A Window Into My Journey

You’re three years old and your grandfather asks you what you want to be when you grow up. Your toddler’s mind considers all the things around you that you love. The grass in your small, urban backyard, the flowers that you water with the metal watering can, the pretend farm animals you make trot around in the dirt. Naturally, you answer that when you grow up you want to be a farmer. 

Fast forward to your eighth-grade year of school. You now live in a suburban town where you’ve been able to take horseback riding lessons and bike all around the town to wonderful wild places – wide open fields, babbling brooks, and acres of wooded forests. One day there is a symposium for eight grade students and independent schools come to recruit students to become freshmen at their institution. Many of the private schools are affluent college preparatory schools, which you know your family can’t afford. You’ve had to volunteer to muck stalls at the barn on the weekends in exchange for riding lessons to help supplement what your parents can contribute to your lessons. Toward the end of the symposium, your ears perk up as a unique school gives a presentation that captivates your attention. The presenter describes a local school that focuses on agriculture, equine sciences, environmental studies, set on a large campus with plenty of space to explore! You’re thrilled that a school like this exists, but doubt your ability to attend, until the presenter explains that it’s a vocational school open to the public within a twenty-mile radius and all are welcome to apply and there is no tuition. That’s right, it’s completely free! 

You board the bus home from school thinking of ways to convince your parents to let you attend this school rather than your town’s high school. You come up with a pretty compelling argument, stating that the school’s academics are sound and the additional education you’ll get in topics that you’re passionate about makes this the perfect place for you. You discuss it with your parents and to your delight, they say they’ll do some more research to entertain the idea. The beginner of the summer break approaches and they decide to allow you to apply. You eagerly await a response for several weeks and check the mailbox daily. One day, a letter arrives for you, and with your nerves awry, you slowly open the envelope and unfold the parchment paper. It’s an official acceptance letter welcoming you to your new high school!

Freshman year comes and goes, you study all areas of concentration during this time frame to equip you to choose the major best suited for your interests. You thought you’d be drawn to the Equine Sciences program, since the farming-related majors such as animal husbandry and crop production, had subsided in recent decades, and were surprised to find how much you gravitated toward natural resources which focused on sustainable forestry and horticulture practices. For sophomore year, you chose Plant Science, which included floriculture, horticulture and natural resources and by junior year you decided your remaining two years would be spent in the Natural Resources major focusing on sustainable forestry and arboriculture. You take your studies seriously, get involved with student government and the Future Farmers of America club. As you approach graduation and begin to look at colleges, you are reminded of your late grandfather’s belief in you even as others doubted your future career path. 

You apply and are accepted to the UMass Amherst School of Forestry program. You tour the school and love the campus, but have doubts due to the location and cost. Life seems to have other plans for you. You decide on a more affordable option, community college studying horticulture which will broaden your experience in a similar field. You work and continue your courses and finally land a few job interviews. You quickly discover that being an uncommon gender in a field predominantly composed of another gender has its own unique challenges. Feeling discouraged, you take a job in retail to make ends meet while completing school. You end up internalizing the words of the adults in your life that feel your career choice will not provide you with sustainable long term income, and switch your major several times as you attend a few different community colleges since you’ve also moved a couple of times. 

You end up spending the better part of a decade on and off working for a large corporate retail chain. You don’t particularly like it, but are successful and find a way to make it as meaningful as possible and even climb the ladder into a management position. You get to a point where the work isn’t fulfilling and decide to get back to community college and work towards that degree you still haven’t obtained. There is a local college that offers a Liberal Arts Associate’s with a concentration in Environmental Science, it’s the perfect fit. You take several fascinating courses, a biology class, a sustainable food and agriculture course, and the NH Natural Resources Stewardship course. This course is once per week on Fridays held at the NH Fish & Game headquarters in Concord, for the entire fall semester. Each class has a different focus all centered around various environmental topics like watersheds, permaculture principles, environmental law, etc. Then, there is a class that ultimately is life-changing, although you don’t realize it until later. The day is focused on hunting, fishing, and trapping. The teacher discusses the history, the current practices, and speaks to the ethics of using these practices to aid in wildlife conservation and management as well as to contribute to natural, sustainably sourced food. You’re intrigued by the North American Model of Conservation, and realized you had never understood what it was or how it impacts Americans as public landowners, regardless of if they hunt or fish or simply enjoy hiking or birding or sitting outdoors. 

