Earthworms, Buddhism, & Hunting: Some Thoughts

Walking in to work this morning, the pavement looked more like it had been raining earthworms than water. Apparently earthworms surface from underground during rains in order to move above ground to safety. Sadly, earthworms aren’t very good judges of what constitutes safety, and I’d guess that not many hospital employees took the time to walk in-between the worms in order to minimize smooshing.

Late morning I ventured outside with my service dog for her bathroom break and the earthworms remained overland, and moving very slowly. My initial response was, again, to walk between them to avoid pulverizing the creatures into the pavement; but my second thought was to scoop them up and place them back on the grass. I suspect this is a bit of a throwback to my days as an animal-rights liberal; all Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. I wondered if doing such an act of kindness would be recognized perhaps as a form of “Tsethar”; the Buddhist practice of saving the lives of beings destined to slaughter. Yet as I kept walking, I also wondered if endeavoring to save the earthworms, besides being a misuse of my work day, might also deny them their fate, “the course that life takes.” Perhaps coming overland and potentially dying underfoot or by drying out is the destiny that has been chosen for them, or some of them – as some earthworms may make it safely back underground.

Such are the thoughts of a transpersonal & holistic hunter; a bizarre combination of Earth Mother-psychotherapist and gun-loving hunter (like one of those small town buffet restaurants that serve all-you-can-eat American and Chinese cuisine with a sushi bar).

I greatly enjoy watching hunting shows, especially Winchester Deadly Passion; Melissa Bachman isn’t afraid to show her foibles and to laugh at them with a shrug. Sometimes, however, I’ll see a deer harvest that grips my heart a little, making me feel a tiny bit sad for the deer, even though I’m rooting for the hunter. Such as when the camera catches the expression on a buck’s face just after he’s been shot as he has a moment of confusion before stumbling and falling down. Crazy though it may be, I think perhaps, this is part of what makes me an ethical hunter. I don’t hunt just to prove I have power over other species. On the contrary, I have been bested, a lot, by many creatures; great and small.

Nature is where I most find G-d, and I have deep reverence for creatures of the wild. This past Sunday I took my Labrador Retriever service dog on a long walk through some woods on post (Fort Riley). The woods popped with bright green as the trees and woodland floor bloomed. There were numerous deer tracks along the way, so I hushed my voice to a whisper, pointing them out to my labbie-girl, whose nose was awakened with the smells. At one point I decided to head into the woods, off the path, to follow the deer tracks inward in hopes of finding a shed. I’ve still never found a shed. We came across deer scrapes on the branches low to the ground. I was fascinated as I’d never seen scrapes. We had apparently stumbled into the stomping grounds of a herd, given by the number of hoof prints in the ground.

At one point, Daisy (my SD) and I stopped so I could take some photos, and we heard twigs crunching under foot. We both stopped and turned toward the noise. It was fun to watch my dog respond to the sounds and scents, because I don’t normally take her out in the woods. For a moment I sat on a log and quickly downloaded a deer calling app to my phone, hoping that perhaps I could catch site of the deer I knew was surely out there avoiding us. Alas we did not see a deer; but I marveled at the beauty around me and know that my Daisy enjoyed our woodsy romp as much as I did.

Being in nature wasn’t about hunting in that moment; it was about honoring the sacred. And whether I’m adventuring in the woods, or avoiding live worms covering the sidewalk, I recognize the uniqueness of the natural world. I am in awe of it.

There is something magical about the process of wild creatures Being. I hunt, for food of course, but also because it is the closest I can come to being One with the natural world; not just sitting in a ground blind waiting to harvest a deer (or turkey, as spring turkey season is fast upon us), but studying the movements, sounds, and signs of the wildlife I pursue. Much as my son and daughter-in-law are venturing around the world on their honeymoon, learning and experiencing different cultures; I venture into Nature to explore the cultures of the creatures that reside there.

There is a balance between interfering in the environment, and allowing the natural course of nature. Today I chose not to impose my will upon the ecosystem. I left the earthworms to their fate; for it was not mine to create.

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Catch of the Day: Trout

Now that it’s almost spring I’ve been trying to do some fishing. I went a couple of weeks ago, when the weather was still frosty, but had zero luck. There are a couple of small lakes, ponds really, on post that are stocked part of the year with trout. Historically, the best way to catch the trout has been with chartreuse Berkley PowerBait floating eggs. This year it seemed the trout were not impressed with eggs. When I spoke with others out fishing, they said the trout wanted spinners; blue and silver, or red specifically (maybe the trout had answered a You Gov poll….). So I went out and bought them, and though I did get a few hits, I failed to catch any fish that way. I think my hands were too cold to feel the hit in time to respond.

