Someone killed a moose on the timber road above our home. That’s not odd given the area in which we live. But what was out of the ordinary was how they treated the carcass. They only took the antlers and left the rest behind. Coyotes, wolves, a cougar, a bobcat, ravens, crows, eagles all came to feast in the snow. When the dog and I came upon it there was nothing left but bone.
A larger animal, likely the cougar, dragged a huge leg bone a dozen yards out of the trees. I had to move it out of the path of ATVs and winter hikers like myself and it was then I noticed the desecration. I stood in the crisp silence of that mountain morning and felt desecrated too. It’s not the first time this kind of thing has happened up that road, just the first time it was a moose.
In the fall hunters had strewn bodies of at least half a dozen deer along that road. They were just cast off, dumped, left for garbage once they’d taken whatever it was they needed as a trophy. You really have to work to move a moose. There’s a day’s work involved in field dressing it and packing it away and if you only want the antlers that’s a horribly inconvenient labour.
So when I read that 43 per cent of people in a Canadian Press-Harris Decima Poll picked the events of 9/11 as the defining moment of the past decade, it didn’t surprise me much. What’s that got to do with a desecrated moose? Everything.
Certainly the vision of the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground that clear September morning was like nothing we had ever seen before. There’s no argument that that cataclysmic event and the events following were historic, life-altering and world-changing. Barack Obama’s election as US President was chosen second in the poll for the same reasons.
But what’s interesting is that people chose cataclysm. What’s telling here is that folks out there saw terrorism and its violent aftermath as the one event in 10 years of human living that defined it. Sure, hope as engendered by Obama came second at 22 per cent followed by the financial angst of the Great Recession at 17 per cent but the message of that first choice is as compelling as a dishonored being. It hit me just as squarely in the gut.
We get inundated with images of war, death, catastrophe, violence, crime and inhumanity all the time. We’re nudged forward to a condition of fear and discontent. We have become conditioned to expect our newscasts and newspapers to continue the deluge of impressions of our confounding ability to hamstring ourselves, of the dark side of our human nature, of the hardness of our lives instead of their glory.
What occurs mostly is a reflex reaction to become insular. We seek protection of ourselves, our families, our loved ones. We become wary. In that wariness itself is the root of our decline as a species. When you spend all your time eyeing the impending threat you make yourself incapable of seeing the awesome degrees of nuance and detail that make life such an incredible experience.
So we learn to guard our conveniences. We eschew the inconvenient. Life becomes about getting our due. So we continue to drive, consume, ignore and disregard at the same time we expect more dire images that tell is to get all we can while we can and no one’s going to tell us any different. And a moose is dishonored in the mountains.
For me, there are a host of other images that define the decade. Some exist in the news of the day but most do not. I look at the surge of humanity that swept in after the levees broke in New Orleans or the tsunami washed across Indonesia. I look at Al Gore’s message to all of us and I regard the choice to elect hope in the United States as indicative of the true nature and desire of our species. Then I look at that trail through the mountains and the wedding ring shining on my hand. My decade is defined by those images and others like them.
I won’t forget 9/11. None of us will. But I won’t let my life be governed by the image. Nor will I choose to define the passage of my time here by the chiaroscuro of anxiety and fear. Instead, I will celebrate this planet and try to remember that I live on one. I will work hard to live with the inconvenience of the mundane and the necessary. I will live like a moose and stand in the shallows, swept up in the nuance and detail, not eying the impending threat.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, is out from Doubleday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org