Got Guns?

big elk and boysMy house is full of guns: Nerf guns, cardboard cutouts of handguns and double barreled rifles, wooden rubber band guns and water pistols. I walk on Nerf darts and fish Lego weapons out of the shower. Pretty typical boy stuff, but I live in Wyoming, so we have real guns too. We have a locked safe stocked with hunting rifles. The guns are not something I think about. I never open the safe. I don’t shoot small animals. I don’t even go to the shooting range. Several times a year I watch as my husband loads his guns in the truck for a hunt. As I’ve written before – hunting is part of our culture. So by default, guns are also part of our culture. I just don’t pay much attention to that part of our crazy western ethos.

I measure my days by the number of hours I can spend outside. I roam our hills everyday; I seek clear water and fresh snow whenever possible. And despite the fact that I’ve lived with hunters and guns all of my life, I hadn’t really considered hunting a worthwhile outdoor pursuit. It’s not really the dead animals – I grew up on a cattle ranch and I have a very real sense of where our food comes from. It’s not even the camouflage or the long walks.

It’s the guns. They are big and heavy and I admit it –kinda scary.

I associate guns not with my mild mannered husband slash hunter, but with violence and misplaced power. I picture automatic war weaponry instead of sleek rifles and lean, healthy meals. In reality hunting is mostly about walking and thinking and being quiet outside – all things I treasure. The gun part – while violent – is brief and necessary. But I still don’t like the guns, so I have opted out of countless mountain outings with my family.

This summer my boys called my bluff. Years ago I promised I would take hunter’s safety with them. In Wyoming in order to hunt legally, anyone born after 1966 must pass a Hunter Education class. The course was developed fifty years ago in an attempt to make hunting safer and the nationwide effort has lowered the rate of hunting accidents by about half.

We spent five evenings in the county’s National Guard Armory. We learned about hunting regulations, about game care and wildlife identification. We listened to a wizened game warden detail Game and Fish regulations. Our instructor talked about the ethics and responsibilities of good hunters. He stressed the importance of wildlife conservation and land owner rights.

And every day I stood next to a table covered with guns. The Game and Fish provides non-firing weapons for the Hunter Education courses. The bright orange guns look and feel real. I held the toy-like weapons, surprised each time by their weight and assumed power. I practiced holding the guns and waited to feel comfortable. But even after five days of thinking and talking about the guns, my hands still trembled when I had to demonstrate my skills for the course final.

Like most of the boys in the class, my kids loved the guns. They rushed to the front table at every opportunity working their way through the array of weapons. I watched as they held each gun up to their slight shoulders. They were excited while also respectful and thoughtful. But every evening on our drive home, their focus was on the plans they could make with their father and their grandfather once they were officially hunters. They loved the stories about hunting and fishing. They chattered about what they would put in their backpacks, about what they would eat, and what they would wear. The guns were a side note. boys and rafts

In the end the class was a coming of age ritual for all of us. I didn’t shake free of my gun fears completely, but I did learn something important: my boys have cultivated a love for the outdoors. I have hauled them across oceans, down ski hills, and through the woods. I rarely gave them a choice about being outside, and I certainly didn’t endorse hunting with my actions. I still wouldn’t choose to carry a gun through the wilderness, but I am learning to let my sons make their own way. They seemed to have learned that being outside is powerful and important. They will find freedom and space in the mountains. They will learn their limits and push their boundaries. These are some of the biggest lessons I want for them.

My boys crave time outside with the people they love – in their own way. I may never shoot a gun or apply for a hunting license, but I am grateful that I will be included in their outdoor lives.

~ S

The Intolerable List

sheridan fallIt’s hunting season in Wyoming. The days are bright and warm, the evenings chilly, sometimes even frosty. Animals are beginning to move down the mountain, away from the cold air and early snow, into the eager sites of camouflaged men and women. I tolerate hunting season. My husband has always hunted, my father hunted, my sons are learning to hunt. We fill our freezer with pronghorn, elk, and deer meat every fall and we eat lean, grass fed dinners all year long. Hunting is part of our culture, something I accept and would likely defend. But I don’t participate and I’ve made the rookie mistake of anthropomorphizing countless furry targets.

My boys are all out after big game this weekend, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about how I will make another week’s attempt at flawless parenting. I’ve sorted through backpacks, smoothed out crumpled homework assignments, and washed 13 loads of laundry. I’ve planned the week’s meals and copied the week’s football games on to the family calendar. The routine is comforting. I have successfully created the illusion of control. I’ve got this.

Then I remember that I’d rather have my kiddos home playing kickball or riding their bikes than out shooting wild animals. I’m a bit stuck (And I hit this parenting wall often). Strangely, I think it’s about tolerance – when do I let my kids deal with yet another part of the world on their own? When do I turn them lose to decide what they believe, to decide how they will negotiate the sticky differences in people and culture? When do I tell them that not everybody thinks they should get to gun down their own steaks?

I’ve often told myself that I’m raising tolerant children. They’ve got a politically liberal mom and traditionally minded, conservative father. We’ve traveled and talked openly about the world, about human rights, and culture and our family’s (wildly differing) faiths. We complain about politics and take them to the polls with us. But when it comes right down to it, there are many things I just cannot tolerate and I feel desperate to make sure they won’t either.

I am intolerant of conversations that are anti-science or anti-intellectual; I refuse to acknowledge that marriage equality and LGBT rights are anything but top human rights priorities; I no longer have the patience to debate the legality of abortion or the reality of global climate change; do not argue with me about the necessity of vaccinations or fluoride in our water. The moon landing is real. Antidepressants work. Not all Muslims are evil.

My intolerable list is embarrassing, not because the list is full of trivial matters that shouldn’t occupy brain space, but simply because the list exists at all. The very concept that there are ideas that I cannot stand to be around indicates that I suck at tolerance.

Or does it? Maybe it’s just about choosing my battles. Most people do not change their minds about religion or fluoride. Maybe I should just keep quiet (Yeah, right. I can hear my Cody’s snicker now). Or maybe it’s about education –about the need to expose my children to more differences; maybe I need to seek understanding instead of seeking to be understood.pronghorn

Frank and Luca came home from their pronghorn hunt with a dead animal and new camouflaged snow boots. I took one look at the Realtree™ boots, rolled my eyes, and tossed them in the mudroom in hopes that the boys would lose track of them in the pile of winter gear. Cody went back in and organized all of the boots, lining up my plain black boots next to the new camo. “Lighten up,” he said. I glared and said something rude.

The bottom line is I want to be a person who has the toughest conversations. I value all of my friendships – even with those who vehemently disagree with me. I do not want to live in a world where we all agree (talk about boring). Some of the most satisfying conversations begin with opposition and end with nodding. I don’t want my boys to miss out on those brilliant moments. So maybe my intolerable list isn’t completely useless. At least I am aware of my biggest biases; the first step is admission.