Throughout the semester-long course you start to realize some fundamental truths about yourself and your life. You understand that for as long as you can remember nature has been a part of your life. From playing in your city backyard and staying up past bedtime to lean out your bedroom window to watch the moon rising behind the one tree within view amongst all the concrete and buildings, to visiting family in rural Vermont, to your high school years spent mostly outside, you realize nature is the one constant in your life. You realize that the past several years have been spent doing things that you aren’t fully invested in, whether the varying majors you tried during college to the retail gig you’re working. No matter how hard or successfully you try to cultivate meaning from these things, they just won’t work for you going forward. You have to make a change. Lastly, you start to learn from this class that YOU are a part of nature. You are it, and it is you, and you’re just a piece of the interconnected web of being. This last realization gives you some peace and comfort that all of the lived experience you have gained was not in vain and was in fact building to this moment. 

You think back to a different semester in college when you were twenty-two and completed the Wilderness Immersion and Leadership Development (W.I.L.D.) program. You got the amazing opportunity to experience an educational wilderness trip in the backcountry of California. It was the most connected to the land you had ever felt up to that point in your life and you looked forward to that semester for so long. Four days into the trip and your feet were so badly blistered from ill-fitting boots that you had to make arrangements to leave early and since you hated (and still do hate) to fly, you took a train from LA to Boston. That experience, while an amazing adventure, left you feeling empty and jaded that your plan to do something related to the outdoors just continually kept failing. 

All of a sudden, you’re pulled back to your current moment of learning, where you’ve begun to realize that the rest of that semester introduced you to adventure and experiential learning, and you remember that you completed a training to become a contract staff member at Project Adventure during that W.I.L.D. semester. You have a thought, that perhaps you could reach out and see if you could pick it back up part time, ofcourse, so that you could continue to make ends meet with your retail work. You end up doing contract work for Project Adventure and several other local challenge courses for the next couple of years, all while reluctantly continuing to climb the corporate ladder. A climb that brought many other wonderful joys into your life. Because of your career at this retailer, you met your spouse who also worked for the company, you became acquainted with many local businesses where you were able to network, found a place that you adopted one of your dogs from, and ultimately built an amazing work community. You gained a plethora of transferable professional skills and life lessons over the course of your time spent there. Despite your gratitude for all of this, you feel ready to move on for good. You know you need to get a degree in order to get a job in a field related to natural resources or conservation.  You even consider joining the National Guard which would allow you to get your education and provide relevant experience for becoming an environmental law enforcement officer. 

Out of the blue, you get an email from Project Adventure stating that there is a full-time position open, and while it’s an office job, you would have a flexible schedule and occasionally still get to work outside on the challenge course. You knew you had to take the chance, especially to get your foot in the door! So you took the position and left your retail work behind!

During your time at PA, you’ve grown as a professional and as an individual. It feels great to work for a company you believe in, one that values its employees as whole, authentic people, and one that fosters a deep sense of community among colleagues. You get some outdoor time, working on the challenge course and taking workday breaks to walk the trails on the gorgeous, sprawling property – a perk retail could never have afforded you. As time goes on, you realize that adventure-based learning is the theory that all humans inherently learn through first hand, lived experience. It is then that you have yet another realization, that this has been clear through your life. From your time at Essex Aggie in high school discovering new skills in a hands-on learning environment to all of the years in retail that you continually gleaned lessons from every challenge and triumph. 

You’ve simultaneously taken up the practices of hunting, fishing, foraging, and gardening for food. You’re becoming increasingly connected to the land and the wildlife on the public lands near your new home. You even moved up to the mountains for these opportunities, as they’re more abundant in rural areas. Your 180-mile round trip commute to work has become a non-issue now that you’re working remotely due to a global pandemic. A small silver lining in all of the current chaos, perhaps? It is during your remote work that you begin to consider looking into online learning opportunities. You want to look for nature or environmentally related courses, but figure those would not be offered in a virtual setting. One day, you come across an ad for Unity College’s online distance education program, and they have a Wildlife Conservation major! After more research you decide to apply and are accepted, financial aid works out, and here you are once again working on a degree. 

