Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 4 (Fall 1974)
Metamorphosis of a hunter, pp. 9-12
and I was pleased to see Outdoors, now defunct, take on nature writers who went afield only with binoculars. Then one of the best things to happen to me, to Wisconsin, and to a nation of hunters and fishermen happened-a man named Gordon MacQuarrie came south from Superior to become outdoor editor of The Milwaukee Jurnal and contributor to many of the nation's leading magazines. An avid hunter and fisherman, but even a more avid watcher of the wild, MacQuarrie conferred citizenship on chipmunks, crows, deer, coyotes, wrens, and even sparrows. He bestowed dignity on the lowly ant and the caterpillar, and wrote that animals needed no reason for existence other than an inalienable right to life such as man had previously described as only his heritage. Still at Sheboygan, I came under MacQuarrie's spell, as did tens of thousands of people all across the country. It was in the thirties, and if the rod and gun had already come to play a lesser and lesser role in my outdoor life, Gordon's tales of setting up housekeeping in a duck blind just to enjoy the smells of the marsh, his stories of deer hunting in which he often hoped fervently the deer would escape the hunters widened my already expanding appreciation of the outdoors and the wild creatures inhabiting it. Ultimately I moved to The Milwaukee Journal, though a long war intervened, and became a coworker with MacQuarrie. A few years before MacQuarrie died, I moved to the country to dig four spring-fed ponds, plant thousands upon thousands of trees, bring in hundreds of wild flowers dispossessed by freeways-create a miniature outdoor paradise, a microcosm of what a wilderness might be like if all the ecological laws necessary to a healthy and thriving environment were observed. So it was that my love affair with the wild ones finally became a full blown marriage and in addition to the children in my house, you might on any day find squirrels and chipmunks, raccoons and seagulls, woodchucks or a crow. Gradually I found I'd rather hunt mushrooms than mallards, gather asparagus than fish muskies, sit and count bees and birds in passing . . . or watch a goose mother her goslings. I was considerably relieved to be able to put the job as a rod-and-gun editor of The Journal behind me and turn to books. Now I could write about the boy who was saddened because when he killed a coyote, the coyote's pups starved. Now I could write about how a boy took a captive wolf back to the wilds and released it. I could write about a boy's friendship with a bear, about the ways of wildlings unmolested by man. And I did. I wrote one book after another, and my guns gathered dust. And what ammunition I had left became useless and I sank it into one of my ponds so it would be defused and could harm no one. 12 Only one rod-and-gun job still remained to me. I hadn't quit as associate editor of Field and Stream. But then I wrote a book, Wild Goose, Brother Goose, and as a result my name was removed from the masthead of the magazine. It seemed I had committed a really mortal sin! I had libeled the hunter, but of course, nobody made a point of mentioning for how many years it was the goose which had been libeled. So at last I was free, and it was a relief because now not anyone could tell me how and what to write. So I wrote about the almost heroic struggles of Peg Leg Pete, a one-legged mallard. I wrote about how a "sidewalk Indian" rediscovered the wild ways. I wrote about dogs and farm boys and all the things I liked. Except I still bought a sportsman's license, and I still bought a duck stamp. And sometimes I dusted off my guns, and sometimes I drove to the marsh where I had once had a duck blind to see how the northernbirds were coming in. And I can tell you that the heritage which my hunting forebears passed along sometimes still sang piercingly on the night wind, and ran like rapid fire through my veins. And even now I still awaken to hear the wild goose call, and then when I sleep again I dream that I am back in a goose pit trying to coax a wary gander into gun range, and I awaken with a start and my breathing has quickened and my heart is beating faster. So perhaps the end of my affair with the wild ones has not yet been written. Because, though I'd run the man who killed one of my chipmunks right from here to hell and gone, I still come sometimes at dawn and, seeing a duck flock tail by on a high wind, wonder how it might feel again to swing a fast gun out ahead of them. But maybe if you have never been a hunter you cannot understand about these things which send men out to kill. Maybe if the difference between eating bread or having a nice coot stew was one shotgun shell you might understand how it sometimes is with the hunter. And still, by the same token, if you have not formed some sincere friendships with the wild ones, likely you cannot understand either how some people can tolerate absolutely no killing-little matter the circumstances. So for me, what will tomorrow bring? What about this metamorphosis of the writer, the hunter? Well, I've had the best part of a hunter's life, and also the best part of a dedicated nature lover's life. And whatever I do, this I know: I am glad it was my privilege to live on this earth. I am glad to have met the wild ones with a gun in my hands, and I am glad that I have met them offering nothing but life. I am glad about it no matter how it turns out- whether I hunt or not-because I have discovered that in them, the wild ones, there is a little of me, and I am sure now that in me there is more than a little of the wild ones.
Copyright 1974 by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.| For information on re-use, see http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/Copyright