At work this past week I was talking with a coworker about fishing; and how it seemed my fishing had become as fruitless as my hunting during deer season. My co-worker told me her husband had been out fishing two days in a row succeeding at getting the creel limit of five trout. When I asked what her husband was fishing with, she told me PowerBait green salmon eggs with garlic; and then she had her husband buy me a jar.

Friday after work, I took my labbie-girl (who is my service dog and works with me) to the smaller of the two post ponds stocked with trout, and tried the new floating eggs. Two successful trout catches later, which was also two hours later, I headed home; feeling somewhat confident that my luck was changing. I started Saturday morning off with a nutritious and yummy breakfast of fresh trout and farm-fresh eggs. And then I headed back out to the fishing hole.

I reeled in my first trout of the morning within 30 minutes of arriving; and spent the next hour empty handed. While I had my Shimano rod & reel combo set up with my homemade snell and salmon eggs, I continued to use spinners on my new Daiwa Revros combo hoping that I could catch some trout doing “real fishing” as my son calls it. Alas, the trout were nary impressed with my casting and reeling abilities.

As I sat on my blue plastic Walmart fishing bucket, an older gentleman pulled up, on his way out, and asked how I was doing. I shared that I’d caught one fish, and he asked what I was using. I explained that I was using red salmon eggs and green salmon eggs with garlic on a panfish hook (a plain shank hook). He got out of the passenger side of the pick-up truck, reached around in his gear back in the bed and said, “I don’t usually help people out, but I’m going to give you something.” Then he shuffled down to my location, holding tightly onto his thick wooden cane, and handed me a jar of Berkley chartreuse salmon eggs (without garlic) and a package of snelled single trout egg hooks. The fisherman assured me these would do the trick as he’d caught his creel limit. As he headed back to the truck he said, “I don’t see many ladies out fishing.” I thanked him and continued with my set up as he drove away. But I figured I might as well try the tiny gold hooks, as I couldn’t do worse than I already was. He had given me one snelled hook already baited, so I added it to my swivel to test it out.

Lo and behold; I caught a trout; on the trout hook, not my panfish hook. So I changed out my bigger hook for a smaller one, kept both attached to my line, and put the fisherman’s regular floating egg on one and my garlic seasoned egg on the other – just to see if one was favored over the other. I caught two more trout within my second hour, for three that hour total; and the fish seemed to prefer the garlicy eggs. None the less; using the small single trout egg hooks really worked well and improved my catching performance!

By this time I was very excited, needing only one more trout to reach my limit. I believe I have ever only reached the creel limit once prior. Much to my labbie-girl’s chagrin, it took a full hour just to catch my fifth trout. But I succeeded in catching my limit and bringing home five trout to gut, clean, and freeze as future meals.

The thing about fishing, from my perspective, much like hunting, is I’m usually trying to figure stuff out on my own. Although my father did take me fishing when I was a little girl, I don’t have memories of lessons in knot tying, and knowing how to choose the right bait or lures. And as with my hunting; my disabilities often impact the way in which I do things, requiring adaptation to what is considered “normal.” When I have time, I read up on techniques or watch shows and videos; but I learn best experientially. I would hazard a guess that in this technological and information-laden age answers can be found to almost any question; the caveat being that one has to know the question to ask. Not knowing what I don’t know makes it hard to search for helpful information.

And then, like all creatures great and small, trout do their own thing. I try to find concrete methods and protocols to assure my results when fishing and hunting; but even if I could perform exactly the same way each and every time I cast a line or endeavor to hook a fish – the fish respond differently on Friday’s than on Sunday’s, differently when it’s less than 50 degrees as compared to when it’s warmer, and differently between 9:00 AM and Noon than they do from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Last year at a NWTF turkey hunter education course I learned, “Turkeys will do what turkeys will do.” I have since come to apply that to deer, rabbits, and of course, fish; “Trout will do what trout will do.”

Now that I know about these nifty little single egg hooks, I sense I will have many more happy fishing experiences before trout season ends in April or May, when the temperatures get too hot. But I have to hurry; turkey season is just weeks away!