Book Review: The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli
Posted by

Quite simply one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time. If you enjoyed Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, this is a must read. If you are a non-hunter and are thinking about heading down the path towards becoming one, this is a must read. If you are a ecologically-conscious hunter or someone who occasionally has those “this just doesn’t feel right” moments sprinkled throughout your outdoor experience, this is a must read. If you look at your time outdoors as a sort of salving therapy for life’s troubles, this is a must read. The book challenged me, inspired me, surprised me, and thrilled me. Bottom line, this is a must read.

The Mindful Carnivore (link to order the book from Amazon) is a 3-stage chronicling of the author’s path from 1) a boyhood spent plinking cans with BB guns and catching fish from the local quarry to 2) an early adult life dedicated to veganism and challenging every possible motivation that might lead a person to take another creature’s life and finally to 3) the quest to re-immerse himself into a consumptive and participatory relationship with nature through activities such as gardening, fishing, and hunting. The book is extremely personal and reads, at times, more like a novel than a non-fiction book about the topic at hand. The author is very introspective and does a great job articulating those internal battles as he wrestles with his own emotions, confronting apparent (and real!) affronts and inconsistencies within the popularized hunting culture, and dealing with the moment he takes a deer’s life with intent and purpose and forethought.

To difficult to summarize my favorite parts so I’ll just insert a couple short excerpts that give a taste of his writing style and the provocative thinking that characterizes all of the book.

“Hunters, I realized, face a problem shared by many minorities: identity in the eyes of the majority. No single set of behaviors can be ascribed to them all, yet nonhunters often identify them as a singular group. If hunting was more common – like driving, say – we would make more sophisticated distinctions. Just as we can encounter bad drivers without drawing conclusions about all drivers, we would be able to encounter bad hunters without drawing conclusions about all hunters. Just as we can criticize drunk driving and road rage without condemning all driving, we would be able to criticize poaching and cruelty without condemning all hunting.”

“In becoming a vegan, I had been mindful of my diet’s consequences for the planet and for the beings who inhabit it. I aimed to confront those consequences head-on, to see them clearly, to choose the path of least harm. I sought a respectful, holistic way of eating and living, a kind of right dietary citizenship, my food choices shaped by ecological and animal-welfare concerns in much the way that early American vegetarianism was shaped by fears of animality, issues of social reform, and aspirations to masculinity and success. I was mindful, too, of my diet’s inner consequences. Since I believed that killing animals was an unnecessary evil, integrity and alignment – a sense of values put into action – could only come from a meat-free diet. In becoming a hunter, my outward aim had been the same: to be mindful of the consequences of my diet, and to confront one of those consequences-the death of animals – with my eyes open. Taking a life carefully and swiftly seemed the most conscientious path. I still sought a respectful, holistic way of eating and living, my decision to hunt shaped by the same concerns that shaped my veganism. My inner aim had also been the same. Having concluded that I needed some animal protein in my diet and that some harm to animals was inevitable in even the gentlest forms of agriculture, integrity and alignment could only come from taking responsibility for at least a portion of the killing.”

Day 5: Wildlife Management Field Course – Pymatuning Ecology Lab
Posted by

The last day of Week 1 started off in the field checking our arrays of small mammal traps, but finished inside as planning for the team research projects began in earnest. Immediately after breakfast, we started checking our trap arrays – starting first with the traps that were more exposed to direct sunlight and at higher risk of overheating and ending with a couple lines of traps tucked away into the hemlocks surrounding the camp facility where we stayed each night.

Our first catch was a northern short-tailed shrew, not at all what I was expecting given the bait choice. It was a little wobbly-legged to leave after at least a couple hours with its voracious appetite being suppressed, but it appeared to be just fine.

The last specimen caught was this deer mouse that was quite photogenic. This was a hit with the students, getting to hold and interact with some of the wildlife that we’d talked about so much already. The track plates also yielded some results, but it was just documenting evidence of the pilfering thief that found many of our traps the night before. I would guess 1/3 of the traps had been flipped and emptied of their contents…SKUNK!

We were never to busy to stop and ID a particularly good specimen, faunal or floral.

Tulip poplar:

Spring peeper:

Wood frog:

On the way to one of the local wildlife areas, we made a mid-morning pit stop to eat some snacks and work on our rock skipping abilities.

At the wildlife area, we talked about how wildlife plantings can contribute to the nutritional demands of the different seasons: protein in spring and summer, carbohydrates in late fall and winter, etc. As we discussed things, we had the spotting scope set up to keep tabs on a bald eagle that was circling one of the waterfowl impoundments. Though unsuccessful in its attempt, the bald eagle swooped down at one point and singled out a hen mallard that narrowly escaped. Lots of oooo’s and aaaa’s from the peanut gallery on that one.

