Thursday, December 8, 2016

Just Another Participant in the Ecosystem

I feel a strong connection to the place that I hunt in Seneca Creek State Park in Maryland, USA. I’ve experienced this place through nearly all four seasons: the flowers and fresh growth of the Spring, the heat, mosquitoes, and refreshing coolness of Great Seneca Creek in Summer, the crisp, cool air and comfortable temperatures in the Fall. How this place changes through the seasons! Where there were once lush grasses, there are now fallen leaves, the occasional garlic mustard, and the still-strong canes of wineberry that once produced juicy fruit (and will again). Soon I will be standing on snowy ground, seeing a whole new perspective.
Great Seneca Creek

Since May, I have been going to these woods weekly. I started by orienting myself, learning to walk through the woods unnoticed, finding deer trails, and identifying plants. In the Summer, as I started to learn where the deer were and stalk them, I waded in the waters of Great Seneca Creek. The creek has a unique, pleasant smell that I’ve still not been able to place. I’ve asked around, even brought my closest friend there, and haven’t been able to tell whether I’m smelling a beautiful creek, effluent from the upstream wastewater treatment plant, or runoff from the surrounding suburban sprawl. Because I haven’t spent a significant amount of time near large creeks, only more experience in other places will tell, I guess. Any thoughts?

As the leaves fall, I can now see further in the woods. Whereas I used to follow the well-worn hiking and mountain biking trail, I now have an understanding of the paths the deer take. I rarely lose track of where I am, using features and contours of the land. Back in Summer, I remember telling my friend that I was developing a connection to this place that made it feel like home. Yes, it is sandwiched in between farm and suburban development. Yes, the ecosystem there is severely degraded. Mountain bikers, runners, and dogs are there generating all kinds of ungodly noise and smells. But, it is a place that I know well, a place that I feel a part of.

I’m still a guest there, coming in before sunrise and leaving after sunset, but I can visualize the landscape in my mind. I’ve seen the same Mom and Child deer numerous times. I enter the woods before the squirrels come down from the trees, before the birds begin to flutter and chirp. I’ve sat perfectly still and listened to acorns drop. I’ve seen a coyote chase a fawn. I am planning to use this place for my sustenance, and so I feel inextricably connected. I’ve never felt this way before, and have become so much more comfortable out of doors than I have ever been.


I daydream about this little section of an inconsequential state park. I think about the next time I’ll be out there, what areas I’ll go to, what the deer are doing as I sit here and write. Those woods are a place for me to slow down: walk slower, move slower, leave my rational self and reason behind to rely on instinct. I need not carry anything but my bow, arrows, and knife.

Hunting continues to be a transformative experience for me. I’ve had the opportunity to take a life a few times, though I’ve so far not done so. Killing for food is an experience that many people in modern industrial society have never had and never will have. The desire to establish the connection of taking a life to sustain my own was a huge reason I abandoned half a decade of being vegan. I am, after all, an animal; an animal that was given the anatomy and ability to hunt. I am beginning to internalize how to let go of my ego and see myself as just another participant in the ecosystem. I’m working hard at abandoning my past conditioning, which, at its base, emphasizes that humans are supreme beings and separate from ‘the environment.’ The lens of human supremacy does not allow me to see the path to healing and connection, for myself or Earth’s ecosystems. So, I’m taking the lens off. I continue to learn and awaken. While I often question pursuits in my life, I have no doubt that I should be spending my time and energy out there, participating in the ecosystem just like the deer.


  1. Nice haunt you have. Reminds me of the woods at a town park I used to frequent. I was the only human who ever went there. Perhaps one thought to dissuade you from your plans to hunt- I don't see how killing a deer because you are naturally capable of it is overcoming your ego. Is raping a woman also overcoming your ego? After all, you have the ability and anatomy. It's perfectly natural. There are lots of things you are capable of doing that just aren't necessary. You lived half a decade without eating animals, why go back?

