Recommended Posts

A Hunting Story

by Michael Stuart Kelly

There are two basic natures that define the spiritual center in people for living on earth. One is the hunter and the other is the farmer.

A hunter uses his mind for killing, but he stalks and seeks out prey in the prey's own habitat. He pits his mind against his prey. The stakes are all-or-nothing high for the prey and usually there is very little risk for the hunter. Hunters take great pleasure in the sport aspect of hunting.

A farmer grows things. More precisely, he cultivates growing. He provides controlled conditions for nature to do its magic. He plants, weeds, fertilizes, cares for livestock and puts rational order to growing. His killing, whether plant or animal, is more restricted and organized. He kills solely for the purpose of using the body of the killed, or for controlling a growing environment. Otherwise he lives and lets live. There is no sport to his killing. But there is great sport to his cultivation.

Which is better? I don't know. Seriously. I am an artist, so I used to think it was the farmer mentality – hands down. This was even true for industry and technology, which grow from the human spirit. All producers, including industrial and intellectual ones, are farmers inside. As I get older and observe life more, though, I have started to believe that both natures are innate, but to different degrees – sort of like being left-handed or right-handed. And both are necessary to living as a human being. A person needs to make peace with his own nature if he is ever to find happiness.

Despite many colorful attempts, I am not a good hunter. But I have been a good farmer all my life. Whenever I have hunted, I violated my predominant nature. This has caused me myriad problems and excruciating heartaches.

The women I hunted turned into the predators and I the prey. Likewise for jobs – I ended up stuck in a trap cage several times. I used to hunt for the perfect high and I became the biggest casualty of all, an addict. In all areas of life, whenever I hunted, the tables often turned and it was I who became the hunted.

My way out was to stop and think, analyze my environment and build a solution – cultivate the growing – and use my mind for creating, not stalking. This has worked every time.

With women, I walked away and concentrated on the creative part of my work and studies. This always brought wonderful new people into my life. With jobs, I quit the horrible situations I was in – to hell with the money. I then worked free-lance, project by project, and always made enough for my needs. With drugs and alcohol, I not only did recovery programs, I studied the effects on my body and soul and wrote about the experiences. I also studied a lot of religion (without converting) and restudied philosophy. Since I started doing these things, I no longer have craving attacks.

I am a farmer with a strong urge to be a hunter – a good farmer and lousy hunter. That is my nature. I became aware of that the hard way. Until that realization, I always stalked trouble, found it and had to farm my way out.

I have literally hunted in the wild only twice. Both times were disasters, but they were remarkable learning experiences.

I remember my first contact with a firearm. I had lived a sheltered life. I was in my mid twenties when an actual loaded gun finally ended up in my hands. A friend in Brazil took me to his ranch in the country for a visit and, on a whim we went outside for target practice. I'm always up for trying out new things, so when he suggested this, I said, "Let's do it." I did not tell him that I had no experience with guns whatsoever.

We walked out to a little hill. He had a small bore automatic pistol and showed off the mechanism and clip like they do in the movies, posing like a badass. His chin jutted out, his chest raised and he held his prize out for my scrutiny like the horn of plenty. He set up a target and fired a few rounds. Then he reloaded and handed me the gun.

Wow! What a rush! The thought that I held lethal force in my hands went straight to my head. I suddenly became aware that I held power over whether my friend lived or died. I imagined pointing the gun at him and shooting. It would all be over for him. "I can kill this man with little effort," I thought. I looked wonderingly at that little hunk of metal. Bile started coming up in the back of my throat. I didn't want that kind of power and I kept staring.

My friend asked, "She's a beauty, huh? What do you think?"

I swallowed down the bile and said. "Yeah. A real beauty."

I aimed at the target and took a shot. My friend saw that I was a beginner and started giving me pointers. As I gradually got the hang of it, I also started getting comfortable with the idea of wielding lethal force as an extension of my being. It felt good. I got to coasting on the feeling of power I held over my friend's life. Then I looked at his face. He was smiling broadly at me through his macho posture, nodding his head in a yes movement – one man's man to another. Real tough. I knew right then that I was being seduced; I was turning into that.

The bile returned.

I had him put the gun away, pretending I was interested in something else. The visit ended on a high friendly note, but this event stayed in my mind for a long time. I had never felt the tug between these two sides of me so strongly before, the hunter calling me to stalk and kill and the farmer admonishing me about the reality and finality of death.

At that time, I had been an informal follower of Objectivism for years. I was in Brazil where nobody knew about this philosophy so I did not become involved in the cultish side of it. I was an Objectivist nation of one.

When you look at the Objectivist world nowadays, you see a lot of bickering. I find this funny because a lot of hunter types are attracted to Objectivism, which explicitly states that initiating force against another person is morally wrong. These people get in a bind. Their nature says attack and the philosophy tells them they can't. So they bicker with each other. As I had no Objectivists but myself in Brazil to bicker with, so my focus stayed on being productive and testing out principles in actual events. In philosophy, I developed my farmer side.

I was a classical musician and conductor at that time. My idea of being a good producer meant studying scores and constantly improving my concerts. It meant founding chamber music groups and composing works. It meant teaching. I did a lot of all that.

As I developed my career, that gun experience stayed with me. There was something to that feeling of power over life that I didn't get in music. I didn't find anything about it in the books by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden that I brought down with me. I began to feel that I was somehow alienated from raw existence by being in the ivory tower of classical music and civilization.

For example, when I ate a meal, it seemed like the chicken came from a factory. You take the pieces out of the wrapper and put them into a pan. It felt like the meat was manufactured, not butchered. I saw that I was putting something into my body and I had no idea of the reality of what it was. What about the chicken? The one that clucked and pecked?

When you look at life squarely, you see that it is a bunch of hungry mouths all eating each other. A meal to me, which would be quickly forgotten, was the removal of the thing most precious to the chicken, its life. I remember not liking that idea, but I didn't want to run from it, either. If that was part of being alive and existing, I wanted to experience it fully.

I decided to go on a hunt in the wilderness. I wanted to find some animal living his own little life, going about his business, not doing me any harm or bother. Then I personally wanted to perform all the steps needed to transform it into a meal.

I was tired of mouthing catch-phrases from philosophy and staying on the outside looking in all the time. I wanted to embrace experiences as they occurred and observe them up close. So I went hunting for the meaning of life. I literally went on a hunt in the woods that first time to understand more about my own existence.

I used to live on a 24 acre ranch (4 alqueires) in a small satellite city of São Paulo called Itapecirica da Serra. Mountain country. I loved being there and only 30 some kilometers away from the big city. You could see the stars in the sky at night – way too many to count. I had a lot of dirt road to drive to get to my house. Clean air. Trees and bushes. Well water. Green and green and more green. It was a fantastic place to compose music and study scores. The feeling was one of roughing it, but with comfort.

But that is precisely what was irking me. The farmer in me was quite happy but the hunter kept whispering about hypocrisy – about a feeling I had experienced and was doing my best to forget. How rough was roughing it? Had I really hunted? Had I looked at my own death? It whispered, "You eat the dead, but do you have the courage to kill? Will you ever know the thrill of eating what you kill?" And the image of my friend's macho smile would be in the background.

Wow. Really sick stuff, but there it was, echoing through my mind. Where on earth did the philosophy I studied explain that? It didn't, so I did the only thing I could do. I decided to find out for myself. I would not live with such doubts haunting me.

I went out and bought a used double barrel 12-gauge shotgun – a Taurus, a Brazilian model. It looked like a hillbilly gun with both barrels side-by-side and two triggers. It was not automatic, so you had to crack it open to remove spent cartridges and reload after shooting. The shotgun was big, long, heavy, and made a most satisfying click on being closed – more like khe-klck. Loud. You could snap it shut and strike a real cool, tough pose, ready to take care of business. It was a great gun for stroking macho egos. There is a part of me that still misses it.

Before going off on my first hunt, I did some target practice. A 12-gauge can do a lot of damage to a board, even one about 3 centimeters thick. I ended up blowing my target board into several pieces after a few shots.

