Thursday, July 2, 2009
Random Acts of Senseless Cruelty
Thoughts on Random Acts of Senseless Cruelty
Reading Jim Harrison’s novelette, Wolf, later made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson, I recognized a trait the character had that I somehow outgrew. He called it “random acts of senseless cruelty.” This struck me with a bit of déjà vu.
The character, Swanson, is camping and hunting in the woods of Northern Michigan trying to stay sober, for he had to put fifty miles between himself and whiskey to try to dry out. As he tramped through the woods, slept amid clouds of mosquitoes, stood naked in the plumes of smoke from a boiling campfire, swam in the chilled waters of Lake Michigan, he pondered over his life and the incidents came to life on the page as little vignettes of adventures and misadventures, usually involving women, sex, and liquor, and more sex and women and liquor, meanwhile wondering what the hell it was all about.
He would wade sloughs and icy rushing creeks, push through brambles and briars, fight his way through clouds of stinging insects, all the while reminiscing about his misspent life. You may think this is a terrible book to read, but Harrison’s prose is wonderful and you get caught up in where he is going and where he has been. I have read everything I can get my hands on. His Legends Of The Fall was also made into a screenplay and was a bit different from his other introspective novels. Just Before Dark is a batch of nonfiction short essays about his experience in hunting, women, drinking gourmet cooking, literature, and another adventure in reading. A wonderful story, A Woman Lit By Fireflies ,about a upper middle class woman tired of living with a man who evidently was a good lover to her, but was totally involved in his business and who never thought of anything but the market, and on trips only listened to stock market news and never involved her in anything though she wanted to listen to classical music sometimes. He was oblivious to any of her needs, and had lived on her money until he became independent of her. On the return trip from visiting their daughter, they stopped at a visitors station and she simply walked out the back door and into a cornfield and kept walking. She spent the night at the edge of the field in a kind of nature made cave of leaves, and while she walked the rows and built her fire and boiled water from a creek in a small can, she thought of her past. All of his stories are filled with flashbacks. During the night she woke completely covered with fireflies, like a living lamp of flickering incandescence. The next day she walked back and divorced her husband. A story worth reading for it leaves traces in your heart of an odd dissonance, a victory but a sad one. I usually don’t go for things like that, but it really left an impression.
Ok, about senseless cruelty. Swanson shot a turtle on a log with his high powered rifle, rendering it to shattered pieces of shell and flesh. He shot into a swarm of bees on the side of a tree. I remember, as a kid, hunting, shooting into a squirrel’s nest, shooting birds nests and little birds like sparrows, beautiful blue jays, rabbits, squirrels, catching bullfrogs and later cutting their legs off for dinner while they were still alive. I never thought of their pain, and how the suffered.
My final hunting trip was thirty years ago when I went squirrel hunting with my cousin David Sledge and his father. I had a shot gun and wanted to see if I could still kill my limit, eight, of squirrels by “still hunting.” That is by being very still and slipping up on them. I killed eight, stuffed them into the big game pocket on the back of my hunting jacket, and when I returned to the camp I dumped them out on the ground and was totally shocked. There lay eight tiny creatures, curled in on themselves, little clawed paws in prayer like position, more like tiny dead kittens than anything else. I felt a horror at what I had done.
At least I was left with fishing. Then I learned that fish had nerves in their mouths. I had been told they had no nerves in their mouths and you could catch them and not hurt them. I saw a demonstration of a lady putting something on their mouths and then released them back to the brook. The fish went into horrible spasms trying to rub it off of their lips in the gravel and dirt beneath the water. Now that screwed me out of my fishing. I have been informed by my old buddies that I am really a pussy for allowing this kind of thinking. I can’t help it.
I have realized that all creatures are entitled to life, even the tiniest little crawly thing unless he biting or infecting me in some way. I cannot understand how such minute creatures I sometimes see crossing my desk can possess this precious thing called life, but they do, and what part do they play, and why are they here? Well, if I don’t have the answer to these things I surely can’t presume to have a right to smush them. My friends simply slam something down on them never thinking about it. I hate houseflies, roaches, mosquitoes, gnats, ticks, no-seeums, horseflies, and will kill them in a heartbeat, but most of those little fellers aren’t harming me, even spiders, and I let them go. I think spiders are pretty cool.
So there is the evolution of a man up from one kind of barbarian to another, perhaps more noble, maybe just silly, but that is the way it is.If anybody wants to take me on about it I am willing to stand my ground and kick his ass for I feel life is inviolate and precious, though I don’t understand it and how it works, but I know I am creating mine in some way that I hope someday I will understand better. Alvin Rubin, my freshman law school property professor, told of the pilgrim who finally made it up the mountain to ask the wise hermit who lived up there “what is life,” and the hermit said “It is a cream soda and a matzo ball.” Oh well, that makes sense when you think about it, I guess.
So there is no telling where a stray idea, like “random acts of senseless cruelty”, can lead. It led me to this point, at which I am going to stop writing.