    1. Hi Rich! Nice to meet you virtually. I would agree with your assertion that there are lots of things that I and others are capable of that are not necessary. In my post, I mention that I've been socially conditioned to think of myself as above an abstract 'Nature' and entitled to my needs and wants, at the expense of other non-human living and non-living beings. What I meant about 'letting go of my ego' is that I'm beginning to see my place in the ecosystem as just a part, not as a separate entity or as the most important part.

      Given that I must eat to live, my preference is to secure my food locally, in a sustainable manner, by participating in my ecosystem, rather than using it as a dumping ground or wrecking other ecosystems by importing long-distance food. My experience to date has led me to believe that a sustainable, healthy vegan diet in the part of the world I live in is impossible. I believe vegan Matt would starve or get very sick without the industrial food system or clearing a large tract of land for growing vegetables somewhere near my home. My thoughts on food will need at least one post, before this reply turns into a full post itself!

      Thanks for reading, and for your thoughts.

  2. Hi Matt! Looks like a fun adventure!

    You ask, Any thoughts on smelly water? If the region is swampy, it’s likely to smell — lots of rotting muck. Is anything green growing in the creek bed? Do you see living critters in the water? Do you know what’s upstream? Check some topo maps, and/or a Google satellite view. Ask the park ranger.

    In some cases mineralization causes smells. I was in a house in the Northeast that had black groundwater that had a strong sulfur smell. I saw another house that a straight pipe from the house to the stream, which was old, and legal, under a grandfather clause. Along Lake Superior, iron areas had an aroma.

    If there are lots of deer, this indicates a wolf and cougar shortage. Hunting protects the ecosystem by reducing overgrazing. Have you ever watched George Monbiot’s TED talk on rewilding? He explained how the Yellowstone ecosystem greatly improved following the reintroduction of large predators. The talk is HERE.

    If deer are scarce, become a maggot farmer. Have fun!

    1. Good to see you here, Richard! Definitely not a rotten, swampy, or sulfury smell. There is life in the creek, and a fisherman told me that it is stocked with trout.

      The smell is quite pleasant. I'd describe it as almost floral, but on the borderline of chemically, almost like dryer sheets. Since many chemical smells are often meant to mimic things like 'spring breeze,' etc., I'm a bit puzzled! There is a wastewater treatment plant miles upstream, which has me wondering...

      I read Feral, and really liked the book. I also follow Monbiot's blog quite religiously.

      Deer hunting with a long bow is a challenge, but the deer are out there! These days they really like to graze in horse pasture, where I cannot legally hunt.

      Congrats on the increase in views on your blog - it certainly deserves to be widely read! I just reread your story from What Is Sustainable...I'd like to do something like you did up there in Michigan!

    2. Have you read any Tom Brown books? The Tracker, The Vision, Grandfather, etc. His books blew my mind. He was killing deer with a knife, after jumping out of a tree, after spending weeks looking for an old or injured deer that wouldn't survive the winter.

    3. I first learned of Tom Brown Jr. through your book, What is Sustainable, about 5 years ago. I can distinctly remember telling my friend how amazing I thought it was that someone was able to catch deer with their bare hands. Tom Brown left my mind until I happened to stumble upon a flyer near the bathroom in a roadside BBQ in rural Virginia in early 2015. Someone was offering classes in primitive skills, so I pulled a tab off of the flyer. As I was in the process of reading Unlearn, Rewild, finding this flyer was serendipitous. The instructor of the classes? Tom Brown III, Tom Brown Jr.'s son. I took several classes with him on friction fire, primitive hunting, stalking and movement, and animal tracking, and they have been life changing. He has been super kind in mentoring me as I've been feeling my way through hunting with a longbow, and I consider him a friend.

      Anyway, I digress, but thought you'd be interested to know! It's still quite amazing to me that I found his school on a crowded and nearly hidden bulletin board just at the time when I needed it. I have read The Tracker, but perhaps I should add The Vision and Grandfather. I'm pretty sure Santa Claus will be bringing me a copy of the Tracker, since I lost mine, and also a copy of Sustainable or Bust! I have your other books in digital format.

    4. Cool! I've never met anyone who took a Tom Brown class who didn't rave about it. I'm glad that you could relate to his writing. A lot of people are too programmed to understand it, or find it meaningful. Too many have lost their connection.