This time, you know it is different. You’re in such a great place with your life’s path, you no longer feel regret or resentment from all of the plans that didn’t quite work out. In fact, although you don’t believe in “things happening for a reason” you can’t help but laugh at the irony that it feels like each and every decision, each so-called failed plan, has led you to this very moment. You’re once again reminded of the train trip across the country and that while unexpected and unplanned, turned into such a profound metaphor for your life’s journey. So, you dive in headfirst to volunteer work that adds to your interest in conservation and the environment to gain more experience while you take online courses. 

Feeling beautifully overwhelmed with gratitude, you reflect upon the reasons that you’ve chosen this path, especially since it has not been an easy one and assuredly holds more challenges ahead (most jobs in this field pay less than you currently make in your present full-time job). You find your interest lies in the principle that humans are not the only species with value and in fact, all species, plant and animal, have a right to this precious thing we call life. You love the balance in nature, the idea that death gives new life in the form of food, whether animal protein or the decomposing dead tree that falls in the forest to nurture the solid and all the small insects that feed on it. You find it fascinating that humans see themselves as separate rather than a part of nature. You know that humans will continue to shape and alter the planet, as do all species, but that since capable of reason, people need to become aware of the most sustainable way to continue with modern life. You want your life’s work to be to learn as much as you can about your local ecology and teach and encourage others to do the same. You want to make a difference in conservation efforts within your state and region, and especially advocate conservation through ethical consumption practices such as hunting, trapping, fishing, and foraging. You feel confident that your interpersonal, facilitation, and management skills gained over your time in retail and in adventure/experiential education will enable you to be able to do this work. You’ve learned over the past decade that this passion for nature and conservation is a deep piece of your identity, and despite how little or much money you’ll make doing it, it is the only thing you want to devote your time to going forward in your career. You know the challenges facing our planet in regard to climate change and sustainable food, and you know that ethical consumptive conservation is a large part of the solution. You can picture yourself graduating with your degree and volunteer experience and heading into a job as a wildlife ecologist or Fish & Wildlife Service employee. You know you’ll help others find their own value of nature and conservation while actively contributing to stopping biodiversity and habitat loss across the country. You want to help others see responsible human consumption as part of nature, that humans are best able to protect the plant and all of its various life forms but utilizing renewable resources in a manner that ensures long term benefits to people, wildlife, and the earth. You especially want to show that wildlife conservation and hunting are not oxymorons, but can support each other in a beautiful way.

You take a deep breath in and hold it for a moment. It is a pause to honor all the places, both literally and figuratively, that you’ve been. It’s a pause to appreciate this present moment where you feel as if the intersection of all your experience and education is at a crossroads. As you let out your breath, you envision your future vocation within the field of wildlife conservation. You feel hopeful and excited. You’re ready to face the uncertainty of this unknown time by drawing on your past, as your journey has been extremely non-linear, it has led you right to where you want to be – to where you belong.

NH Turkey Season 2020

Turkey season ended here in NH on May 31st. While we did not successfully harvest a bird, we learned so much and enjoyed the experience as new hunters. I want to share some of the highlights of the season. 

We started by looking at a few local public land options, and decided on one that is over 1,000 acres of wilderness surrounded mostly by other private land and includes an extensive trail system of old atv trails and logging roads.

The first day we set out on the land to scout for turkeys, Matt and I went prepared with our packs, a map, and plenty of daylight. We stayed on the trail for a while until we came to a huge swamp and decided to go explore it. We walked through the woods and came into this clearing on the edge of the water and it was truly a magical feeling. On the way through the woods we had seen deer and moose dropping as well as tracks. Once out on the edge of the swamp we saw the most beautiful wild ducks swimming and flying around, and were surprised by a breathtaking Great Blue Heron flying overhead. If you’ve never seen one, they’re almost prehistoric looking and quite a sight to behold. I felt like I was living in my favorite poem, Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things. It was simply enchanting. We tried a few owl calls once the light started to fade, and although we did not see any turkeys, we did find droppings and a feather – so we thought “there must be turkeys here!” 

This scene made me feel like I was living in my favorite poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry

We started to eagerly plan for our first weekend hunt. I was actually furloughed from work due to COVID19 and was able to go a few times on my own but was looking forward to Matt having a whole week off from work so that we could hunt together. Hunting was so helpful during this pandemic to get outside and clear my mind and connect with nature. It helped to give me perspective and provided awareness of things outside of myself.

