I spent another night at my study site. Today was the first day I was able to lay out traps and actually get some measurements. It had rained in the morning and an afternoon of warmth had broken the cold snap we were facing. A week ago, Texas was shut down due to ice and now I’m out in a t-shirt. In the past few years, the weather has been so chaotic, so variable and so temperamental (Ha!). Honestly, it worries me. Is this what Climate change is going to do? How extreme is it going to get? What will be able to survive?
As a testament to my earlier concerns about the weather I actually found a dead anole under a log. Outwardly he looked just fine. But his eyes were already shriveled and sunken into his head. The telltale mark of blue/green on his belly told me that his organs were just starting to rot. There were no apparent injuries. He looked to be a healthy weight. And he did not appear to be dehydrated. The only conclusion that I could come to, is that he died with the last cold snap. Just the other day it got down into the 20’s. I’m not sure how the other Herps are doing, but I hope this isn’t the case for all of them.
After a night of decent herping (and some really interesting phone conversations), I sat down by the pond to rest my mind. Stopping to think has always been my solace and my path to find inner peace. I look out at the one visible frog floating in the water. I hear a rustle and look up to see two juvenile raccoons squabbling in the tree. I heard loud noises and what sounded like a bird being eaten from the innards of the woods. (FUTURE ME: I later found out there was a good chance that this was a coyote. Scat and tracks were found in the morning. Amazing that a coyote can still exist surrounded by McMansions and freeways). These sounds of the woods, speak to me greater than any song or speech. To me, they are what I was meant to hear. They are what I hope to live my life to, and the tune I hope to fall asleep to every night.
I got up very early in the morning to check my minnow traps. I did not expect much given the weather but was pleasantly surprised! 4 bullfrogs, a tadpole, and an assortment of minnows may not seem like much but is a good haul all things considered. Every individual was weighed, measured, and photographed. I have to say I am always content leaving this place. Only because I can return to find new creatures, and new experiences to always remember.
The greatest joy of climbing a mountain is not during the trek up. That is numbing, taxing and a true test of mental fortitude. The true joy begins, moments from summiting the top. At the summit, you cast aside how difficult the journey up was. And ain or mental blocks are forgotten. You take in the view and notice how alive you are. Perspective, both physical and spiritual, is what you achieve.
Then begins the climb down. With newfound energy, you torpedo down the rocky trail. With every 100 feet a new breath of richer air fills your lungs. You pass by every spot you took a break. Every spot you considered quitting. Every spot you stopped to massage your aching bones and burning muscles. And you do so with ease. Climbing down makes you feel that the hardships you faced were easy. Nothing can compare to sense of pure exhilaration as you descend.
Your joy peaks when you reach the bottom. You look back towards the summit and realize that you have conquered an obstacle much bigger than yourself. You pushed through pain and exhaustion. Most importantly, you pushed through your own mind full of doubts. It makes any struggle you have in life seem trivial to what you just accomplished. You sit down. Take a deep breath. Smile, and know that you fought to the top.
Then you crack open a beer. You accidentally left it out of the cooler, but that warm amber drink is the best thing you’ve had in a very long time. This is pure joy.
Today I set out to climb Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. Over 8 miles (12.8 km) round trip, 3,000ft (914 m) elevation gain, and the possibility of 80+ mph (130 km) winds. I was ready. With the sunrise lighting my trail I set out.
5 minutes into the walk my knee began to hurt for seemingly no reason. With every push, the pain became more and more striking. Barely 15 minutes in I took a break to figure things out. Thus far, my left knee has had 0 trouble and has been taking the slack from the right. Any rest allows the knee to feel pain-free until it needs to push again. Thankfully, there seems to be a plateau of pain. It reaches it swiftly but doesn’t exceed that threshold. However, I do not wish to test that limit. At the moment going downslope offers to pain at all. With every step and every grunt of pain, the question burns in my mind. Do I turn back to summit another day? Or do I risk injury in the pursuit of stubbornness?
Almost 2 hours in and my knee is killing me. Although I’ve been learning how to work with it, pushing off with only my left leg. The portion of the trail I am on now is cold and windy but relatively smooth. I think I can see the peak from here. I am worried, however. There is supposed to be a campsite about 2/3 of the way to the peak, and I haven’t seen any mention of it.
3 hours in and I have finally hit the campsite. There’s still a good while to go.
I was never looking at the peak. It was hiding. Damn.
