Book Review: Hunting: the lifestyle of environmentalists

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Call of the Mild" by Lily Raff McCaulou. Grand Central, 299 pp. $24.99.

Lily Raff McCaulou was not a natural hunter. She didn't grow up in a hunting family; she didn't spend her childhood out in the woods with her father, learning the basics of rifle safety and the subtle nuances of life in a silent forest.

But, in her early twenties, McCaulou traded her New York City lifestyle for a job as a newspaper reporter in Bend, Oregon.

Bend has become a tourist attraction, drawing adventurers from all over to ski, hike and otherwise enjoy the outdoors. But just down the road, in the area of town that McCaulou is assigned to cover, is the real nature of the area. These are the people who have suffered firsthand when the logging industry diminished in the Pacific Northwest. These are the people who heat their homes with household trash.

These are also the people who introduce McCaulou to hunting:

"These people are not heartless killers as much as amateur biologists, real-life experts in the natural environment -- something I care very much about."

Over the next year, McCaulou attends a Hunter's Safety class and earns her license. She goes out and buys a small shotgun, and she starts to find workshops in the area to get used to the idea of making a kill.

But, the more she contemplates this ability within herself, the more she realizes how the act of killing an animal better helps her understand her role in the food chain.

"Even those who didn't farm or ranch [two generations ago] went to butcher shops where they saw their meat before it was hacked into roasts or ground into burger. They knew what went on behind the scenes. In a very short amount of time, we have become completely detached from the gory, grisly truth about what we eat."

And so begins her journey. In reading this book, I found it enlightening to understand on a much deeper level the amount of environmental care that goes into the food process. Many hunters hunt because they love being outside and they want to protect their sacred place. One purpose for hunting, perhaps the largest purpose, is to keep animal populations in control. The more we develop, the less resources there are for the wildlife. Before long, they either use up all of their resources or they start interacting with the local people in unhealthy ways, simply because they have nowhere else to go. And the more she learns about this corner of life, the more she realizes about the other, more mainstream corners: How even the smallest decision has a large impact on the world.

"The meat industry is a leading cause of deforestation, erosion and water pollution. It's responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than transportation. The production of merely 3.8 ounces of beef -- enough for just one McDonald's Happy Meal hamburger -- releases about as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a sedan emits by driving eighteen miles. And that's not including the gas it takes to get to the drive-through window."

In "Call of the Mild," McCaulou combines her own narrative voice with information she's learned about hunting and the lifestyle in the Pacific Northwest. She has certainly done her research, and she mixes in her own stories of finding love, fly fishing, dealing with loss, interacting with others in the area, and how each of these experiences ties in together with what has now become her favorite new pastime.

"Call of the Mild" is available in hardcover.

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