For our first hunt together we decided to go with our friend and mentor, Mike. Mike is a seasoned hunter and is great at mouth calling – something we’re working on but haven’t quite gotten the hang of yet. We had mostly been using a box and a slate call. We woke up extremely early in the morning around 3:00am or 3:30am, made a quick breakfast, grabbed our gear, got in the car and headed to the trailhead to meet Mike for first light. Once there, we identified the areas on the map where we had seen signs of turkey and noticed good habitat. We heard a gobble off in the distance and that gave us some directions of where to go. 

We ended up following an atv trail down to a heavily forested and wet area, decided to cut through to a ridge that we wanted to sit and call on. We began to gain elevation and stopped for a moment to rest. I’m not in the best shape, which is something I am working on. I’m participating in the Hike to Hunt challenge this summer, and spring turkey season definitely started to help with building up my stamina. When we paused to rest, I could faintly hear my heart beating in my ears which happens sometimes, but then it started to get noticeably louder and faster and then was a rapid sound almost like a motor revving up. I thought “oh, no – something is wrong with me” and then suddenly realized what I was hearing was a grouse drumming. We had gone on a mentored grouse hunt in the fall and had seen one flush but had not heard the drumming. It was a truly magical sound to hear. Once I gained my composure after this neat moment, we headed on up to the top of the ridge. This spot was the perfect location to sit and call for turkeys and we had a wide view down the mountain. We sat spaced out, Matt and I were within about 30 yards of one another and Mike went over to the other side of the ridge to broaden our perspective. It was very windy and quite chilly. We sat and Mike used the mouth call for a while. We were excited to have called in some hens, although in the spring season you can only hunt bearded birds. There are sometimes bearded hens, but from my understanding there are mixed opinions on whether to harvest them or not. We we’re hoping for a gobbler – meaning a jake which is a young male turkey, or a tom which is a mature male turkey to have followed the hens but had no such luck. We decided to move on. 

We had a brief moment of hope that we were seeing turkeys, but they turned out to be a couple of turkey vultures, definitely not what we were looking for. We made our way out onto the powerlines and it was probably 10am at this point. There is no hunting after noon for the spring season so we chose to make the most of our time by walking and calling along the way. Mike was using his mouth call about every five minutes. All of a sudden we heard gobbles in response to a call – they sounded very close. Mike told us to get ready and make our way into the treeline to sit and wait. Well, not much waiting happened as these two jakes came running in to us. In the bustle of excitement, I shouldered my shotgun and proceeded to try to get a clear shot. Being a new hunter I was filled with adrenaline and my brain seemed to shut off – in the process of trying to get a shot I moved the barrel of my gun way too much and frightened the birds and they hightailed it out of there…Mike was trying to get my attention to tell me to stop moving and stay still but I didn’t get the message…I felt so stupid and was upset and frustrated at my mistake. After all the time spent researching turkey hunting tactics by reading, listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos.Mike, being the mentor that he is and having been my boss at one point, knew how to make me laugh by telling a story of a friend who made a different but equally ametuer mistake…I figured I had several weeks left in the season and plenty of time being furloughed from work to bag a bird. We didn’t see any more turkeys that day and decided to call it a day and headed home.

There were many other memorable moments of the season. On my birthday, May 9th, we got several inches of snow and went out into the woods! As we were walking in Matt realized he forgot our hunting licenses and tags at home, meaning we needed to go get them before continuing on. He was upset, but I figured I had made a rookie mistake and now, so had he. Luckily we didn’t shoot at a turkey before he realized this! The day was still wonderful for me, we had a dinner spread that could have been in a magazine complete with mussels, lobster, and sea scallops wrapped in bacon! My friend, Jesse, bought me a great birthday gift – my first hunting knife and an electric fish filet knife! Matt got me a Glock .48 to take with me while I hunt and hike alone. Very thoughtful gifts, I was truly overwhelmed with joy.

