in the shed appeared slightly earlier or later than the opening and closing days of hunting season, nobody minded (except the game wardens, and since they had steady jobs with the state, nobody much cared what they thought!). And if there was slightly more venison in the freezer than could be justified by the number of hunting tags purchased, well, those things happen. And if occasionally, that fine buck with the magnificent antlers standing amidst the trees, turned out to be Bambi's mother instead, well, venison is venison. If this doesn't sound very "sportsmanlike," it's because in the old days it wasn't a sport; it was survival, pure and simple.
Though women were not unknown to hunt, it was mainly a man's job to bring home the venison. Young boys eagerly awaited the day when they could accompany their fathers with a single-shot .410 shotgun and help fill the family's larder. It was many a boy's rite of passage from childhood to beginning to fulfill his responsibilities as a man by helping provide for his family.
My Dad used to tell a "story" from the Great Depression when Grand Dad handed him a rickety single-shot .22 held together with bailing wire and chewing gum and one bullet. He was told to go hunting and bring something home; otherwise the family had nothing to eat. Dad, being an obedient son, trudged dutifully into a hardwood stand across from a small brook. As he was crossing the brook, he saw a rabbit, eating by the side of a rock. But there on the other side was a bobcat, stalking the rabbit. Bobcats had a bounty on them in those days, and the skin could bring a whole five dollars, a small fortune. Which to shoot, the bobcat for the bounty, or the rabbit for supper? Well, Pop took a bead on the Bobcat, aimed carefully and fired. That poor old rusty piece of junk .22 exploded in seventeen different directions. Pop fell backwards into the water, thankfully unhurt, but heard the bullet ricochet off the rock. As Dad picked himself out of the water, disgusted with himself, and perhaps a little fearful of Grand Dad's response at missing both bobcat and rabbit, a bird suddenly fell out of the sky right beside him! It seemed that a piece of the gun had gone straight up and hit a goose flying overhead! As he bent over to pick up the goose, he felt something squirming in his britches and there were two fine-looking trough sticking out of his pockets! And when he looked over at the other side of the bank, both the rabbit, and the bobcat were stone dead. It seems the bullet in hitting the rock, had split in two, one piece killing the rabbit and the other killing the bobcat. When he got home, Grand Dad's only comment was, "You busted my gun!"
Young boys in rural Maine were reared on such stories, imbibed them like modern teenagers hang on every lyric of a popular rock song, and eagerly looked forward to the day when they could make up their own. Sadly, two events prevented me from ever realizing my own rite of passage as a ten year old. First we moved to the big city (a bustling metropolis of almost two thousand people!) and hunting was no longer convenient. Secondly, my family disintegrated just about this time, and Dad never had the chance to pass on those skills.
So, instead, I spent my teenage years growing long hair, wearing bell-bottom jeans and generally making a nuisance of myself. Military service, mostly overseas, marriage and college followed soon after, and I was in my late 20's before hunting again entered my life. I was the assistant pastor, minister of youth, director of Christian Education (and don't forget to take out the rubbish, Brian!) at a small church in Minnesota while in seminary. Trying to connect with some of the kids in my youth group, I found that all of them came from hunting families and loved spending time in the woods. So finally, after years of delay, I found myself back in line with old traditions.
I soon discovered two things; first, I loved hunting more than any other pasttime I had ever tried. There is something magnificent about a crisp October morning, with the trees all golden, the woods quiet except for the crunch of your feet on half-frozen leaves, your dog suddenly going "birdy" just before that thunderous explosion as a ruffled grouse breaks from right beneath your feet. The second thing I discovered was that I wasn't very good at it! On the trap and skeet range, I could bust clay pigeons with reasonable frequency (not much eating, though, on clay pigeons; kind of muddy tasting). I liked to hide in the thickest, nastiest scrub, and inevitably the barrel of my .12 gauge would hang up on a branch and the bird would go one way, while some innocent tree would get blasted at close range. Deer hunting was even worse. I've hunted with a bow, shotgun, rifle, and except for getting cold, wet, and miserable, Bambi has always managed to get away safely (but just wait till next year; I've got this shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missile!). The best part of deer hunting in the Great White North is the enormous hunter's breakfast you have to eat to keep warm. Well, at least I'm good at something!
Today's Christians and Wild Animals
Imagine my surprise when I talk with people about hunting, and to my horror discover that thanks to Disney, most people, including Christians, now think it a barbaric blood sport and that killing a deer makes you the moral equivalent of Charles Manson! Since there has been massive urbanization in the past fifty years, most Americans now come from cities, do not have hunting traditions, think all wild animals are cute and cuddly, and cannot bear the thought of killing an "innocent" animal. It always amazed me that these same people think meat comes neatly packaged in plastic from the food store, and don't consider that their Big Mac originally came from an "innocent" cow, minding its own business until it was given a lifetime membership at the local abattoir! I also never understood what these people think deer do, when they are not hunted. Unchecked, deer herds multiply, destroy the environment and then die horribly of starvation. Hunting thins the population, maintains the balance and provides a cheap, healthy source of protein to needy families (our deacons routinely buy extra deer tags just to give the meat away).
