This picture tells about a million stories. I hardly know where to begin. I’ll just try and tell part of one.
I guess I’ll start with the dead bobcat. Grandpa shot it last week with his cross-bow. It’s properly tagged. It’s frozen and hanging by the screen door on the back porch, which considering that the average high temperature in the last week has been 31 degrees, is just as effective as the freezer.
There are bobcats around because there are rabbits around. There are rabbits around because the river bottoms that my Grandpa used to farm were bought by the MO Dept. of Conservation for, well, conservation after the 1993 flood. The 1993 flood was a five hundred-year flood, because it only happens about that often. It was big. It broke huge holes in the levees and damaged a lot of good farmland. It brought in the “asian” carp, aka the jumping fish, and “Conservation”.
Conservation let the Marion Bottoms grow up into woods, an area that the river can go into anytime it needs to. With the growth of woods, there has been a proliferation of mushrooms, rabbits, bobcats, mountain lions, otters, deer, coyote and, finally, bears. The wealth of game has brought hunters, who go into the bottoms, and get frustrated by the thick undergrowth of the young forest. They’re out in the country and they see all of the surrounding area, which is great for hunting, but it’s on private land, so they trespass. They shoot from the road. They’re not safe or polite.
So, back to the bobcat on the back porch. Well, bobcats aren’t endangered anymore, so they’re fair game. Grandpa was out in his blind last week with his cross-bow hunting wild turkeys. He shot twice and missed, which is unusual. He’s been hunting all of his life and has deadly accuracy. But he’s old. His shoulders don’t really work anymore. He can’t lift them high, so maybe aiming isn’t as easy as it once was. One arrow, though, when he went to retrieve it, had leg feathers from the turkey on it. So, he was close.
He may not have gotten a turkey, but the bobcat came right across his path. He wasn’t sure he’d gotten it, but the trail of blood led him and his loyal dog, Lady, to where it had been killed. This, at first thought, can easily seem revolting. I always have a gut jerk reaction when I see a beautiful creature that has died. But I know that my Grandfather does not kill indiscriminately. I know he values the health and life on and of land much more than I can realize in my own life. If he kills something, he has a reason. I have to trust that and listen to his stories to see what that might be. For most game, it’s easy. We eat it. But bobcats we don’t eat, so I’m still learning about this.
I know enough to not ask directly what that reason might be. When I ask, I’m interpreted as attacking because I’m a city-dwelling environmentalist, which can be a dirty word out here. I’m in with the city-slickers who think they know better than someone who’s been living from the land for 70 years. It doesn’t work well when we go in and tell them what to do, even if we may have a better way, or at least something that may improve the situation. And oftentimes our understanding, from the desks in town, is a simplified or partial understanding of nature’s fragile balance, and can genuinely, if unintentionally, mess things up. We have to close our text books, shut our mouths, and listen to the people who are stewards.
This lesson has been a long time in learning for me. I just hope that I can be around enough to earn their trust and learn their stories. I often have to swallow a big humility pill and bite my tongue hard, but I’m sure it will be worth it. People who love the land as much as my Grandparents do have a lot to teach, if I’m willing and present to learn. Maybe then, I can make my contribution to it.