I made it. 8,749 feet (2,667 meters) up. I can look out in any direction and see for hundreds of miles. I can see New Mexico, Big Bend National Park, and thousands of other places I hope to visit someday. Right at the top, I ran out of water. I planned to make coffee but forgot a filter. I forgot a spoon for the beans I brought. My knee hurts with any bend and I am sweating like crazy. But I am happy. There is a beautiful view. I thought about quitting hours ago, but I pushed through. Here, I look over Texas and know that I am happy here.
FUTURE ME: I don’t know what was wrong with my knee. It still hurt when I got home and would flare up from even the most gentle of inclines. Now it feels better. Perhaps walking it off for 8 miles up a mountain helped?
On my way back from my supply run I stopped at Carlsbad Caverns. I knew it was a very heavy tourist destination, but I didn’t realize the scale of it. I was told that there were 200 people in the caverns at the moment with several hundred more set to arrive. The parking lot was nearly full, and the wait for the elevator going up could hit 2 hours. On the way down I opted for the less traveled natural trail. A series of switchbacks that lead you 750 feet (230 meters) down into the caverns.
The crowds were intense. I was stopped on the narrow trail as families slowed down for their kids to hopefully appreciate what they were seeing. However, I did not mind. Despite my normally fast pace, I was constantly struck by the beauty of the caverns. Speleothems reached into the void of the cave from every horizontal surface. Thousands of years and millions of drops of calcium filled water led to each and every stalactite and stalagmite in the cavern. Each one has its own shape, story, and composition. Each one was a true mark of patience and time. I wondered what the other guests thought.
Every person is formed from their own experiences and each has their own story. The calcite spears of the cave were no different. They exist on a different time scale but they are fundamentally the same. Individuals made of little steps and experiences occasionally marred by massive change. Some are grander and some are more important. Some almost touch their goals but fall short. Some are prettier. Some fall early, and some are still forming into something great.
If every speleothem in the cavern could think would they see us in the same way? We are only present for the smallest portion of their lives. Would we be an insignificant blip in time? Or would we be one of those forces that forever changes them? Maybe we would be an attraction for them. To look at, appreciate, and ultimately save in their memories.
I just got back to camp. I decided to spend a few nights at Guadalupe Mountains National Park after Christmas. I wanted my brothers to come, but the drive was too much for them. So I am alone.
The first night left me frozen and needing a trip to the closest town. In my haste, I left my sleeping pad, butane tank, and good socks back home. I was lucky. A ranger at the information station gave me a few tanks of butane that other campers had left. That got me a hot breakfast and coffee. I made due without a pad by laying down all my jackets and some clothes. That gave my back a reprieve from the rocks. However, despite two pairs of socks, blankets, and my sleeping bag my feet were numb when I woke up. That left me needing a trip to town.
I decided to set out towards Carlsbad, New Mexico. It was about an hour drive and I figured I could swing by the caverns on my way back. The trip there was filled with very few sights. Fog surrounded me like a bag over my head. Mountain ranges were gobbled up by the white blanket. The only thing I could see was the road immediately in front of me and the occasional set of brake lights peering out like red eyes from the fog. It was dangerous, scary, but amazing. FUTURE ME: I later found out that this was less fog and more clouds. The currents coming from the mountains, paired with the dust, caused the clouds to hang low to the ground. They took a long while to left and I even had to drive through it on a sunny day when heading back home.
At the store, I found a cheap sleeping pad, thick socks, and good beer. I was set for the night.
As I’m driving out to the Guadalupe Mountains I passed through the Midland/Odessa area. It was early morning when I set out and a heavy fog had been blocking my view from all angles. The sun came out and cleared it up quickly. As I drove here I passed windmills, gentle hills, and a green landscape. Here? Hundreds of oil wells constantly extracting. Dozens of fracking pipes jutting from the ground burning off their gas. Every couple hundred feet there was another one and another one and another one.
We know oil and fracking are bad for the environment. We can argue that one is better than the other, but when both create drastic changes to the landscape can we really say either is good? We have changed the landscape in the pursuit of energy so readily and so massively that the land we exploited is no longer worth protecting. It is ugly. It is scarred. It has forever been changed by the pitch black paintbrush of human exploitation. How can anyone respect this land? How can anyone appreciate this land?