Thanks to schmaltzie movies and TV shows, even Christians have a skewed perspective on wild animals. Most don't come into contact with anything except fuzzy little squirrels (my Dad called them "tree rats") capering through their front lawns. "But they look so cute." These are the same dunderheads who go to national parks, smear their children's faces with jam so they can get a picture of their child being licked by a bear (isn't it a miracle what a good plastic surgeon can do these days?). They then offer themselves as "take-out" food to Grizzly bears by sleeping outdoors in areas overrun with animals bored with the local food supply. Over a twenty-year period, more than 36 people were mauled or killed by bears at our national parks. If that doesn't sound too unreasonable in light of the two hundred million people who visited the parks during that same time, just remember, not all parks have bears. Some people do not seem to realize just how dangerous wild animals are, and do not take the precautions necessary to prevent becoming part of the food chain.
Wild Animals and Sin
Sound harsh and unfeeling? Yes, I admit it. But most people do not think through the implications of living in a world cursed by sin. Wild animals, by their nature, are dangerous to man, and are a curse in Scripture. In fact, one of the reasons why God did not supernaturally destroy the Caananites was so that the land would not be overrun with wild animals (cf. Ex. 23:28). In a time when God's covenant blessings flow, then the effects of that curse are rolled back. Animals are "cute" and "cuddly" when the grace of God flows to an obedient people. We look forward to the time when the "lion will lay down with the lamb" (Is. 11:5ff). But folks, that time is not here yet; and that cursed world outside your door is in fact a dangerous place.
In Wisconsin, where I presently make my home, Bambi and his friends do millions of dollars of damage each year as they destroy crops, shrubbery and expensive ornamental plants. They also kill people. Yup, little old Bambi kills people every year on Wisconsin roads by crashing into cars. In Calaveras County, where Chalcedon is located, there are more accidents between deer and people, than between people and people. Recently while visiting Chalcedon, Rush and I were coming home from dinner, when he warned me to keep my speed below 45 because deer have a habit of running across the road ("but Rush, I'm under grace, not law!"). Literally, within a minute, we passed a dead deer lying sprawled in the other lane, just hit by a car!
Furthermore, a terrible pestilence, unknown since colonial times, has reappeared even in modern suburbs. Lyme's disease comes from a tick carried by deer. When deer were aggressively hunted, and their population kept in check, the ticks disappeared. Now that fewer people hunt, deer populations are rising, the ticks are also multiplying, and they may be in the shrubbery of your suburban home. If you live in the West, you don't have to worry, though; the growing mountain lion population ought to keep the deer in check. And if more mountain lions means the occasional dog, cat, and child goes missing, heck, that's the price of being environmentally correct. (Rush tells a great story about one of his daughters narrowly avoiding a deer running across the road, only to be hit by the mountain lion chasing it!)
People in the outskirts of Los Angeles are starting to see strange dogs rooting through their garbage. It seems that coyotes have also found suburbia a nice place to live. And again, pets, children, and the occasional woman jogger have fallen victim to the coyote's taste for city cuisine. The last decade has seen our federal government spending your tax money to actually bring back mountain lions, wolves, deadly snakes, etc., into areas once containing small, subsistence family farms. Rushdoony offers the insight that the federal government has a vested interest in making rural communities unsafe for people, forcing them to live in cities where they can be controlled.
Wolves are a particularly touchy subject to address, since the emotion around them tends to run high. While there is not a documented case of wolves attacking men in North America, (but not many native Americans were known for keeping statistics), just ask any rancher about the enormous economic damage they do to their herds. For example, the legendary "Custer" wolf managed in ten years of devastation in South Dakota and Wyoming, to eat more than $25,000 worth of stock before finally being killed in 1920. And that's when money was backed with gold, and was worth something.
In Europe, though, wolves were documented man killers, one eating more than 40 Parisians in 1472, and another almost 50 people in 1766. Ancient history? In 1946, a pack ate two soldiers on the Rumanian and Polish borders before being driven off with hand grenades and automatic weapons fire. Finland had serious problems in 1949 and wolves ate 11 children in Portugal in 1945. Russia has had constant problems with wolves right up to this day (see Peter Capstick'sMan-Eaters for all the gruesome details). Now consider this: there are no biological differences between European and American wolves. Why eat people in one country and not another? Maybe as a Christian nation we once had grace that God may soon remove?
Men and Wild Animals
I know, I know, some wag is going to say, "Men are a lot more dangerous to animals, than the poor animals will ever be to men." And of course, he's right, if you put people on the same level as animals and if it is not your child savaged by a wolf, coyote or cougar. Personally, I happen to think that animals were put here for US to exercise dominion over, not for THEM to enjoy a change of diet. But if one wants a look at the future, just think about what a nation is like under the curse of God. Look at self-consciously pagan nations such as Africa or India. The leopard has been on the endangered species list for some time now, and it is illegal to bring a leopard skin into the USA. Yet, conservative estimates say that there is about one leopard per square mile in Africa. Evolutionists will be happy to know that to leopards we look like just another ape, their normal prey. No one knows how many women and children are eaten EVERY DAY by leopards because rural villages often don't figure very high on national government priorities. Jack Denton Scott in his book,Speaking Wildly, mentions ONE leopard eating 100 people in India in 1958. Think about this: 10 people a day, die in Africa from crocodiles alone as women go to the rivers for water (think of this the next time you want to visit Florida with all those lovely alligators!).