There were other highlights, too…some more gobbles, time spent outside in nature with Matt, and awesome wildlife sightings. We were walking the powerlines and Matt abruptly turned to me and loudly said “STOP”, not what you’d say if you saw a turkey – you’d be silent and motion to get down…I could tell he was nervous and he then said, “A Moose!” I crept over the ridge to see a cow or a calf (I couldn’t tell which as I have not seen many moose in my lifetime). It turned and looked right at us before slowly sauntering off into the woods. Another day, almost the exact same scenario but a doe that was about 15 yards in front of us right on the trail. She did not see or hear us but caught our scent, looked up at us, made an adorable sound and quickly bounced off into the woods. I later learned the sounds we heard her making as she left were probably calls to her fawn to stay put as danger was near.

We saw several porcupines, too. They don’t have many natural predators and you can walk up close to them. Predators include bobcats, owls on occasion and depending on the size of the porcupine, and mountain lions, which are rare in NH. Since porcupines often burrow in the holes other animals make, these animals are bound to turn up a time or two only to find a prickly little porcupine in their home. The fisher is by far the most aggressive predator and feeds on the porcupine by grabbing its face, flipping it on its back and attaching the stomach where there are no quills – since porcupines often fall from trees after being tempted by some sweet food and land on the ground. We’re hoping to hunt porcupines this summer as there aren’t any rules or regulations in our state due to the overpopulation and they’re supposed to be quite tasty, although obviously difficult to prepare. As the joke goes, there’s only one way to prepare them – very carefully! Realistically you either have to pluck the quills with pliers or singe them off over an open flame. We actually went out last weekend to hunt porcupines, only to see 5 jakes on the way into the woods and ZERO porcupines – I think they’re all just mocking us! On one of our last days I found an intact coyote skull which was so cool and is now hanging out on our screen porch which we’ve named “deer camp”. We heard and saw so many wonderful things, I could go on for hours recounting them all. 

So overall, it was a great season filled with learning through experience and gratitude even if we didn’t get a turkey. Here’s to the fall season and hopefully harvesting some turkeys!

Rabbit Stew

I have Italian heritage on both sides of my family. Many Italians raised rabbits for meat. I tried rabbit for the first time on Valentine’s day when my then-partner now-spouse cooked it for our romantic date night as it was our first Valentine’s day spent together.

It was delicious and sort of resembled a small chicken or Cornish hen, except where the feet were cut off. This looked a bit different than a chicken wing. The next day when we went to the pet store to get a few items I came face to face with a cage of baby rabbits. It was enough to make me cry and swear off meat for another few months.

You see, this was another instance where my love for eating animal protein and my love for the well-being of animals clashed. If you ask my friends about my eating habits they will most likely tell you I am the worst vegetarian of all time or that they can never keep up with the ever changing rationale behind the foods I put into my body. It’s a big conundrum for me to eat meat, always has been and always will be. It’s hard to compartmentalize that some animals are considered pets (cats, dogs, horses, etc.) and some are considered food (pigs, cows, chicken, etc.). This varies of course depending on where you are geographically. People in some parts of the world do eat dog and horse. Some people don’t eat specific animals based on a religious view. For me, I want to know that the animal had a good, natural life and a quick humane death.

The wild rabbit that my dog caught and killed.

I was listening to an episode of Song of the Hounds Podcast where the discussion was about the lack of dealing with and processing death in modern times and the inability to accept mortality. I am very interested in this topic and how it influences our food choices. This is something I will be continuing to examine with my blog and podcast.

Learning From Our Past

Since becoming interested in the practices of hunting/fishing/foraging/homesteading, I’ve recognized the wealth of knowledge and wisdom that those who have had lifelong practices of each can share with beginners like myself. I am so aware of the fact that many of these practices are becoming lost arts, or at the very least are becoming more recreational than life sustaining due to modernity – all of the conveniences and luxuries many of us take for granted.

In the past couple of weeks as life starts to change from the normalcy we’re accustomed to, I have begun to see subtle changes in the things that I typically take for granted. Items at the grocery store are increasingly hard to find including but not limited to meat, eggs, flour/baking items, canned and dry goods – not to mention toilet paper. This is concerning regarding the supply chain issues we are seeing. This has made me examine practices I can adapt that will help supplement our food supply such as gardening, canning, foraging, fishing, hunting, etc. I have started seeds and I am about to re-pot them into larger containers in preparation for raised garden beds in May. I am looking into canning recipes and getting some experience and practice with it. I did a lot of catch and release fishing as a kid and am now looking at fishing as a food source> I have done research on the equipment I will need and the areas locally that are good spots to fish. We’re learning all that we can about turkey hunting in light of not being able to take our mentored classes.

