Hunting and Writing

Legendary surgeon George Crile Sr. went on a safari in the 1930s. He enjoyed his first safari so much that decided to go on a more elaborate safari, one with a scientific twist, on his second trip. It is recounted by his wife in the book Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure. It was perhaps the last age in which there actually was anything romantic about such excursions. The trip was dangerous. The four-engine boat-plane they hoped to cross the Mediterranean on has recently been lost in a fire, so they took a three-engine boat-plane, which in turn was not available for the return trip because it had crashed in the duration of the safari. They went hunting on foot, a hundred porters carrying their luggage and instruments, tracking animals over the savanna without the help of motor vehicles. When they killed, the knelt on the ground and shot without cover at a rhinoceros charging straight at them (as opposed to shooting from inside of jeeps ready to run from danger, pedal to the metal, should anything go wrong). Crile even had the reserve to calmly let his wife take the last shot when a wounded, and clearly enraged, rhinoceros burst through the tall grass and thundered toward them. Perhaps in the future, hunters will go on a battle of wits with revived velociraptors in paleobotanical jungles, and that will put a little bit of nobility back in the art of hunting. Until then, swatting cockroaches in the kitchen would have more utility.

Kate Braverman wrote “Writing is like hunting. There are brutally cold afternoons with nothing in sight, only the wind and your breaking heart. Then the moment when you bag something big. The entire process is beyond intoxicating.” She was not the only person who likened writing to hunting. Hemingway seemed to feel this way too. A more recent blogger said basically the same thing.

I can understand the sentiment, but I also understand the sentiment of people who have compared writing to sailing, mountain climbing, and flying by night. But mostly, writing is like writing.

It will never impress anyone to talk about why writing is NOT like hunting, sailing, solo mountain climbing, or midnight aircraft piloting. Writing is a sedentary activity and we only romanticize it by comparing it to life-threatening outdoorsy pastimes.

I am not a hunter, but I have done some sailing and taken part in sporadic dangerous activities. I understand that writing is like all those adventures at a metaphorical level, but I also understand that there are some crucial differences. When you are out in the wild, and one with nature, most of the pleasure is derived from the fact that your mind tunes out. You are not thinking when you are fighting against the elements to keep your boat right-side-up. When the sky finally clears and you know you made it and your eyes soak in the sunset, your mind is a perfect blank and that is the point of being immersed in nature. You have your core self rubbing against the raw coarseness of the environment with no intellectual barrier in between. You are naked in the wild.

And if anything is taking the romance out of hunting, it is the fact that you no longer have that opportunity to become mindlessly naked. Maybe if you are hunting for a grizzly in the frigid mountains of Alaska things are still different. But a dentist killing a lion through a faux safari in a conservation park does not impress me as being on a soul consuming adventure. I do not like to use the word “poser”, but a man who pretends to be having an adventure when he is not, who takes the trophy of the hunt without going through the test, whose chosen medium to celebrate his depredation is Facebook, is only wielding his gun like a fop’s bow tie. Writing is not like hunting in that there are no shortcuts. Certainly it is a safe indoor activity, but it is one that can be compared to hunting only when the hunt is real. It is, like true hunting, ultimately a hunt for your own soul.


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