The housing project where I was born and raised sat on the tough side of town. If my dog died, if the big kid next door punched me in the nose, if practically anything happened to me I never cried and if I did I made damn sure I was alone because cry babies in the projects were guaranteed to be at the bottom of the pecking order.
I don’t know how it worked for others who have had theirs, but my ‘awareness’ breakthrough came during the winter of 67 after a couple of us guys decided while sitting in the local bar to drive down to the country and hunt up some rabbits the same as we’d done every year since high school.
Early that following morning it was cold as all hell and there was snow on the ground, but we packed up Tom’s old Ford with guns and a couple of six packs and went off hunting anyway. I was wearing boots, a warm jacket, and some sort of ball cap, but none of that orange shit and hunting licenses for us by damn. We were outlaws.
Once there Tom parked off the road, I grabbed my four ten shotgun out of the trunk, showed the guys where I was heading so they didn’t shoot me, and wandered off.
I worked my way down one small hill, walked the ravine for a while, and started up a larger hill on the other side. At the top, I entered a cluster of naked trees and stopped. There were a few tracks in the snow, but everything was holed up and not moving much in the cold. I spotted a large brush pile, the kind bunnies like to hang out in, snuck up and kicked at it. There was a faint rustle and out popped a rabbit running like a bat out of hell across the small clearing.
Aim . . . squeeze . . . BLAM! . . . got him! YES!
I ran up to the wounded rabbit who was lying on his side in a patch of reddening snow. Watched him kicking in circles. Watched him slow down. Watched him give a few short shudders and stop. Watched as the brightness faded from his eyes.
What the shit?! Huge crocodile tears streamed down my face. Sniff, Sniff . . . . I’m crying!
What are the guys going to say if they find me standing here crying like a baby over a dumb ass rabbit!
I’m a veteran for Christ’s sake. A year or so ago I had been stomping through Asia in the Airborne Infantry. I am a lean, mean, crazy-ass killing machine! What’s up with these fucking tears?
I worked hard at it and finally quenched the sobbing and regained my composure. I cleaned the rabbit before returning to the car. The other guys were already there pissing and moaning about how it was too cold to hunt.
“You guys are a bunch of pussies,” I chided in my best macho. “Look at this!” I pulled the rabbit out of my pouch. I may have bragged on the way home, but these forty-some years later I never went hunting again. The thrill of killing died alongside the rabbit that day. Good riddance.
Although it took many years to fully blossom, that cold winter day had been the beginning, the day when my heart thawed and I realized a connection to the Earth far greater than I imagined there was or ever could be. Since then I have changed my viewpoint about many things and completely about the animals. In the school of life, I had graduated from conquerer to caretaker.
Today I live in the middle of a couple thousand acres of Eastern forest and spend a lot of time in the woods observing and trying to communicate with the many animals on my property. We feed the birds, leave brush piles for the small critters, and don’t mess with the deer and turkeys. If you saw me talking to a squirrel you might believe I am just a crazy old man with a white beard who’s gone off the edge, but in my world, I am having a great time walking the path I’ve created for myself. When I am angry or stressed out or even sick I go to the woods and I talk to my friends. Many times I come home healed.
I understand reality though, the day I stumbled onto a baby rattlesnake I didn’t try to pet it, but neither did I hack it to pieces. I merely left it alone. The snake is as important to the ecosystem as I am, probably more so. Why kill it?
Being at one with the animals is quite easy for me, but that is only one step in this ‘awareness’ evolution. I admit to having a much harder time connecting with my own species . . . people aren’t so easy to understand.