I’d love to hear from folks about what you are doing in regards to practices that can help supplement food. Share it with me here to be featured on my next podcast episode.

Death in Our Meals

There is death involved in all of our meals. Even the ones without animal protein. Humans have a hard time with death. Perhaps its the unknown, perhaps its the seemingly finite nature of it. For some, the act of killing or consuming an animal for food is a reminder of our own mortality and the mortality of those we love. For others, it seems cruel. I understand this, I’ve been a vegetarian before for several years – although my friends will tell you that I am the worst vegetarian ever. They’re right, I like eating meat. In fact, my body feels healthier when I eat meat compared to when I don’t.

So here’s the conundrum: I love animals, care deeply about ethics and the environment and yet I want to eat meat. So what to do? Well, I do my best to source all our meat (human food and dog food alike) from local sustainable farms and recently have taken up hunting. I’m also looking at ways to limit the amount of meat we consume with a variety of supplemental plant based meals.

I genuinely believe in the farmers I buy from. They are kind, passionate people that live by the “one bad day” principal. I know some folks still have a hard time with this and I understand. Many of these farm raised animals experience love through out their lives and compassion at the end. Hunted animals never even see it coming and usually its swift and without much suffering.

My first attempt at ice fishing!

It’s an overwhelming feeling to acknowledge the life that ends to feed us. Whether its the labor and sweat poured into hours, days, and months of farming vegetables and fruits or raising pastured animals or walking peacefully in the woods looking for game, there is intention and care out into creating a meal. I find that naming this creates a gratitude that is fulfilling.

It’s hard to live and let live, but my challenge to you meat eaters is to show empathy to your vegetarian and vegan friends, and my challenge to you vegans/vegetarians is to entertain the idea that for most of us eating meat, farm raising animals, and hunting are a natural and sustainable means to an end. We value and respect the lives that are being sacrificed for our food.

Personally, I am so filled with gratitude for life and for the inevitability of death – including my own – as it forces me to recognize the gift that is each passing day.

Equilibrium

The path that has lead me to becoming a hunter/gatherer and subsequently a firearm owner has been full of unexpected twists and turns and somehow has also had continuity through out my life. When I was three years old and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up my answer was “a farmer”. Fast forward to freshmen year of high school at our local agricultural vocational school where I became involved with the Future Farmers of America and studied Natural Resources as the first step on this journey. Upon graduating I took community college courses and searched for a job in the tree industry but life had other plans. I ended up having a love/hate relationship with retail for a decade or so and while it wasn’t my ideal field of work it brought me some wonderful things. I met my spouse there, adopted my first dog from one of our customers, and met a wonderful community of people. I made the most of this time and tried to bring meaning into my work on a daily basis. Finally, in 2015 I took the New Hampshire Natural Resources Stewardship course which rekindled my passion for the outdoors, sustainable agriculture and eco-friendly living. I then worked for a couple of local small businesses that helped me create a network of like minded folks pursuing holistic ways of living across many industries including the food scene. Over the past couple of years I have gotten involved with the NH Fish and Game mentoring programs for hunting, fishing, and gathering/foraging and the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. These communities have been so inspiring, motivating, and helpful to myself and other new folks.

A picture of my high school Natural Resources Class where I studied sustainable forestry.

A large part of my story, aside from the above mentioned path ever circling back to the natural world, is the pendulum swing from one extreme to the other and finally settling in the middle. During my childhood I was raised in a faith tradition that was very binary and fundamental with not much wiggle room. As I grew into a teenager and then young adult I started to push away from the rigidity and judgement of this community and into a space that felt more free to embrace self expression in all of its forms. I gravitated toward religious and political ideals that I assumed to be less judgmental and open to all people regardless of agreement on such topics. While I have found that in pockets of friends and acquaintances both in the community of my upbringing and the community of choice in my adult life, I largely find that most people lack the emotional awareness to truly challenge their own perspectives and therefore have a hard time bridging the gap with those with whom they disagree. I find my own spiritual path one of mystery and openness to new ideas and the work that I want to do daily for the remainder of my days on this planet is to constantly evaluate and work on bettering my own ability to use empathy and compassion to connect with those who are different than myself. This is hard and constant work that never is finished, but it’s a worthwhile commitment. It’s also an endeavor I hope to walk with those around me in my family (both relations and chosen) and community.

