An Encounter With a Hunter on Thanksgiving Day

November 26, 2016

Tags: Trumpland, rural America, American racists, KKK, 2016 Election

A peaceful country road on Thanksgiving Day. Photo by Carol Bergman
Thanksgiving Day in Ulster County, NY. Because all the “Crooked Hillary” election signage was down, the “STOP” signs at the intersections suddenly stood out in high relief: stop, move on, they seemed to say.

I had left the ten-year-old German Pointer at the house and was walking my daughter and son-in-law’s adorable new rescue—part Husky, part German Sheperd we think--when I spotted a small blue car parked alongside the road up ahead. A man in full camouflage was storing his gear in the back seat. I heard gunshots in the distance and slowed my pace. As we were on the road, not in the woods, I hadn’t thought to put on neon colors and was wearing a black Gortex. Hunting season, oh dear. I had forgotten and so had everyone else in the house! All that cooking amd savory aroma was distracting.

Thank goodness the new puppy has light fur, I thought. He is learning to be obedient and stayed close to my left side. I praised him and then stopped completely. I was now about 20 feet from the blue car. I hesitated and almost turned back. But why was I afraid? I was afraid because, since the election, there has been violence. I was afraid because there are venal racists who speak in tongues similar to Nazi tongues, venal racists who are taking power in Washington. I was afraid because my family is Jewish, I could easily be taken for Arab, and because most of my ancestral family was murdered in death camps. I was afraid because the KKK endorsed our president-elect.

I recalled my first visit a decade ago to this “Trumpland” rural area, long before Michael Moore might have dubbed it “Trumpland.” My daughter and son-in-law’s house is next to a fire station. It’s an all-volunteer fire department and there are regular pancake breakfasts to raise money. We went to our first one, tried to strike up conversation, and were completely ignored. What was going on? City invasion was going on, the city/country divide more like a chasm since the construction of the Ashokan reservoir flooded twelve towns at the turn of the 20th century to satisfy the water supply of "city people.” That was bitter and long lasting, communities displaced and eracinated, graveyards unearthed and shifted.

At first, the locals did not know that my daughter and son-in-law were here to stay, that they were not city snobs. Thankfully, they would not be outsiders for long though the political divide, at times, is still stark. Nonetheless, they don’t argue or confront; they behave as good neighbors behave, helping out in a hurricane, coming to the rescue of a neighbor who fell down some concrete steps, becoming anti-fracking activists for the benefit of everyone’s water supply.

Now I could see that the man was young and that his camouflage was crisp and new. That was reassuring in some way. This was not a man breaking the law. Everything about his movements as he stashed the gear into his car and took off his jacket seemed sane and careful. But he was obviously not huting alone as I could still hear shots in the distance. I walked closer and wished him a Happy Thanksgiving. He turned to me and wished me the same. He had a cherubic face, a face that I could not imagine killing anything. And though I do not eat meat myself, and object strenuously to raising meat to be killed for food, I with-held my judgment. Hunting in New York State is strictly controlled by the Department of Environmental Protection. One turkey of either sex between November 19 and December 2. That’s it. These were wild turkeys, after all, I told myself, in a mostly poor, rural area, the very American heartland that East Coast intellectuals ignored in the recent election to their/our peril. Since then, like so many other democrats—small d and big D—I have been on a personal crusade to close the divides and understand what has happened.

As an experienced journalist I am accustomed to getting into the thick of everything, to ask questions and listen with grave attention to the answers. Why should Thanksgiving Day be any different? “Did you manage to catch a wild turkey for the Thanksgiving table?” I asked. The young man said, “yes,” and smiled. Could his family afford a store-bought turkey, I wondered. Were they relying on his prowess like the original 17th century Dutch settlers? Like the Cayugas or Onondagas who were here before them?

Those thoughts—stretching back into our colonial history—humbled me. And humbled I shall try to remain.

Archives