The kick was not as bad as people had told me. I later learned that this was due to the weight. A heavier gun has a weaker kick since the gun's body absorbs it. I use my left shoulder for cushioning the stock. I am right-handed, so this always struck me as a strange habit when I observed that right-handed people normally shoot from the right side. I never fought this urge, though, even as a child playing cowboys and Indians. This might have something to do with using my left eye for taking aim. It isn't necessarily stronger than my right eye, but it feels like the one I should use.

I had a caretaker back then, João, a caipira, which means a country person. He lived on my ranch with his wife and 3 kids. He was in his late 20s around that time, medium height, thin and good looking. João was an incredibly resourceful person when given the means. For example, he built his own house for about one third of the cost the low-end construction companies were charging, including materials. João handled everything, from getting a standard architectural design and government permits to overseeing purchases and construction. He built a little beauty, too: a pretty little three bedroom house. As it was so cheap, I let him have some extra money for fancy kitchen tiles and a few other luxuries. He was an excellent caretaker, did all the ranch upkeep and even took care of burglars.

Caipiras have their own grapevine, so if one person burps on a ranch on one side of the town, the whole network learns about it within a couple of hours. Nobody ever sees them talking or calling each other, though. They always seem to be busy with something country like digging or chopping or cleaning, or else standing around or sitting and watching life drift by.

João had some strange habits. For example, he started getting toothaches and went to the dentist three times. The last time he had the dentist pull out all his teeth and fit him up with dentures. He said that if that kind of pain was in his future, he would get it all over with one time. He could be practical to the extreme. That made him toothless at a young age.

He had a pet pig once. A porquinho caipira (a small country pig). He told me that the pig was a pretty little thing and more intelligent than any dog he ever had. That pig learned tricks, followed him around and became a wonderful friend. João told me he loved that pig.

I decided to give him a poke in the ribs. "Did you kill it and turn it into bacon?" I asked.

"No. After I got attached to the little thing, I didn't have the courage to do that," he said.

"So? What happened to it? Where did it go?"

"When it came of age, I sold it to my neighbor."


"He slaughtered it and ate it."

"Oh," I said.


João looked at me serenely with no sense of irony at all. I blinked my eyes. Was he a hunter or farmer right then? It was hard to say.

Like all good country folks, João knew about hunting. He told me the best place for a variety of game nearby was a mountain region a little over 200 kilometers to the south of São Paulo near the town of Registro. São Paulo sits on a plateau and when you go south, you go winding down through some of the steepest mountains surrounding São Paulo. Registro was right in the middle. I didn't realize what that meant until I got there, which was don't go hiking through steep mountains unless you are in very good physical shape.

I had no specific animal in mind to kill for my initiation rite into "fuller human experience," the nurturing of my Inner Hunter. There was only the word "game" bouncing around in my head, with images of woodland critters. João said Registro had lots of them so that sounded fine by me.

We decided to go down on a Sunday if it did not rain. Sunday came and it was about as beautiful a day as you could ever hope for – a wonderful, sunny, chipper day for some poor animal to be blasted off the face of the earth and devoured.

For one reason or the other, Jõao asked me to buy three bottles of cachaça, a Brazilian kind of rum, for the trip. I thought this was strange since I didn't like it and Jõao didn't drink alcohol. He wouldn't tell me why he wanted it.

The best I can describe pinga, which is another name for cachaça, is that it is made from sugar cane like rum. There is a point in distilling rum where it is not finished but you can drink it. That is the cutoff point for Brazilians. Pinga packs a wallop and the cheaper brands can redefine what the pain from a hangover feels like. The really horrible thing is the smell, which reminds you of a dirty foot if you are new to it. The cheaper it is, the smellier it is. Jõao said a real cheap brand would do and I went ahead and got the three bottles.

I had no idea of where we were going, so I packed a few sandwiches and our supplies. I always have liked driving in the country on a beautiful day, so this trip seemed to be smiling at us right at the start. While I was rolling along, enjoying the good vibes, Jõao told me that where we were going was government land. Hunting was against the law there but I was not to worry about it. I had not fully learned Brazilian casualness with some laws at that time, so this bothered me. It started nagging at me a great deal. I almost turned back right then and there, but Jõao told me we would have a guide: a caipira named Domingos who had lived on this land all his life. That was prohibited, too. Living on government land? Like squatting? I had never seen a squatter up close. OK, let's take this and see where she goes. I can always stop. I was intrigued.

We turned off on a dirt road and drove for quite a distance. Finally we came upon a ramshackle shack made out of odd pieces of plywood, pressed wood and boards thrown together any old way. It was a festival of bland colors: washed out yellow, green and orange breaking up a dirty brown and dark gray background. The door was open, so I could see that the floor was pounded earth. Domingos came out as we drove up.

He was the type of man I had only seen in the movies. He was old, with long disheveled white hair. His clothes were in tatters and he was barefoot. He was ugly. Time had written a message of rugged wisdom over his face, but not the wisdom that comes from doubting. This was a man who always knew his place in life. He adapted to his surroundings and learned them well.

As Jõao started talking to him, I thought this was the closest a white man can come to an Indian in the wild. Like Jõao, he was a caipira, but a very different kind. It was obvious to me that he was illiterate. Still, he had a huge store of practical wilderness knowledge. He was not a friend of soap and water, yet for some reason he did not smell bad. Jõao had a wife and children, ambition and gumption. This man didn't show any signs of wanting to improve his lot.

We were all hunters on that day. Domingos certainly was; that's how he ate. After he learned how to forage for food and put together a shelter and a few clothes, he stopped hunting for anything new in life. He was at peace with his shortcomings. He got around them by not wanting anything more than he had learned how to get. I suppose Jõao and I were more restless than Domingos. Jõao constantly hunted for new opportunities despite his limitations. I was there hunting for a new experience because I had so few difficulties in my own struggle for existence.

Were we happy? I would say so. Each of us was doing what he most wanted in life at that moment. According to the philosophy I had studied, Domingos was a loser, a bum, a castoff from humanity and Jõao was an unimportant common man. They were expected to be anxiety-ridden. I, on the other hand, was one of mankind's benefactors writing and performing exalted music to contribute to mankind's wealth. I was not supposed to be there with them on a basis of equality.

What I saw in front of me was nothing like what I had learned. I have no doubt that my vision for my own life was correct. I am a hunter and farmer of great achievements and I have had this urge to the heroic ever since I can remember. How about these two? Human greatness to Jõao was one small element in a varied but simple life and Domingos had no use for it at all. Neither of them displayed spiritual disquiet or even the slightest tinge of guilt. They both exuded serene peace about themselves. They had farmed their souls to grow something different than I had and they had done it well. Could it be that each of us had made the right choices for our lives? I think so. I think if either had suddenly adopted my vision of heroic grandeur, they would have become hopelessly miserable.

I learned from Objectivist books that these kinds of men were my enemies. They were relying on my brains and spirit like parasites. Neither could fend for himself against the harsh conditions of reality. What I observed was the contrary. They both could and did fend for themselves quite well. And I discovered an eye-opener. They both went along on that trip to protect me against my own ignorance. They went to guide me. Neither wanted to see me get hurt. I was about to recklessly go unprepared into the wilderness and I was the only one with a gun. They didn't need one. Machetes and knives were all they needed.

Would I ever want to be like these men? No. They would never want to be like me either. Yet here we were sharing a common experience with goodwill. Each of us had our own different reasons and interests for being there, but we all looked out for the safety of the other. That was an essential part in the mix of our motives. Maybe we had more in common than was apparent.

The difference in our attitudes could be seen in our footwear. You can tell a lot about a man by the way he connects to the earth as he walks. I normally wore dress shoes or fashionable footwear for leisure and sports. My job demanded that. For this trip, I had chosen a pair of hard-leather cowboy boots. They looked cool and they were rugged. They showed what a tenderfoot I really was, too. Later, as I doggedly traipsed up and down steep terrain through bushes and trees, exhausted, my feet started blistering in more places than I could count. Also, when we had to stomp through small streams to get to the other side, the leather got soaked and added a chill to the agonizing pain of the blisters.