The people who work on this land are doing just that. Working. Providing a livelihood for their family. When we tell them fracking is bad, when we tell them oil is polluting our planet, when we tell them the landscape has been forever changed, what do you think they hear? They don’t hear the ecological concerns or the environment woes. They hear someone who has never been in their shoes telling them how to live their lives. We are attacking their livelihood, their families, and their homes without offering real solutions.
We tell them solar and the wind is better. How does that feed their family? We tell them that their work is ruining the landscape. How can you tell someone that they are ruining their home when you yourself have never lived it? We tell them to move, change industries, or extract less. How can you demand that someone changes their entire life?
I agree that it should be stopped. I agree that we need massive change fast, but if we do not stop to acknowledge that these are people. Not fracking monsters, not planet polluters, not idiotic extractors, how can we ever hope to make a change?
I’m back at E.L.M. Its cold outside, but I am hoping to find some early breeding salamanders. They will start breeding en masse in January, but one can still hope.
I’ve found no Salamanders thus far, but I have admired all the microhabitats. Under logs, inside stumps, and between stones, there is loads of life. Roaches, spiders, larvae, centipedes, ants, earwigs, fungus, egg masses; every flipped log carries its own unique world.
As I stand around hearing the noises of Beltway 8, two teens walk by blaring music. I say nothing. It is not my place to say how people enjoy nature, despite how it takes away from mine. They only make me more thankful for the micro-worlds that I am exploring. This should be a place to relax, to connect with and appreciate how lucky they are that parks like this exist.
I cannot change people. I cannot remove the highway or eliminate the music. For now, I take solace in the seat on which I am writing. A decayed stump from a massive tree. It has become hollow with age and is now filled with leaves and dirt. I stick my head into the middle and am transported to a new world. Layers of decayed bark shield me from the outside world. I hear almost nothing and see only leaves. I say I am looking for salamanders in here. However, I think I’m finding a world all to myself.
*This article is over my thoughts and experiences about hunting and veganism. I will NOT try to convert you to either. I will not preach the Vegan gospel or lie and say that carrots and kale taste better than a butter-basted Ribeye. I will not say that hunting is our right and that it is our place to control nature. Everyone has the choice to eat animal products or not. Everyone has the choice to hunt or not. It’s not my job to make those decisions for you. However, I can make a case for how these two seemingly opposing beliefs can overlap.*
Allow me to be blunt. I am a vegan, but I 100% support and advocate hunting. Veganism arrived to me through a series of small changes in my diet and lifestyle. I used to say “There’s no way in hell I would be vegan”. At the time, veganism to me was an excuse for people to feel better about themselves and live superior to others. Veganism conjured images of militant PETA and angry man-bun youtubers.
*(The author would like to say that not all man-buns are evil. Just the angry ones. #ManBunLivesMatter)*
My conversion to Veganism was complex. I first cut out red meat because of climate change. I cut out poultry because I believe there is a huge problem with how they are kept. Same with pigs. I was a pescatarian for a long time before I became aware of the extent of overfishing and how hard it is to regulate. For over a year I was vegetarian before I decided to cut out dairy and eggs due to health issues. These are my reasons and I stand by them.
However, I am an avid supporter of hunting. While I do not eat Eggs, Dairy, Beef, Pork, Poultry, or Fish from any restaurant or supermarket, I will absolutely eat hunted meat. Hunting is not a means to kill animals. Hunting, when done properly, is a means for effective conservation and a way to gain a deeper understanding and respect for the natural world.
Let me explain.
Hunting as Conservation
First, let me explain that I am NOT advocating hunting practices of the 20th century. The decimation of Bison, extinction of Passenger Pigeons, and removal of near every predator was extremely unethical. Hunting with the purpose to shoot as many animals as you can is slaughter and is no better than killing millions of cows in thousands of farms every year.
Today hunting in the U.S. is a $23 Billion industry (Stat Brain). You cannot argue how much funding for conservation is provided through hunting. The US Fish and Wildlife Service gains 55% of its funding through hunting. They, in turn, employ scientists, conservationists, and park officials to maintain, improve and protect natural areas and their inhabitants. More protected land gets bought every year directly from these funds.
As Rob Nelson says in an article for untamed science (Link to article below), “If you shoot something, you’re not conserving the thing you just shot. You could conserve the pelt, the antlers, or the memory of that animal, but that animal is gone. However, you might be doing something that helps conserve the species, the habitat, or the region’s biodiversity.” The problem is that it is impossible to see the entire chain of events leading from a dead animal to the protection of animals. However, through proper science, we can get close.