After lunch, I divided the class into 3 teams of 3. Group #1 would focus on red-winged blackbirds and their habitat associations, group #2 would focus on raccoon and skunk populations, and the last group would examine deer browsing and potential impacts on forest regeneration. The rest of the day was devoted to helping each group form hypotheses and predictions about their research question and formulating a data collection strategy that would enable them to answer their proposed questions.

Assigning a research prospectus to be due first thing Monday morning, we closed down the facilities for the week, and everybody had the weekend to recharge for week number 2.

Day 4: Wildlife Management Field Course – Pymatuning Ecology Lab
Posted by

Starting off Thursday morning, I coordinated a field trip with a University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) research team that was collecting data locally on grassland bird nesting success between pasture/hay fields and mono-culture switch grass fields grown for biofuel production.

We spotted a couple really cool birds, one extremely common in the area – red-winged blackbird…

one not so common – bobolink.

We even gleaned an extra bird ID from the research crew leader’s tattoo – belted kingfisher. Ah, wildlifers.

The UTK field crew walked us through their nest search protocol which involved dragging a long rope through the tall grasses of the fields in hopes of flushing incubating birds off the nest. We didn’t find any nests in the 30 minutes or so of searching, but they had a failed Savannah sparrow nest marked that we took a peak at.

To relate nest success to the specific field conditions, there were a host of habitat variables to examine as well – many of which related to the grass and forb species present, the habitat structure they provided, and the amount of seeds and insects available for consumption.

Heading back to the lab after 3 or 4 hours afield, we had an inside afternoon in the classroom planned. We discussed various wildlife capture techniques and how to mark those critters once captured. We pulled various lessons from a handful of kidney beans, and then sampled different bean populations to estimate things like capture probability, trap happiness, population abundance, and more.

We finished our afternoon by gearing up to deploy small mammal track stations and a legion of Sherman live traps – both of which were baited with rolled oats/birdseed/peanut butter balls.

After dinner, we made fast work of deploying our trap arrays and went to bed with high hopes of full traps in the morning.

The Sherman live traps are pretty self explanatory, but the track stations probably require some explanation. The blue center section is a concoction of powdered construction chalk, mineral oil, and rubbing alcohol. The idea is that any hungry critter has to get its paws dirty before leaving the track plate and depositing clean track “images” onto the contact paper that surrounds the middle – sticky side up of course.

Deer Season is Lurking…
Posted by

…and I’ve been doing a little scouting, a little stand prep, and a lot of backyard shooting. I’ve also indulged in some Youtube binges lately. I suppose I’m trying to speed up the arrival of changing fall colors and fresh scrape dirt churned on top of fallen leaves. Here’s a great video that captures the excitement and chaos that can sometimes characterize deer hunting.

I’ll continue on with a recap of the Wildlife Management field course I taught this summer, but I’ll start to sprinkle in some deer hunting related posts and summer marches steadily towards fall. Can’t wait!

Day 3: Wildlife Management Field Course – Pymatuning Ecology Lab
Posted by

As I mentioned in my Day 2 post, the first Wednesday was all about learning how wildlife relate to habitat, and what that means in terms of what we measure with regards to their habitat. It was a shotgun approach with the students being exposed to a dozen or more different methods and metrics involved with habitat measurement.

Using a Robel pole to estimate horizontal vegetative structure – a measure that relates to the amount of cover in the understory.

Stretching a reel tape to 10 meters and double checking the distance with a rangefinder before doing a forb/grass cover transect.

Using a concave mirror device called a spherical densiometer to gauge the amount of light penetrating the forest canopy.

Learning the importance of standing dead trees (called snags) and how to quantify their density with a forest stand.

Identifying species in various size quadrats – some important lessons to be learned with regards to sampling power, variation, and optimal effort expenditure.

The students learned some techniques out of the forester’s toolbox – things like diameter-at-breast-height and methods of cruising timber to estimate the amount of merchantable timber present and its approximate value.

The cone of vulnerability – a metric that estimates the amount of coarse woody debris that might protect a small mammal or game bird from aerial predators such as hawks or owls.

We took opportunistic moments throughout the day to identify some species and speak to their importance within the context of the food, cover, and life requisite values they supply to different wildlife species. A couple critters also found their way onto our identification list as they crossed the students’ path throughout the day.

We concluded the day by watching a video that outlines the North American Model of Conservation. In addition to their reading assignments from earlier in the week, the video provided context for our discussion which lasted nearly 2 hours around the campfire that night. Hashing out the various triumphs and shortcomings of the North American Model of Conservation, how it should stay the same, and how its course should be altered to stay relevant and consistent with its proclaimed themes.

I recommend that everyone watch this – outdoor recreation enthusiast or not.

Infolinks 2013