The final indignity was about snakes. Jõao wore rubber boots that he could easily remove when he needed. He explained to me that if a snake bit a leather boot, its teeth would pierce straight through to the foot inside and the leather would hold it in place while all the venom drained into the person's wound. If it bit a rubber boot, the rubber usually curved the teeth downward, away from the foot. Jõao also had no problem crossing streams. When his boots got wet inside, we stopped. He then took them off, emptied them and dried everything with his shirt, while I looked on in misery and glanced around for snakes.

Domingos always kept his attention focused on the forest signs all around us since he had no footwear to care for at all. He went barefoot and had the ugliest feet I have ever seen up close. His toes were permanently splayed out like a cat's claws get when you pick it up from behind. The nails were rough, thorny, pocked and grayish. He had at least one centimeter of callus on his soles. His feet seemed like they were swollen, but I think this was due to the thickness of the calluses. I watched in wonder as he crushed large prickly briars underfoot and did not get cut by sharp stones as he tramped through the wilderness. He was completely oblivious to them. He told me that a snake's teeth could not penetrate that callus, but I didn't believe it. It seemed that even Domingos liked to tell a tall tale once in a while. I thought it more likely that he knew how to avoid snakes.

Before we went hiking into the woods, Jõao went to the car, got out one bottle of pinga and took it over to Domingos. I fought down the urge to say we had another two. This was Jõao's show. Domingos carried the bottle into in the shack and his brother came out with him, grinning. His brother was another caricature out of a movie, except he was pot-bellied while Domingos was slender, and he had black hair instead of white. He was even more filthy and raggedy than his brother and he stank. We chatted for a moment and he made it clear that only Domingos was going with us.

I asked if he had supplies for first-aid in case we needed them when we came back. They both laughed and proudly made an issue out of the fact that they had never been to a doctor or dentist in their entire lives. Even Jõao seemed amused at my amazement. As they laughed, I looked closer at their mouths. Domingos had all his teeth while his brother had a few missing. Jõao, of course, had dentures. Not to be left out, I remembered that I had all my teeth, but I had some fillings. Teeth seemed important at that moment. They seemed to indicate our different approaches to life.

Finally we set off. In addition to the cowboy boots, I did another incredibly stupid thing for someone who has to walk over rough terrain for hours. I packed a bunch of shotgun cartridges in a hard-leather pouch that hung from my belt. This became a source of irritation; then turned into torture as a blister formed around the left side of my waistline. I realized all too lately that backpacks exist and are widely used for a purpose.

That leather pouch was indicative of my mentality at that time. If I saw a lot of people doing one thing, I would do something different. I have since learned that this is a good sentiment but a lousy rule. You must always look into the "whys." I also took along a machete and a knife, both in sheathes hanging from my belt, but they did not bother me.

The first thing I noticed after we had been walking for about 5 minutes was that it was getting very dark, almost like nighttime. The trees extended up for 20 meters and higher and branched out as trees will do. The leaves provided more than shade; they were a dark green blanket covering the sky with small flashes of yellow that pierced through. As we walked, the dark stretches alternated with normal daylight and a blue sky in places where trees thinned out.

Domingos was our guide, so he led. I don't know why I was surprised when we came to places of thick foliage. Jõao would take the lead to start hacking with his machete. I saw why a knife was not enough. Without machetes, we would have been unable to continue. I remember being irritated by this since it slowed us down. It occurred to me that only a city-dweller would imagine that the wilderness should be different than it is while hunting.

Both Jõao and Domingos pointed out the secrets of the forest as we went along. There were animal tracks, medicinal plants, huge spiders, strange fruit and all sorts of interesting details. I was a little worried about snakes, but my desire to kill game was clouding my perception. I didn't even notice the sporadic bites from small bugs that came to drink our sweat and blood. I was especially interested in animal tracks. Regardless of what it was, a peccary (porco do mato – wild pig) or deer or other animal, I wanted to know how we could stalk it. The frustrating thing was that the tracks were always old. We did not come across fresh ones.

We stopped. Domingos and Jõao pointed up at the treetops. I use glasses because I am nearsighted. That is not a plus in the woods. I squinted and tried to fiddle with the angle of my glasses. I looked through some binoculars I brought along, but all I saw were leaves and more leaves. They said that there was a large bird perching in the branches, but looking for birds in the woods was too new to me. I couldn't tell the difference until the prey flew off. Then I saw it. This happened several times until my guides finally gave up on me. I was definitely not a game bird hunter.

When you live in civilization you don't notice things like thirst. I didn't pack a bottle of water among my supplies and after about three hours of walking, the thirst was becoming almost unbearable. This was ridiculous. Why couldn't I just go to the sink and get a glass of water? Well, for one thing, there was no sink.

I didn't tell Jõao and Domingos about it until I was extremely irritated. The farmer in me had been working against the hunter in my head for some time and there was a lot getting on my nerves. There were blisters on my waistline and feet, which also hurt from the cowboy boots. I was dog tired from going up and down steep hills. The bug bites were starting to itch. I didn't think I would sweat as much as I did and my clothes stuck to me. I had not fired a single shot because all the animal tracks were old and I couldn't see any birds. I finally broke down and said I needed water.

"Over there," said Jõao, pointing at a small creek.

"You want me to drink water from a creek?" I asked.

"There is no purer water on earth."

I was shocked. "What if there are thingies swimming around in it?"

Both of my guides laughed and we decided to take a break. During the last half-hour or so, I had noticed Domingos looking at me with a strange gleam in his eye. When I looked back, he glanced off. My antenna had started twitching. As I went over to the side of the creek and put my stuff down, I felt his eyes on me again. I was so thirsty I wanted to ignore it. But I looked back at him and this time he kept staring at me longer than before, then he looked off.

I cupped my hands and dipped them in the creek. As I drank, I had to fight down the urge to jump in and gulp like a madman. I decided to let my mind drift a bit, while still on the alert, as I looked over at Domingos and Jõao. There was another part of civilization I had always taken for granted: the police. Out here, there were no police. No telephones. I was literally at the mercy of these two. I didn't worry about Jõao. He was a friend and was extremely happy with his house and all the good things I had been doing for him. But I didn't know Domingos from Adam.

As my thirst became sated and my mind wandering, I noticed Domingos looking at my shotgun. Ah ha! That's what he wants. I, the hunter, was being lightly stalked for my gun by my own guide. Still, my impression that this guy was here to protect me wasn't all that wrong. He just had conflicting priorities all of a sudden and had been sizing up an unexpected opportunity. This is not a man who trades – he takes what he wants from the earth and moves on. I knew that Jõao would not let him do anything stupid, but I decided to nip it in the bud by doing what I knew how to do best in the wilderness: I bluffed.

I picked up the shotgun and started examining it. "Hey, Domingos. Did you ever see a gun like this?"

"It's big," he said with a poker face.

"Do you want to shoot it?"

"No sir."

I feigned surprise. "No? Come on over here. Let me show you how it works."

Jõao instinctively looked up. Domingos glanced off, but stepped a bit nearer. Jõao came closer also.

I cracked the gun open and took out the cartridges. I handed one to Domingos. He took a long time turning it over and looking at it. Too long. Way too long. Nobody said anything. The atmosphere became thick, almost in slow motion. Jõao's eyes kept going back and forth between Domingos and me. I unhurriedly took another cartridge out of my leather pouch and put it in the chamber. Then I loaded the one in my hand back in. Domingos was thinking real hard.

"Keep it," I said. "It's a souvenir."

Without warning, I brusquely snapped the gun shut with that satisfying loud khe-klck and struck the baddest badass pose I could muster. I tried to look like a frontiersman gazing at a pack of Indians. I got a real hard look on my face and stared right into Domingos's eyes without moving a muscle. Domingos stared back, meeting my eyes with an unreadable expression. Slow motion, which had been sliced in two by my abrupt movement, came to a standstill. Jõao didn't budge either, but I felt him get tense. Domingos's stare was like sharp needles of ice piercing into my soul. My anus started puckering up from fear. Still, I held my ground. After what felt like a long time, he blinked and looked away.