Here’s some great examples of when hunting works:
And yes, for every example of hunting working brilliantly, there are cases where it failed spectacularly. But, does that mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater? Science is a process of failure. Choosing to focus on every failed policy leads to the successes being ignored and forgotten. Should we not point our efforts to what works? Should we not learn from every mistake instead of damning the entire practice? Should we not learn to accept that not every method will work, and that only through failure can we improve?
Hunting as a Connection to Nature
Transcendentalist authors arose out of the romanticism movement of the 19th century. They believed that Humans should focus on our connection with nature. Henry David Thoroue and Ralph Waldo Emerson are two notable authors of this time. Their pieces inspired later artists like John Muir and Aldo Leopold. They laid the groundwork for what it means to be a modern naturalist and a conservation-minded human being. And every single one of them was an avid hunter.
We do not, and cannot exist on this planet without affecting anything. We are participants of Planet Earth. However, no other predator in the history of the planet raises their food en masse. No other predator is so far removed from their prey that they do not know where it comes from. No other predator chooses a diet based on marketing, peer pressure or the government. Every other predator on the planet does what is natural. The greatest benefit, and detriment, humans have ever received is choice.
Our choice comes from understanding. Our understanding comes from our environment, our upbringing, and our daily interactions. We choose to be blind to what we eat. We choose to eat animals that are not humanely raised. And we choose day after day to become so far removed from the tit of the earth that we cannot even see her bosom.
I choose to understand what it means to be a member of our planet. I try to understand the role that humans have on the global ecosystem. I choose to be a force of good on the planet. I am a conservationist first. I exist on this planet and am part of it. Hunting is how I forge my connection with the earth.
The Vegan Connection to Hunting
So how do I relate this back to my own Vegan beliefs? I am vegan for a variety of reasons. I support hunting for a variety of reasons. Yes, there are points where they butt heads however, there are ample points where they complement each other. I believe that we need to do what is best for the greatest good. I believe that keeping animals in cramped, filthy conditions is no way to respect any living being. I believe that through hunting, we can gain a greater respect for animals, for nature, and for our place on planet earth.
I am a Vegan. I am a Hunter. I am a Human Being.
Anderson, Michael G. and Paul I. Padding. “The North American Approach to Waterfowl Management: Synergy of Hunting and Habitat Conservation.” International Journal of Environmental Studies, vol. 72, no. 5, Oct. 2015, pp. 810-829. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00207233.2015.1019296.
BRAVERMAN, IRUS. “Conservation and Hunting: Till Death Do They Part? A Legal Ethnography of Deer Management.” Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law, vol. 30, no. 2, Spring2015, pp. 143-199. EBSCOhost, lib-ezproxy.tamu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lgs&AN=117472731&site=eds-live.
Enrico Di Minin, Nigel Leader-Williams, Corey J.A. Bradshaw, Banning Trophy Hunting Will Exacerbate Biodiversity Loss, In Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 31, Issue 2, 2016, Pages 99-102, ISSN 0169-5347, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2015.12.006.
Keywords: trophy hunting; Africa; lion; rhinoceros; community; policy
Hurley, Kevin, et al. “The Role of Hunters in Conservation, Restoration, and Management of North American Wild Sheep.” International Journal of Environmental Studies, vol. 72, no. 5, Oct. 2015, pp. 784-796. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00207233.2015.1031567
Naidoo, Robin, et al. “Complementary Benefits of Tourism and Hunting to Communal Conservancies in Namibia.” Conservation Biology, vol. 30, no. 3, June 2016, pp. 628-638. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/cobi.12643.
Tonight was the 1st night at Edith L Moore. This was not the prime time for herping. I found a fair amount of species given the weather. It is cold, it is windy, and there is a storm front moving in.
The forest is alive but not with animals. The wind breaks every loose twig and rustles every free leaf. This park is beautifully maintained, but I am constantly reminded of humans. The constant drone of traffic, the lights from backyards lighting my path, and the laughter from families enjoying the fall weather. I’m beginning to think I mind more than the reptiles.
Despite the signs of the Anthropocene, this park holds beauty. Something this dense with knowledge and education is wonderful. Today I saw a mother teaching her child the alphabet using trail markers. Children flipping rocks with curious eyes. Families enjoying every step of trails while I just lamented on the human disturbance.
Who is really disturbed? The one with knowledge who only sees problems? Or the happy ones are blind to any issue.