Mentored grouse/woodcock hunting course through NH Fish & Game

Finding the balance to lean into the gray area and entertain new ideas and perspectives different form my own while ever challenging my own beliefs and opinions was helpful when it came to firearms. For a long time I had judgement around guns and people who owned guns (at least who I perceived those people to be) and the reasons they were so passionate about them. I had friends who I alienated due to their line of work involving guns and my judgement on their lifestyle. Thinking back on this now, I see that most of these feeling were actually fear based reactions to something I knew little about and could not comprehend. I think on a rational level I could accept people owning guns for self-defense or hunting, but on an emotional level I still held a great deal of judgement for those who chose to do so.

Learning how to take down and clean our Sig Sauer MCX.

This started to change when my then-boyfriend and now-husband, Matt, brought home a Sig Sauer MCX. He said he was going to buy a hunting rifle and came home with something I would have then unknowingly described as an “assault rifle” due to lack of knowledge and perceptions based on what I saw and heard through media. I did not even want it in our home, so much so that I almost moved out and didn’t marry him. Yes, seriously. Luckily, my care for him made me try to understand and accept his decision to purchase this rifle, and through my thought process learned to accept my lack of control over people, places, and things. I decided that he had the dignity and right to make his own decisions, as did I. I could decide to leave OR I could try to embrace this new hobby alongside him. The first time I shot that rifle I was truly terrified. I had severe anxiety accompanied by a racing heart, sweaty palms and a flushed face. When I pulled the trigger, all of that energy released and I began laughing. It was less scary than I thought and actually a lot of fun. Wicked fun! I think that my prior experience playing on a paintball team translated over and helped my enthusiasm for shooting. Over the next year I would learn to enjoy target shooting at the indoor range.

Over the course of my life I have been a vegetarian/pescetarian several times mostly due to my understanding and disdain for industrialized agriculture and the way in which animals are inhumanely treated. I also feel the environmental impact of large amounts of animal consumption needs to be addressed. I love animals, including my two current dogs, and many past cats, dogs, rats, etc. My friends will jokingly tell you I am the worst vegetarian because truth be told I also love eating meat. I find my body healthiest when consuming a moderate amount of humanely raised, locally farmed sustainable meats. This contradiction is quite the conundrum for me. In my Natural Resources Stewardship class we talked often about conundrums. There is also a book I read titled On Trails by Robert Moor which states that all species shape the environment and planet and so the question is not how to avoid doing so but rather how to do so in the least impactful and most sustainable way possible. This is a question I continue to grapple with daily.

Shooting my favorite rifle, an M1 Garand.

As previously mentioned, I find myself to be the type of person who gravitates towards complexity and the gray area in between the black and white binary society we seem to live in. Our brains are wired to make split second decisions crucial to our survival in primitive times and so it’s challenging to examine our biases and judgments from a logical perspective. I try to do my best to grapple with complexity of death, sexuality, modern life, and the meaning of our human journey as we move through time and space. I try to avoid holding opinions and beliefs but rather attempt to entertain ideas and new perspectives.

That being said, I want to provide some context and explanation for the use of the word “liberal” in my title. There is a great article that you can read here that takes a deeper dive into the history and meaning of the word itself. I struggled with the use of this word as I feared it would alienate readers and/or listeners that took the word in a purely modern-day, American political context, and still have some concern over this, since my intent is to create space, community, and common ground and not further add to the deep divisions during the present moment in our society. Instead, I use this word to mean several things: free, independent thinker, open to new ideas and philosophies, challenging viewpoints, and most of all living in an unapologetic and radical way – fostering kindness, empathy and compassion in all aspects of my life, especially in regards to my journey into hunting and firearm ownership. Historically, I did think of myself as liberal in regards to my political leanings, yet in the past few years I have learned I am passionate about civil rights and individual liberties and am learning to allow my values to guide me rather than to be placed into a box of identity politics.

I sincerely hope that this project can invite others on this journey and that we may walk in community together aiming for common ground.

My first experience with ice fishing!
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