What a rush! I didn't know how I knew, but I knew, knew, that I had tamed Domingos. He was no longer a threat. This was borne out the rest of the trip. Not only did he not stare at me with that strange look anymore, he was extra helpful. He hacked foliage out of my way, gave me a plant for my blisters, showed me delightful things to nibble and taste and pointed out many more of the wilderness's secrets than before. I wish I had brought a video recorder along that day, or at least a tape recorder and camera. I do not have a good memory for small facts and I had already forgotten many of Domingos's observations by the end of the trip.

As we were looking at some animal tracks, I saw something that looked like a big cat paw imprint.

What's that?" I asked.

"Onça," said Jõao. "That's why the other animal tracks are so old. There is an onça wandering around scaring them off."

An onça is usually a jaguar in Portuguese, but it can be a puma (any number of smaller wild cats). This news excited me. I had been in the wilderness about three-and-a-half hours and had not fired a shot. But suddenly I had something really fine to shoot at. My idea of transforming an animal into a meal now became pitting my macho prowess against one of nature's prime predators. I was a badass. I had just proved myself by bluffing down a real-life hunter. I felt invincible.

Domingos looked up from the track. "It's time to go back, senhor."

I tried to make myself look tougher. "What?" Come on. We have to get this thing."

"He's right," said Jõao. "We have to go. If not, we won't have enough daylight to get back. You don't want to be out here in the dark."

"What about the onça?" I asked. "We're just going to let him get away?"

Jõao looked around, concerned. "He's been circling us. He's been doing that since we started."

This irritated me. "Why didn't you tell me that back there?"

"I didn't think he was going to stay with us and I didn't want to scare you."

Domingos bent down and felt the track with his hand. "You still might shoot him, senhor. He watches us. He will follow us back."

I couldn't argue with that. I was completely out of my element. I thought about Beethoven and Mozart for some reason. They didn't mean anything out here in the wilderness. The man I had just faced down was much more valuable right now than these musical treasures of mankind. The field of fine arts is a farmer thing. It is for civilization. It doesn't come from hunters.

What about philosophy? What did my books tell me about hunting jaguars? Big ass, mean, hungry, dangerous jaguars? That I needed my mind? That I couldn't fake reality? Well, even in my macho enthusiasm, I knew the stakes had gotten much higher here in the wilderness. I didn't need any book right then to tell me that.

I should have been producing something with my mind, not tramping through a tropical forest hunting my inner demons against unknown dangers. Still, I couldn't shake off the feeling that there was something so very right about this trip. This was me – my life. It could have ended easily that afternoon, yet I felt alive in a manner I had never experienced before. I was in a world where opinions didn't matter at all, but what I did mattered a whole lot. That onça certainly didn't read books or listen to music. He didn't need to. He could read me.

We started back. Now that I knew what to look for, I kept seeing the onça tracks everywhere, even where they were not. I was hot to get that beast in my sights. Some of the torture of my blisters and weariness left. Out of nowhere, we came across a bunch of leaves and leftovers from some reddish-looking fruit I did not know. Domingos and Jõao grinned at each other.

"Senhor," said Domingos. "You might get some game after all."

"What do those signs mean?" I asked.

"Monkeys," said Jõao.

"Monkeys?" I asked. I didn't quite understand.

Domingos kept smiling and started licking his chops. "They are very good eating."

I could not believe what was starting to dawn on me. "Monkeys?"

Jõao and Domingos looked at each with good natured exasperation. They must have thought I was nuts, but I had no intention of killing and eating a damn monkey. That was too close to my own species. I know what I said about turning an animal into a meal, but hell, I didn't include monkeys in that mental image.

"No monkeys," I said. "Let's keep looking for the onça."

They shrugged with resignation and we continued. I got the feeling that the onça became bored with us to the extent it became enchanted with the monkeys. There were no more fresh tracks and obviously jaguars have no restrictions against monkey meat.

I was tired and we were getting near the end of the hike. Dog tired. Jõao called for a break right as I was dreaming of getting into my car, sitting down and doing nothing for a while, not even hitting the road. But instead of stopping with us, he disappeared. My mind was too numb to even wonder why. After a while he came back with what looked like a long branch.

He held it out like a prize. "Palmetto," he said.

Jõao had climbed up a young palm tree about 10 meters tall, bent it over to the ground with his weight and cut off over a meter of the topmost tip. When he got that home, his wife would extract the heart of palm from it. He explained to me that the type of tree he found would die from having the tip cut off. That kind of heart of palm, the mopst delicious kind, was becoming difficult to find.

He was extremely embarrassed about going home to his wife without any game. That is why he started looking around for whatever he could find, even if it meant hunting vegetation. As we came into the final clearing, I pointed at some small birds perched in a nearby tree.

I go an idea and looked at Jõao. "Is a small bird good enough to take home and cook?"

He scratched his ear. "It's something."

"Stand back!"

Striking a badass pose, I took aim and proudly fired the first shot of the day. We heard an incredible rustling and crackling noise as leaves and branches slowly fell to the earth. A bunch of feathers floated randomly in the air. Jõao, Domingos and I looked at each other and broke out laughing.

"Let me get another one," I said.

So I opened fire three more times on small birds with the same results: lots of noise and large parts of trees rattling to the ground with feathers all over the place. Jõao went over to the trees and look around. He was unable to find the bodies of the birds I shot. I had blown them to smithereens.

Jõao disappeared again, but soon showed up carrying a huge bunch of bananas. Then he did something I only saw him do once during the whole time I knew him. He got a strange look on his face and recited a poem:

"Cassamos. Matamos?

Matamos não.

Pelo menos temos

Banana na mão."

Roughly translated, this means: "We hunted. Did we kill anything? No, we didn't kill anything. At least we are carrying bananas." Then he started dancing. I thought it was funny to see him like that. I laughed. This was not the Jõao I knew.

"Snake!" Jõao yelled. "This one's the bad kind."

After the bunch of bananas fell on the ground and Jõao kept jumping back, I realized that he wasn't dancing. There really was danger at hand. Well, well, well. The moment is at hand. I approached and saw a small snake about a half-meter long, poised and mean-looking.

Jõao was warily eyeing the snake from out of reach. "Be careful. This one is very poisonous."

"No problem," I said, taking aim. I opened both barrels of my 12-gauge on that little creature at point blank range. Bits of snake flew about everywhere. A small crater appeared in the ground where it had been. I cracked the gun open and started removing the two cartridges.

Jõao grinned. "I think you got it."

"That was a lucky shot," said Domingos.

"Lucky?" I asked. "I was too close for lucky."

"Like this, senhor." Domingos took out his machete and started hitting the ground with the back side. "You kill a snake by breaking its bones first. If you chop off its head, it can still jump and bite you."

We heard a drunken bellow from nearby. "Pinga! I want some pinga!"

"What's that?" I asked Jõao. He smiled.

Domingos yelled back, "There ain't no more pinga. You drank it all, you bum!"

I went over to the shack. That was where the bellow had come from. I looked in and Domingos's brother was lying on top of the remains of a dead campfire in the middle of the room. He was even dirtier than before from the charcoal. He was leering and weaving.

"You have more pinga for me?" he asked.

I was disgusted. "You mean you let your brother do all the work and you drank all the pinga? That was a rotten thing to do."

He interrupted and drowned me out. "Pinga! I want some pinga!"

I went out of the shack to get away from the noise. I saw Jõao go over to the car and get the other two bottles of cachaça. He carried them over to Domingos.

"You can give him one if you like," Jõao said to Domingos, who grinned from ear to ear. "If I were you, I would hide one and drink this by yourself."

Domingos's whole countenance softened. "Thank you, senhor. Thank you. Thank you."

"We have to go," said Jõao. "Goodbye."

"Go with God," said Domingos, holding up a bottle.

"Goodbye," I said. I took one last look at those amazingly thorny feet of his before turning around and getting into the car. As we drove away, we could still hear the voice of Domingos's brother, getting fainter.

"Pinga! I want some pinga!"

I never did find out if Domingos shared the rest of the cachaça with his brother or not. I did learn what happened to the jaguar, though. This animal was a protected species in Brazil, even back then. However, this onça was very big and had been killing the domestic animals and livestock of the people living around the government land where I had hunted.