And lions, don't get me started. A recent film in 1996 featured the wily adventures of the Man-eaters of Tsavo, a couple of fun-loving kitties who managed to eat 300 coolies and natives working on the trans-Ugandan railroad at the end of the last century. The film was so "animally correct" that the producers made the lions into some sort of demonic spirit. Because, of course, the Lion King is really a compassionate, funny, role model with a great singing voice and the ability to subsist on bugs when it might otherwise offend his other animal friends. Yeah, right.
Most people of my generation saw the film, or read the book "Born Free." What neither the movie nor the book bothered to tell us was that at least two of "Elsa's" siblings became man-eaters. Most people think lions, tigers and leopards become man-eaters only when they are too old, or sick, or wounded to feed off their "natural game." Professional game wardens will tell you differently. Of all the man-eaters shot by game wardens, less than 10% fall into this category. Any predator, in close proximity to man, can develop a taste for human protein. But hey, we see all those TV specials showing affectionate lions and tigers, actually living with people. But do you really want to develop your theology of wild animals from Sigfried and Roy?
I have only seen lions, at biting distance, once. I was in Africa at the time, and besides trying to eat the car I was sitting in, caused me no great problems (after all, it wasn't my car!). It was only afterwards that the game warden told me that the exact, same pride had eaten a university student the week before. The educated idiot had gotten out of his car to better look for lions dozing during the midday sun. He spotted them, and they spotted him. The rest is, as they say, culinary history.
In the interest of fair play, my good friend, Peter Hammond, has a different perspective. He and his people often move through dangerous territory, and apart from carefully brushing and flossing their teeth (as hyenas are attracted by the smell of rotting food in the mouth and have a habit of eating people's faces off) take no special precautions. In fact, Peter loves animals. Though in his military days he helped more than a few communists make that last trip to the Great Socialist Republic in the Sky, he is aghast at the idea of hunting animals.
A true story that Peter often tells on himself concerns his honeymoon. He took his beautiful bride Lenora to a game park. Lenora, being a sensible American girl, was afraid of lions and asked Peter what he would do if one attacked. He replied he would probably raise his hands and shout and that would most likely drive the lion away. But Lenora, knowing his love for animals, insisted, what would he do if the lion continued coming? Would Peter shoot it? Peter replied, that he would probably shoot between the lion's legs and the sound would almost certainly scare away the lion. "But Peter," Lenora insisted, "if the lion continued coming, you WOULD shoot it, wouldn't YOU?" Since Peter and Lenora are still happily married, I can only guess that he managed to calm her fears, but at the time, Lenora was not sure which would win out, his love for animals, or his love for her. But Peter really is in a special situation and I do not doubt that angels camp around him and his missionaries. Others are not so blessed.
Theology and Wild Animals
Now lest some cynic think the only reason I am writing about wild animals is so I can write off this year's hunting costs on my income tax (but don't be surprised if November's column is entitled, "A Reconstructed View of Hunting Rifles"), there is a serious and theological side. As a nation sinks further into depravity and apostasy, as it becomes ever more consistent with its rebellion against God, one can only expect that more than men will get wilder, and the covenant curses of Deuteronomy will become increasingly evident. God put the fear of man into wild animals (Gen 9:2) but now, right across the earth, animals have lost that fear. Expect attacks against people and property to increase. Watch in hypnotic horror the occasional TV special about wild animal attacks and reassure yourself that statistically, you're really very safe, unless you happen to live in a rural area, or visit a national park, or go jogging in the early morning in the suburbs.
Dominion requires an accurate assessment of the world around us, the world as it really is, not the way that Hollywood imagines it to be. Part of that dominion requires caring for the environment, of course. We are stewards under God, it all belongs to Him, and must be used according to his law. But he has given us the flesh of animals for food (Gen. 9:3), and we have a responsibility to tend the earth, subdue it and cultivate it. And if that means some wild animals have to be restricted to zoos, game parks and wilderness preserves, then so be it. And if it requires some of us to faithfully buy our hunting licenses each year, so we can provide the needed funds for habitat maintenance, please don't get upset if we enjoy harvesting deer, pheasants, grouse, ducks and geese. Would you rather have a hunter keeping the "natural" populations in balance, or deal with a wolf, bear or mountain lion in your back yard?
When God grants us grace, and the Greater Reformation begins, and the blessings of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ flow to all of creation, then all animals will be tamed, and Disney's fantasies will become reality.
But until then, wild animals will remain wild.
- Brian M. Abshire
Rev. Brian Abshire, Ph.D. is currently a Teaching Elder associated with Hanover Presbytery. Along with his pastoral duties, he is also the director for the International Institute for Christian Culture, has served as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies at Park University and is a visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at Whitefield College.