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Close encounter

January 9, 2013

As I walked along the creek on a late autumn afternoon, I heard a rustling off to my left. I stopped to see if I could catch sight of a fox, or better yet a bear searching for a wintering spot. Instead I saw the fluorescent orange vest of a hunter.

A number of concurrent thoughts flashed through my mind. “Here I am in the woods alone, and there is a man with a gun. This must be why my mother (born and raised in the city) warned me, ‘Never, ever go outside. You could die.’”

But, like Blanche DuBois, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. I waved at Mr. Hunter to signal that I wasn’t prey. He emerged from the brush and made his way onto the trail. As soon as he moved his rifle off to his side, I relaxed.

A conversation ensued with this man, who was probably my age and soft-spoken, the antithesis of my stereotyped image of a hunter. He told me he was scouting for grouse and that his grandchildren had visited from New Jersey the week before and had shot two pheasants.

“What did you do with them after you killed them? Do you take them to a taxidermist?” I asked, imagining two beautiful ring-necked birds perched atop a desk in a paneled study.

“We eat them,” he answered, as is if I had missed the obvious. “My grandsons and I dressed them, I sent them home with the boys and my daughter cooked them.”

We spent another few pleasant moments chatting, and when he continued up the trail, I waited by the creek until he had disappeared into the woods.

That day’s encounter caused me to reassess my strong bias against hunters. It dawned on me that many people who kill their meat are more respectful of animal life than those who buy meat from supermarkets. The latter are either ignorant of, or turn a blind eye to, the fact that factory-farmed animals lead lives of abysmal suffering, confined in overcrowded facilities, injected with massive doses of antibiotics, and fed diets unnatural to their biology before they are slaughtered.

Hundreds of thousands of acres worldwide are deforested to grow feed, principally soy, for animals raised on factory farms. Social upheaval results when native inhabitants are forcibly evicted from their land to establish factory farms. Ecological damage occurs from the excessive use of pesticides, and increasing incidents of salmonella and E. coli-tainted meat are additional byproducts of the system by which meat reaches the supermarket shelves neatly wrapped in plastic.