Last Friday, the dog and I walked to the Narrows on a windy afternoon. I heard a flag pole rattling, which reminded me of the Police’s “King of Pain.” There were lots of people ice fishing on the Narrows, and trucks were parked along the causeway. The dog and I had to brush against the trucks as we passed. Otherwise, we would have been in the middle of the road. Because I had to walk so close, I couldn’t help noticing that in one truck, a full coyote’s tail hung from the rear view mirror.
As a lover of all creatures canid, it pained me to see that tail, to think of how that beautiful animal was no longer running through the forest, possibly in the woods behind my house. Naturally, this is all speculation. Who knows where that coyote was killed?
But why kill a coyote? Why kill a bear for that matter? Or any other animal that you are not going to eat? On the way back home, I reflected on hobbits, who never hunted for sport. If only humans would follow their example.
I thought with sorrow about the coyote tail for the rest of the day, and I have come to the conclusion that the older I get, the softer I have become. Why this should be, I don’t know. It seems to me that age should harden us to the cruel ways of the world, but somehow, at least with me, it hasn’t.
When I was eight, my family moved to North Vassalboro, a small rural town outside of Waterville. Our house was on the edge of the town and the countryside. Many people had gardens, and some had cows as well. Back then, animals were killed regularly and without much thought. If a raccoon came into the barn, my father shot it. If our neighbors had too many kittens, they were shot. We had chickens, and I saw my father kill them. While I didn’t necessary like all this killing, it seemed to me a fact of life.
Even though I still live in a rural town, I have moved away from this killing, both directly and indirectly. Our diet is mostly plant based. We occasionally eat chicken—every other week or so—and once in a while we eat fish. But mostly it’s vegetables, with some dairy and eggs.
I suppose the urge to hunt, to be a predator, is a part of our ancient heritage. It still runs strong in some people. But where does it end? Raccoons, kittens, chickens, coyotes, other people, the land, the water, the planet. Does killing ripple ever outward?
Restraint is a word most of us don’t like. It implies a Puritanical, joyless approach to the world. But with so many of us on this planet, if ever there were a need for restraint, it is now.
Until the ice goes out on the Narrows and the fishing stops, I think I’ll walk the other way, to where the trees will soon be tapped for maple syrup. That way, there will be no brooding all day about an animal that once ran in the woods and whose tail is now used for decoration.