The locals, with help from some politicians from Itapecirica da Serra, set a trap for the onça by tying a goat to a stake as bait with a trap to entangle the beast. After three or four days of waiting, the onça did appear and was duly snared. The men then set their hounds loose on it. Several vicious hunting dogs lost their lives that night, one after another, as they were flayed and sliced to pieces. Finally the men showed up and shot it.

The politicians from Itapecirica da Serra were so proud of having bagged a jaguar that they skinned it and put the hide on display at town hall. They called a press conference to show it off. As the animal was on the endangered species list, the politicians almost had to resign from office after this news hit the press.

I know that I was extremely lucky with the onça. I only came across its tracks on my hike. If we had met face to face, I probably would have lost my life, even with a 12-gauge shotgun and two guides. I simply didn't have enough experience. If I had miraculously killed this jaguar, I can only imagine the torture of carrying him up and down those steep hills in soaked cowboy boots on blistered feet.

Knowing me, I would not have had enough sense to keep my mouth shut, either. I didn't have the political friends in Brazil I have today, so my fortune probably would have been a stiff fine and even a jail sentence. Instead, I bagged a vivid memory that has accompanied me for years. I learned a lot about myself that day.

A few months after this hunt, I went to the USA on vacation with my girlfriend to meet her sister. We went to upstate New York. There I met Charley (not his real name, which I have changed for this story), the husband of my girlfriend's sister. He was a hunter, but of a different kind.

There are people in life you run across who always seem to be competing. Inside my own thoughts, I call it trying to outrun the wind. No matter how fast they go, the wind always beats them and another wind comes at them from a different direction. Off they go. These people always run around in circles.

Charley was that way. When we met, he kept sizing me up from top to bottom with his eyes. They never stopped looking me over, regardless of what we were talking about. I was thin and he was slightly pot-bellied. He would immediately suck his belly in if he saw me. When I talked about Brazil, he kept bringing up some of his former travels to Alaska. I tested it and it became funny. All I had to do was say Brazil and out popped Alaska within two minutes.

I mentioned I had an old 12-gauge shotgun and he instantly showed me his two brand new 20-gauge automatic shotguns. He kept harping on the fact that a 20-gauge will do just as much damage as a 12-gauge will, that you can only kill something dead once, that a 20-gauge certainly does that, and so on. He seemed really uncomfortable with the number 12 since it was something he did not have.

When we discussed our relationships, he made a point of telling me that he kept his wife under control. But I could tell that he was unhappy with her. At night, he asked me to go with him to a bar. I asked if his wife was coming. He said he didn't take her there and he didn't want her sister along either. The nightly jaunt to the bar was to get out of the house, where he felt cooped up. He didn't really do anything special at the bar. There were free sandwiches, lots of noise from conversation competing with a jukebox and a swarm of loud working-class people.

Charley got a big laugh from a group of listeners out of a story about a woman who apparently had slept with all the men in the neighborhood who wanted to. She lived in a trailer by herself. She had a mutt that she refused to lock up when things got hot and heavy. The dog would then jump in and lick them in the most unseemly places. It was clear that this story was old, but everybody laughed as if it were the latest gossip.

I wondered what on earth Charley was hunting. I could not detect any signs of building a life. He merely took the important things as he found them. During the entire visit, his focus was on trying to outdo me in everything.

Nowadays, I avoid this kind of person. I love to learn and do things – old and new – and spread good vibes around to others. When a person like this guy is around, my attention is constantly being diverted from what I am thinking and doing. I find myself being put on the defensive all the time. It is almost an automatic reaction. These people are fun-drainers.

When we got to drinking, Charley competed with me like the world was ending. He made it a point to out-drink me every time we sat down together. I was an extremely heavy drinker back then, but I always tried to keep to a minimum health threshold. This meant that if I started throwing up, I would stop drinking. Charley didn't. He would come back from the bathroom and keep on until he saw me stop. Then he would pass out.

I saw what "hair of the dog" meant in practice. When we woke up with hangovers, I wanted to wait until I felt better before even entertaining the thought of alcohol. It physically hurt to think the word "whiskey." I dug into the aspirin and Alka Seltzer. While I was putting my head back together, Charley got in my face with a smirk and a glass half-full of the cheap whiskey we drank the night before.

"Here's the way I do it," he said. He knocked the glass back then shuddered as if he was dying a painful death.

"Shew, God!" he blurted out. I thought he was going to be sick again. I just couldn't watch that so I went to the other room. After about five minutes, Charley showed up, calm and easy, glass in hand and grinning.

I was appalled. "I don't know how you can do that."

He became content in the manner of a cat that just ate a mouse. He stopped competing for a while and seemed happier at that moment than the whole time I saw him.

When I told Charley about my hunt in Brazil, he interrupted me to call someone. He told them we would be over in the morning. He later explained that he was going to show me what real hunting meant. Despite the one-upmanship, this interested me. I still dreamed of turning a wild animal into a meal. Maybe I could do that here. We went out to a deserted area to target practice. I needed to get the feel of his gun before I took it on a hunt.

I found one detail extremely interesting. In Brazil, the cartridges I used were made out of cardboard tubes attached to a brass foot. The ones Charley had were made out of molded plastic and a brass foot. Strangely enough, you could reuse the cardboard cartridges by putting in a new firing cap, gunpowder and shot. It was impossible to do this with plastic cartridges. They were heat sealed and the ends became too ragged for reuse after being shot. Also, I was informed that it was against the law to reuse them.

Charley's 20-gauge was a light gun, even when fully loaded. This made it easy to carry. Despite being a smaller bore, it also made the kick much worse than my 12-gauge. I got a bruise on my left shoulder from shooting it only a few times. I learned to press it tight against my body to lessen the kick.

We arrived at a rugged-looking cabin. A middle-aged couple greeted us and asked us to come in and make ourselves at home. Charley took the lady aside and went in first; then they into another room. I think he was paying her for our use of the land. When they came back, they started asking me a lot of things about Brazil. The lady encouraged me to brag about myself with many oohs and aahs. Everybody smiled a lot. They complimented me on my choice of gun, as if I were an expert.

Warning bells were going off in my head. I like friendly people, but not overly-friendly right off the bat. I especially don't like people who make a production out of admiring me without knowing anything about me. I had only hunted once in my life. How did that make me an expert on choosing a shotgun all of a sudden? All I did was take what I could get.

After some more small talk, we were told to go out, but to wait for fifteen minutes before getting to the hunting area. I thought this was very strange thing to say, but I kept my peace. We got in the car and drove to a field with lots of trees and hills all around us. Charley and I got out of the car and started walking. The sky was dismal and slightly overcast as if the sun were pushing through a crowd of grayish clouds to let the blue through. While we were talking about nothing in particular, Charley suddenly jumped up.

Over to our left two game birds had started flying up and away. Charley started firing one round after another until he emptied his gun. I was looking on, startled.

"Shoot, goddamit!" he yelled at me.

I aimed and took a couple of shots, but the birds had flown too far off. Then another two appeared. I got a bead on one bird and started following it with the sight, but I aimed just a tiny bit in front. I pushed the gun hard against the bruise on my shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger. The impact from the shot still hurt, but the bird fell from the sky. The other was getting away. I took another couple of shots, but it was already too far away to follow. My shots were pretty wild, so that bird had a lucky day.

I looked at Charley, pleased. "What birds were they?"


Well. I had just shot my first pheasant. Now all I had to do was go get it, dress it, cook it and eat it to finish my plan. I wanted to wait to see if more birds would appear, but Charley was getting impatient.

"Let's go get the damn thing," he said.

"Is there any danger that it will be eaten by another animal?" I asked.

"No. I just want to see the face of the bird I shot."

I thought I didn't hear correctly. He shot? No. That was wrong. I shot the pheasant.

"You shot?" I asked, incredulously.

"Yeah. Didn't you just stand there and watch me?"

"Charley, I shot that bird. You emptied your gun on the first two and missed. I shot this one. You didn't even have time to reload."

"You want to argue about it? I reloaded and shot the damn bird!"

