“It is not a hobby to enjoy the outdoors; it is a fundamental human right”.
A hero of mine growing up was Ray Mears. What always left an impression was his gentle yet self-assured calmness and infectious, boyish enthusiasm for the outdoors. It had clearly done something profound to him; moved him in a way that is very difficult to express verbally. This is a common trait for individuals of this ilk; it’s as though they’ve been made privy to some great internal secret. The luminescence of their truth is what makes their message resonate. The ‘Attenborough phenomenon’.
Living a life in the outdoors, listening, observing, sleeping out, breaking bread around a fire and (most importantly) leaving no trace, is something Mears (and I) feel(s) very strongly about. It is the closest we can get to having a conversation with the past; to our ancestors.
There is wisdom in frugality- learning to make-do heightens the senses and grounds a person, assuming one didn’t bring the kitchen sink to the backcountry. To quieten your mind to the immediate surroundings and to remove yourself from instant gratification is important. The incidental quietness that emanates from this is the pre-requisite for being able to absorb environmental atmospherics.
This internal calm which results from this umbilical affinity we have with the outdoors is a valuable asset for everyday life. It is cathartic. The ability to lessen the din, or rather, re-calibrate the broadcast of our internal dialogue is something which many of us have forgotten how to do. The rewards for nurturing ones innate connection with mother nature are endless, and I could wax lyrically here to an obnoxious degree- at a base level, it develops a healthy psychological compost, from which mental fortitude can sprout (an obnoxious sentence if ever there was one).
There is a modern argument for the consumption of wild foods versus commercial farming and traditional animal husbandry. Wild foods are often more sustainable and are healthier for the end consumer and indeed the environment. Hunting wild protein, however, requires an increasingly delicate set of variables in place for it to be viable and sustainable. A set of variables which are nonexistent in the Maltese hunting context.
Stalking prey, taking and dispatching it, and enjoying the spoils of the hunt around a fire with the tribe- that idea speaks to me, and feels like a natural impulse. Many of the daily customs we enjoy are derived from similar scenes. However, our intelligence and accumulated knowledge as a species must take precedent, always.
There is nuance here, and dealing in moral absolutes will just further muddy the quagmire of this topic, especially given the emotional spill-over which occurs when aligning one’s identity with a (destructive) hobby. Our reality is dynamic and ever-changing, not static. By behaving as self-appointed guardians of the status quo, local hunters go against the flow of nature. I do hope this irony isn’t lost on them.
Malta can’t sustain off-roading on a large scale (something I enjoy), or long-distance target shooting (another thing I enjoy). Does it make me special that I have the basic deductive capacity to concede that I cannot practice certain pastimes because of the constraints of our geography? No, of course, it doesn’t.
There is a segment of our society, however, who get away with behaving illogically and aggressively; fighting tooth and nail for what is beginning to look like a self-projected-masculine identity-flaw. I get where they’re coming from in terms of needing an outlet. The inclination comes from the same place that my love for the outdoors comes from- the root is the same, but they’re just misguided and misinformed, and they’re doing it all wrong (or right based on recent events!). I’m not sure what’s worse- the enablement of their behaviour by the powers that be or the behaviour itself.
A population of almost 500k people, in an area of 316km2 . Green spaces are at an absolute premium. Let’s be realistic – our green spaces are essentially green belts or city parks amidst what is effectively a large-ish city, interspersed with suburbs. Can you imagine hunting being allowed in Richmond Park in London? The deer herds in Richmond park do need to be culled occasionally to protect the greater ecology. However, this is done in a controlled manner by park officials (qualified stewards) due to how sensitive this particular piece of ecology is. It is sensitive and delicate because of how small it is in the context of the urban sprawl of Greater London. Ring any bells?
Enjoying outdoor spaces (without the threat of gunshot wounds) is crucial to mental health. In fact, I’d go a step further and argue that it is a precursor to happiness. The inherent wisdom built into the ‘Right to Roam’ act (Scandinavia/UK) qualifies this. Evidence suggests that just being in the outdoors can lower blood pressure, stress and heart rate. Factor in a pandemic and suddenly green space is doubly important to sanity. Nothing needs to be taken from the countryside in order to enjoy it. Just being in it is the baseline; the therapeutic foundation upon which most of our civilisation is built. Like returning to the collective womb. The sovereignty of hunters within that space is unimaginable.
An interesting point of contemplation is the fact that ‘enjoying’ the outdoors, in terms of leisure, is a relatively new idea. There is a direct correlation between the advent of the industrial revolution and outdoor leisure, conceptually. This could be interpreted as a byproduct or symptom of our separation from nature due to industrialisation- our outdoor renaissance if you like.
Before that, our relationship with the outdoors was survival first, enjoyment second, and consequently our connection with it was more visceral, less contemplative. Hunting has been around a lot longer than our collective realisation or rediscovery of our symbiotic relationship with the Earth and has arguably left a deep imprint on the collective consciousness, and for a good reason.
But this does not excuse ignorance. The handover of our’ city parks’ to this ill-equipped community is inherently wrong, in every way.
Cover photo source: Ed Dingli
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