It wasn’t until I was 24 years old, and an intern pastor in Osseo Wisconsin that I began to truly understand what it means to harvest your own food, to provide for your family, friends and to have a healthy reverence for nature and the outdoors. I learned quickly the benefits and emotional struggle that comes from being a hunter/gatherer in this day and age where all one has to do to get protein is to go to the grocery store and buy a rump roast.
There is a surreal sense of limbo for me when I am out in the field. I experience a unique transformation from husband, dad, pastor, friend, to provider. It’s a strange and amazing transformation of role. To go from spiritual caregiver to provider at first had it’s emotional struggles, but I realized that providing food in the form of unadulterated protein and organic flora for my family and friends to share not only saved me some money, but it also gave me a great sense of accomplishment. The role of provider is one that I now wear proudly.
Osseo is a very small town in Wisconsin, to become accepted into the community and culture is no easy feat. I was the new guy in town, everyone knew it, and to make things worse, in their eyes, I was from California. The land of movies, make believe, and in their words, “hippy surfers.” I did in fact surf, but I gently explained to them that I was not a hippy (whatever that means). I could see that I was going to have a hard time proving my worthiness. I felt like an explorer, facing a tribes rite of passage to gain acceptance. This is indeed what I had to experience before they would acknowledge me as one of their own. As in most rural areas, hunting is a culture, a way of life. The contrast between my upbringing in a city of plenty and this outdoor journey into manhood would awaken my soul.
If you have had any exposure to the Midwest, you know that to become a man, a boy has to kill a deer. The process that these 12 year old boys had to go through with their fathers looking over their shoulders, was nothing short of miraculous! Five weeks of hunter’s safety class where we were grilled constantly about hunting, fishing, trapping, shooting, safety, ethics, good shots vs. bad shots, tracking, trailing, this and that, that and this, all leading up to a final exam. To pass that exam was paramount to every 12 year old boy in that class and to their fathers. To not pass the test meant not getting their first deer and becoming man, and to possibly have to live up to the ridicule of their peers.
I had to kill a deer…..it was the only way for me to be inoculated into the community. It made me uneasy. Hesitant. I had never hurt an animal let alone take it’s life. This was difficult for me. Out of respect for the community and the culture of the town added to my personal journey, I took up the challenge. And like I handle all challenges, I did it with passion and intensity with the willingness to learn all that I could so that I could make the best possible shot to kill the deer as fast as possible.
I killed my first deer that November…It was an intense experience. It was one wrought with emotion. I was happy that I had been successfull and that I was able to provide for my family, yet I was sad that I had taken a life. I cried beside that 11 point white tail buck. I thanked him and I thanked God for the life that was given. For the meat it would provide. I respected the animal. It’s burned deeply into my psyche. I was granted acceptance from the community and was forever changed. I had been blooded. Marked with blood on my face that symbolized the fact that I had shot and killed my own food. That I was accepted. I was a man.
With every subsequent hunt I feel a twinge with strong memories of that day.
My wife and I ate that deer in it’s entirety over the next year. I tanned the hide for leather, and used the meat for food. From that experience I realized that the meat I buy in the store has been killed by a person. And while that is good and all, I decided that I wanted to be the one “harvesting” my food from then on.
Being a provider is now a part of my identity. I have two small boys and a wife that I pass these skills onto and provide for. Providing doesn’t mean only shooting animals, it also means identifying and foraging for wild plants that are healthy and nutritious. I find joy in being able to provide and in practicing those skills so I can be a better provider. I like the idea that all a person needs to survive and live a healthy life is all around us. We just need to open our eyes and find it all.