I was stunned. I had expected anything but this. I didn't know what to say. Charley started stomping off in the direction of the fallen pheasant.

"I'm going to go get it," he said, belligerently.

I followed behind.

I tried to think of a way to break through his attitude. "What if more birds appear?"

"You shoot them. I've already got mine."

I decided not to argue with him at that moment. My elation at the kill had been spoiled and my mind was still halfway involved in the idea of an honest hunt. Suddenly, one mental foot was in nature and the other in human interaction. I felt disoriented. I had been hunting one kind of experience on this trip. A vastly different one was in front of me. I started forcing myself to try to understand.

It seemed incredible that this guy would lie to me in my face, especially as I was holding lethal force in my hands. If I were a hot-tempered person, I could have done something very stupid. I could kill him easily and say that it was an accident. What was this guy counting on? Carrying destructive power around becomes comfortable. A person no longer notices it, but that doesn't make it any less lethal. I was new at hunting, but I knew that a good habit was to constantly remind myself of this. Why didn't he?

On the way over to find the dead bird, I noticed that no more birds had been flying around. There was no other game either. Nothing. There were hardly even any bugs. When we got to the pheasant, Charley picked it up and held it out with grave importance for inspection.

"A nice clean shot," he said contentedly. I forced myself to keep silent. Time slowed down a whole lot while we looked at the carcass hanging from his hand. As I stood there, I kept wondering, what was Charley after? A bird he didn't kill? There was more, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

We walked back to the car without talking. When we got to the cabin, the couple greeted us as if we were loved ones who just came back from a war. Charley started explaining in detail all that had happened.

His ears had suddenly become sharp enough to have heard the deer wandering about, his touch sensitive enough to tell how many times the wind changed direction, his keen eyesight had spotted the birds almost before they took off, and of course there was his infallible aim. He magnanimously mentioned that he only wanted to kill one bird because he wanted to save the other three for me. Otherwise he would have bagged all four. The couple spilled awe and wonder over Charley's story like syrup over pancakes. Everybody ate it up except me.

"Did you enjoy the hunt?" the lady asked me sweetly. "Charley said it was your second time." She was all ears for anything I might have to say.

"It was OK," I said. "There weren't any animals other than the four birds."

"At least you had your quota," she said.


"Why yes. Your quota was two pheasants each plus anything else you might find on your own."

My mouth started dropping open. "I don't understand."

The man spoke up. "We raise pheasants out back. When a person comes to hunt, his fee includes two of them. That way if natural game is scarce in the woods that day, at least he has two birds to shoot at."

"If they're out back… and we're out there… I don't understand," I said.

The man warmed to his subject. "We put them in a cage and drive them to a special spot where we set them free. That's why we ask you to wait for fifteen minutes."

The lady added, "We cover their heads with hoods. When we get to the spot, we spin them around before taking the hoods off. Then we release them. That way they don't fly off too fast."

I was flabbergasted. "You raise these pheasants like on a farm?"

"Why yes. You could put it that way," she said.

"Then you make them dizzy?"

"Just a little."

I burst out laughing. I thought I was out in the wild. Instead of hunting wild animals, I was hunting farm raised animals with a handicap. I noticed ruefully that I had the biggest handicap of all: the guy I was with. He had no commitment to the truth. Somebody like that with a gun in his hands could be dangerous outside of civilization. The couple looked offended by my laughter.

"Now that I know that," I said, still laughing. "I should come back for another hunt."

"You better do it before next Sunday," the man said.


"Hunting season ends."


The lady looked at me self-righteously. "That is when the animals mate. It's illegal to kill the young." She shook her head, knowingly, like a first grade school teacher talking to her class. "Besides, we don't want to interfere with Mother Nature."

I looked at her and blinked a few times. I stopped laughing. I studied the couple more closely. I wondered what they were hunting. It seemed like they believed half of everything they said and knew the other half was a lie. Their enthusiasm for us was phony, yet part of it was real. Were they hunters too? What did they want? It occurred to me that Charley and I might be their prey on some level.

After we got to Charley's home, we went back to drinking. I got so fed up hearing him brag about our adventure that I almost lost it a couple of times. The drink didn't help, either. People get loudmouthed when they drink a lot. Yet I decided not to contradict him. It wasn't that I was afraid of him. I thought something was seriously wrong with the whole situation and I had to understand it. This was far more important than getting entangled in a shouting match over who shot a bird. Neither of us would have given in to the other anyway.

Charley's drinking got visibly worse during my visit. About six months later, I learned that he died from blowing his pancreas to pieces with cheap whiskey. He kept up his hair-of-the-dog habit on a daily basis and it destroyed him. I think he was still competing with me long after I left.

Charley lost his serenity somewhere along the way and tried to find it in beating others at anything he could. When nobody was around, he tried to compete against his memories. He forced himself to hunt in the wrong places when he needed to farm. He never learned his own nature.

I retired from killing animals in the wild. Jõao and Domingos had taught me how much I didn't know. Charley showed me clearly what I didn't want in my life. I didn't want to hunt or live his way. If I wanted to become good at hunting in the wilderness, I needed to study and practice a whole lot more. But my path was in fine arts and intellectual pursuits. I couldn't do both and do them well, so I stopped. I chose my intellect and filed my hunting memories away.

Over the years, I have faced countless situations that reminded me of my Brazilian hunt. I have rushed into dangerous predicaments without any preparation whatsoever, but there were always people of goodwill who cared enough to look out for me. They did not let me get hurt as much as I should have been. Many of my troubles with women, jobs and addiction were like that.

I tried several times to get close to spiritual organizations – religious, philosophical or social – but they always ended up being like my second hunt. They were attractive at first and made a lot of sense. But after I studied them and the people who ran them, I discovered that their truths were like those hapless birds: hatched in captivity, covered with hoods, then spun until they became dizzy before being set free. I also noticed the mendacity of those who caught hold of such processed truths, just like Charley lied about shooting the pheasant. I do not approve of this, so I do not stick around such people.

For as much as I acquired new friends and loves in my drifting, I always had to move on. I needed to see things for myself. I never allowed roots to take hold anywhere and I have been a loner most of my life, even when I have been in groups. I am now at a stage where I long to settle down. I feel roots reaching for the ground and I have learned the deeply satisfying peace of accepting my own nature.

Did I ever find what I was hunting? The meaning of life? In the sense I was seeking, I don't think anyone ever does. What I did find over the years was a young boy in a middle-aged man's body. I am that boy. I have hunted all my life for those parts of myself that I didn't understand while I farmed the backyard of my soul. Is there any more to living? I don't know. All I can say is that I'm still hunting, even while settling down. Now dear reader, if you will excuse me. I must tend to the garden of my achievements while I daydream about the onças that got away.

Link to post
Share on other sites


I just wanted to let you know that someone read your article -- avidly -- and has "thousands" (or more?) "thoughts" (images, recollections -- from my horses, horses, horses past -- questions, strains of desire..., enduring puzzlements re human life, re life itself) triggered. I hope I'll have time to say more than just, I read it and was extremely interested by it. But for now, I'll at least say that.



Link to post
Share on other sites

I too read the entire article last night and have some thoughts I would like to add when I get time to stop and formulate them. Right now work beckons so I will have to wait till this evening.


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a great story and you are an amazing storyteller and an extremely talented writer. I always love hearing about your adventures. It makes me purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!

Eu te amo Michael. Mais do que eu posso dizer no inglês ou no português. Mal posso esperar para ir a Brasil e ter algumas aventuras com você! Mas nenhuma arma, por favor. Eu te amo eu te amo eu te amo.... Seu Gatinho


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you folks for the good vibes and kind thoughts. I still intend to do a couple of revisions on this (on rereading it, I even found a couple of typos - the type that pass the spell checker, like "no" instead of "not").

Frankly, I wrote it to do something other than the wave of nastiness that has been the online Objectivist world recently. I certainly enjoyed writing it. I'm honored you enjoyed reading it.


Link to post
Share on other sites


I struggle with symbolism and metaphor. I am not very intuitive in this regard. I recognize symbols and metaphorical connections and I can see the value they bring to human insight and understanding, not to mention the pure pleasure and humour they can afford us, but, for me, it is hard work to make the connections. I see in others– in Ellen’s response to your story for example, or in Gary Williams’ or William Scherk’s stylized expressions– intuitive talents I do not possess. There seems to be much missing in a life that has little to no intuitive grasp of metaphoric communication. I associate my lack of development in this area ultimately to an internal war I waged against my own dream state as a young child, that resulted in my disowning my intuitive capacity for symbolism and metaphor. (Ellen, you may see here the root of my desire to read Jung.) I am now learning to appreciate and slowly grow that side of myself. This is the psychological point I approach your story from.

I enjoyed the story for the story’s sake but finding some of its deeper meaning required considerable effort on my part. The two primary symbols, the hunter and the farmer, represent two primary sides of life, two ways of being, two psychological approaches to existence that tend to divide people into two categories, and even divide a single person into two halves.

Of the “hunter”you wrote, “A hunter uses his mind for killing, but he stalks and seeks out prey in the prey’s own habitat. He pits his mind against his prey.” The hunter lives in and flows with the moment. He is all about here and now. His environment, his prey, his body, his mind, flow as a complete interconnected system. His mind exists in a state of causal flow whereby his being is a conduit for and his actions are determined by the flow of his environment in the context of his own self-programmed goals. He is a node in a web of relationships and interactions that determine how he ought to and does behave given his motives. Reality flows through him the way the game flows through an athlete. He does not have to think his actions, they are an automatic integration of the interactions of the whole game, in that moment, with his goal. I have never hunted but I am definitely a “hunter.”

Of the “farmer” you said, “A farmer grows things. More precisely, he cultivates growing. He provides controlled conditions for nature to do its magic.” The farmer is at the centre of his world. He conceives of time spanning from the past to the future with little focus on the meaning of the present other than how it connects the past to the future. He measures his world. He identifies its elements and patterns by marking them with symbols. He assigns what he sees to categories to make everything organized and controlled. He evaluates his environment from the context of his motives. He makes plans about what must be done to shape the world and provide for his wants. His actions determine how the environment behaves. He always has a contingency plan. You say you are primarily a farmer. I am not. But, as you have dabbled in “hunting,” I have learned the value of the “farmer” in me.

In the symbols of the “farmer” and the “hunter” I see many of the things I have been talking about since joining this forum. I see two modes of causation that have a common root (See here). I see two modes of being, of thinking and processing information about reality, that divide people into two categories but exist in each of us (See here). I see two approaches to epistemology that divide the history of philosophy but work best when they are brought together (See here). I hope I have not missed the mark and read something into your symbols which you did not intend.

While I am weak on symbolic intuition, as a compensating feature, I am strong on causal intuition. Causal intuition is a strength of the hunter. I hope you like a hunter’s angle on your story.


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi, Michael. You have another very intriguing piece of writing there. By now, you must have at least two volumes of autobiography compiled!

I view myself as being more of a hunter/seeker than a builder/farmer, if I may expand your categories a bit. I have my own pet theory as to the nature of the two kinds of people -- their personality types, psycho-epistemologies, etc. But I'll spare you most of that here, now.

I think I have a similar, if not identical view to Paul, in that I think hunting/seeking, or being a hunter-gatherer -- especially of the more cerebral/spiritual sort -- involves a certain kind of "worldly" (Paul called it "causal") intuition. I think it fits what the Jungians call "extraverted intuition," and what I call the "Apollonian," "muse-seeking" temperament.

Anyway, just for grins and comparison/contrast, I thought I'd post a portion of an essay I posted on my website ("Confessions of a Would-Be Mathematician"). It explains a little bit more what really gets my juices going in life -- whether in math, music, genealogy, philosophy, or whatever.



I love music because it lets me exercise my ingenuity and senses of humor and beauty in creating patterns. I love math for similar reasons: using ingenuity to build patterns.

The way I like to do music is artistic and inventive, creating expressive patterns that didn’t exist before. But math (the way I like to do it) is more like detective work, finding patterns that already exist.

So, if I had been a mathematician, it would have been for the thrill of the chase, the joy of discovering the elusive pattern, the pleasure of capturing the wily theorem. Like a Sherlock Holmes of numbers.

It’s also very similar to science. In a chapter of Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning (1954), Stanford professor George Polya wrote about “Guessing and Scientific Method.” He spoke of:

an aspect of mathematics which is as important as it is rarely mentioned: mathematics appears here as a close relative to the natural sciences, as a sort of “observational science” in which observation and analogy may lead to discoveries.

That’s what I like best about mathematics: the opportunity to be a scientist, to explore and discover what exists. In general, as a matter of fact, I am powerfully drawn to investigating, to finding the hidden, deep truth – whether on the concrete level (tracing “lost” people in the past or present, understanding what makes a person “tick”) or the abstract level (philosophy, psychology, mathematics, etc.).

It’s not just curiosity, wanting knowledge and understanding. It’s more like being a hunter-gatherer, stalking the elusive, hidden fact or essence. My various strengths, such as logic or ingenuity or abstract thinking ability, all seem channeled into my desire to track down something and say, “Gotcha!”

Link to post
Share on other sites

How interesting, the different associations/connections to which different people were inspired by that story. What happened for me, after a series of memories about the conflict between my desire to go West and run a horse ranch and my desire to go East and experience New York City (I went East, and then met Larry, and then stayed East), was the yen to read a book which has been on my "to read" list for years: Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. I ordered the book, and it's arrived. It seems the perfect book I want to read before I return to Budapest this summer. (I'll be returning there for a Symmetry conference; I was there the summer of 2003 -- first time I ever went to Europe -- for an earlier such conference.) Budapest in particular, Hungary in general was the historic scene of many clashes between the hunter-gatherers (who had become the warrior horse people) and the settled-community dwellers. To this day "Attila," spelled with Hungarian spelling, is a common name there, devolving from the original of the name. The bell-boy -- a most non-"Attila" sort of person -- at the hotel where the 2003 conference was held was named, in Hungarian, after that legendary horse-riding warrior.



Link to post
Share on other sites


As I read your article I can't help but think of the early days in this country(a favorite part of history for me) when the settlers would have to wear both hats. Often switching from one to the other by the simple act of laying down the hoe and picking up the gun. This would also entail a neccessary change of mental processes as to what the task at hand demanded.

As a young boy I was introduced to both worlds, and although we lived in a small city my parents had both been taught how to farm and grow vegetable gardens. My father married my mother when she was sixteen and he was twentynine, an occurence that took place not long after WWII ended and he returned home. He then taught her how to hunt which she did for a long time untill a near fatal accident happened and she never went again.

These things were passed on to me as well as being taught how to fish, gig frogs, kill snakes(a hoe is a highly effective snake killer), and the like. Most all of the people we associated with were involved in these activities to one degree or the other. So to me this was just part of life experience to which I was subjected in my early years and which I took for granted never giving it any deep amount of thought other than that was just something we did.

One thing did surface in my mid twenties and it happened while I was squirrel hunting with a friend early one morning; When we squirrel hunted using shotguns we would would use light pellets such as a number eight to keep from damaging the meat too much and winding up with little food for the effort. The problem with this is that at times you will knock them out of the tree and disable them, but they will not be dead. In this case the humane thing to do is to finish killing them and that was usually accomplished by hitting thier head up against a tree a couple of times. On this occasion I had shot one particular squirrel and when I picked him up he was still fairly alert, so I did what I had always done, but for some unknown reason this squirrel would not die and it took several times before he did. I can still picture myself standing there holding the dead squirrel and having a realization that I didn't really like squirrel meat that much and the thrill of the hunt had not been there for a while, so why was I still doing it. Except for a few times of going bird hunting that was the end of my hunting career. If I or my family was hungry I would not hesitate to go back to it and I do not fault anyone who enjoys it, but for me it holds no real attraction and I much prefer to fish.

I, like Paul, have a little problem with translating the literal concepts of hunters or farmers into a metaphorical construct of my behavior or psych. and upon contemplation of it I came to the conclusion that like the early settlers I switch modes to fit the situation.

One last thing is that I would disagree with your guide on snake killing. A snake with a broken back is still deadly because he is writhing and can still bite. but a snake with no head can strike at you with the body yet since there is no head, fangs, or poison about the worst he can do is make you hurt yourself trying to get out of his way.


ps-- From people I have talked to and books which I have read about it, the big drawback to hunting large cats is all too often the hunter becomes the hunted. If you ever hear a big cat scream at night close by and your out there with just a light and a handgun in their environment with the darkness of the Stygian variety and a full realization that he knows where you are, but you have little idea where he is, then you will have an experience you won't soon forget. The blood has a tendency to freeze and you can get an idea of how the prey must feel and it becomes hard not to pee your pants.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you others. I am very pleased I touched you and made you think. (I always like good metaphors, too.) I found each of your thoughts and stories fascinating.

One last thing is that I would disagree with your guide on snake killing. A snake with a broken back is still deadly because he is writhing and can still bite. but a snake with no head can strike at you with the body yet since there is no head, fangs, or poison about the worst he can do is make you hurt yourself trying to get out of his way.


There is a misunderstanding here. When you blow a snake to pieces with a shotgun and the head comes off, or even if you cut the head off, usually a part of the body remains. That is what the snake jumps with and that is what Domingos was warning me against. He also said you end up crushing the head with a rock or something after you break its bones. I left that out by oversight and will add it in a revision.

Obviously if you manage just to cut off the head without any of the body hanging on, you have essentially killed the snake. But who is willing to get close enough to a live poisonous snake in the wilderness to decide where it should be cut? Also, how surgical can you get with a 12-gauge shotgun at close range? For me, I just pointed and pulled both triggers.


Anyway, Domingos apparently killed his snakes the way he told me and João told me that Domingos's way was correct. so in that part of Brazil, the caipiras kill snakes by breaking their bones first. I haven't tried it out.


Link to post
Share on other sites


I understood your way of killing the snake and trust me I believe blowing one to bits is highly effective. After that you just leave them alone and let the scavengers have what's left. O:)

I would have still disagreed with Domingos' way simply because if you can get close enough to break his back with the backside of the machete, you're close enough to chop him in two. Of course as a rule I just leave snakes to their own business unless they pose some danger to children or pets.


Link to post
Share on other sites

My image of the snake in the story as I read Michael's tale was of a not-very-long -- at most about a foot -- but extremely deadly species, such that one could get close enough to disable it by breaking the spine but not close enough to attempt surgical precision by cutting off just the head.



Link to post
Share on other sites

Michael, what a fascinating story! You are a natural writer -- don't ever let anyone convince you to do too much polishing; you have your own unique style, which you should treasure.

I, too, had more reactions to your evocative story than I can yet sort out. In a way, you remind me of myself as a young girl My hero was Tarzan, and I loved to imagine myself in the jungle, swinging from tree to tree with a kind of freedom I had never experienced but could only imagine. Perhaps that was the hunter in me.

But I was also a farmer. I was in love with the written word as far back as I can remember. My special Eden was the public library a couple of miles from my home, where I would choose the books I'd take home according to how fat they were. I could only borrow four books at a time, so I'd usually select those with the most number of pages -- which is how I discovered Thomas Wolfe and Victor Hugo and Dickens, among others, and how I found myself struggling with writers such as Plato and Neitzsche long before I could fully understand them.

I had one experience that I dearly loved, that united the hunter and the farmer in me, and that I I lived across the street from a river, and I would often go to the river bank with a book to read and dream and imagine what my future would be. One day, I realized that I could reach the library if I walked some distance along the river bank, but it required pushing through patches of bushes and undergrowth. So I did it. I scratched my face and arms and legs and dirtied my clothes, but the Tarzan in me swung the machete I didn't have and I made my way to the Eden of my books.

Life can be strange indeed, and sometimes one has the feeling of having come full circle. I was in Winnipeg, my home town, two years after the publication of The Passion of Ayn Rand. For the first time since I was that young girl, I decided, out of a feeling of nostalgia, to visit my libary. It looked the same as it always had, and I walked among the stacks feeling as if I were again twelve years old -- when suddenly I saw a familiar book jacket. It was The Passion of Ayn Rand. I won't try to say what that meant to me -- I can't -- but I stood in the aisle of my library with tears running down my face.


Link to post
Share on other sites

Barbara, you wrote:

For the first time since I was that young girl, I decided, out of a feeling of nostalgia, to visit my libary. It looked the same as it always had, and I walked among the stacks feeling as if I were again twelve years old -- when suddenly I saw a familiar book jacket. It was The Passion of Ayn Rand. I won't try to say what that meant to me -- I can't -- but I stood in the aisle of my library with tears running down my face.

I can only imagine the event but I can feel intimately what such an experience would mean to me. It is glimpses of such feelings that drive me into the unknown seeking my potential. Thanks for sharing this.


Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 6 months later...

~ Haven't read all of the responses to your...story. I will, soon (I'm sure they have worthwhile-to-read responses.)

~ But, THIS...whoah! Have you thought of getting a publishing agent? Whether fiction, memoir, documentary-memories, this was un-put-down-able (er-r, un-shut-off-able.)

~ Re your Roarkian 'another lock un-locked' experiences re induced Predator-and-Prey perspectives re Hunter-Farmers (and gun-shooting per se) division of all humans' experiences (or, more notably, lack thereof, re 'civilized' non-3rd country ones), I can almost solidly empathize (and, I've not 'hunted') with some aspects of varied parts of your posted past.

~ I'll delineate more, later.



Link to post
Share on other sites

Michael, I just discovered this article.


I spent my whole life doing "farmer" things until mid-life crisis came along. Now I'm reveling in my "hunter" side and finding out just how much of a hunter I really am.

I've only gone hunting for animals successfully once -- pheasant here in upstate New York, as a matter of fact -- and it was exactly a year ago. (I went turkey hunting twice, but never had a chance at one.) I enjoyed it very much, although I did feel bad for the birds. I decided that it was time I confronted head on exactly what I was doing whenever I ate meat. If I couldn't stand to kill birds, I should stop eating them and become a vegetarian. Well -- my guide field-dressed one of the birds I killed while I watched, and he (the bird, not the guide!) never even got cold; I ate him that very night, and he was delicious! I decided that night that I am a carnivore. I'm not willing to eat beef, but I am willing to eat birds, as long as they are humanely killed, and I'd rather know that a bird lived a happy life and died quickly rather than having lived its entire life in a factory farm.

I did my hunting on a game farm, as did you, but it's not quite as easy as was your experience. The birds are free to go wherever they will, and hawks often eat them before they are taken. They are put out a few hours before the hunters come, not a few minutes before. The ones that aren't shot stay out there; they aren't taken back, so there's always the chance you can shoot someone else's birds that they never shot. And it's NOT easy. I had been shooting long enough to be reasonably competent at skeet and sporting clays, and my shooting buddies told me it wouldn't be a problem to shoot live birds, but live birds are fast and unpredictable. I was very much humbled by the experience. My guide and I and his two dogs must have flushed 17 birds before I even came close to hitting anything. I ended up shooting two and he shot three more for me. (I paid to have six put out.)

For the record, the plastic shotgun shells are definitely reloadable. The higher quality ones, anyway. The cheaper ones can be reloaded at least once, the more expensive ones many times. If a woman wants a bunch of men to follow her around, all she has to do is go to a gun club and shoot Remington Premium STSs and leave them on the ground.... :devil:


Edited by Judith
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 year later...

I just reread this thing because I recommended it to another person I am doing business with.

The weirdest thing is that parts of it now read as if it were written by someone else, yet I still recall everything. I was absolutely amazed at myself a few times. (Seriously. That's was my honest reaction during the read.)

Anyway, it's one of my better pieces so it deserves a comment now and then.

(How's that for a good old Objectivist lack of modesty? :) )


Link to post
Share on other sites
The weirdest thing is that parts of it now read as if it were written by someone else, yet I still recall everything. I was absolutely amazed at myself a few times. (Seriously. That's was my honest reaction during the read.)

That happens to me every now and then, both at work and in other contexts. Love it when that happens. :D


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now