A Response to California Medicine Man
Last night I was reading through the many excellent posts included in this week’s Grand Rounds (yes! It’s up at Health Care Law Blog). I clicked on a blog I had not visited before called California Medicine Man, written by Dr. John Ford, a physician in southern
I have read extensively from the blog of this southwest Alaskan-based physician assistant. She is a incredibly authentic writer and has an amazing story to tell. Her descriptions of "tundra medicine" and her beautiful, evocative photographs are captivating.
Click on the link and read his entire post; he says even more nice things about my work. I read through his post several times, with my vision becoming blurred by the accumulating moisture. I was so deeply touched I was speechless. I wanted to respond and tell him how much I appreciated his kind words, but I wasn’t sure how to do so. Leave a comment on his post? Write him a private email? For several hours, all I could do was to hold his words like a beautiful crystal, turn them over and over, and feel the warm glow inside me that they generated.
This morning I decided to put up a post thanking him publicly, and that is what this is. I went to his blog to get the precise URL of his post, and found a new post entitled “Why I’m Not a Hunter”, inspired by my moose-hunting story from last month.
This post is an eloquent description of how many people in the lower 48 feel about hunting, and with good reason. Down there, hunting is not a necessity, it is purely recreational. Hunters quite often spend huge amounts of money on all the right gear, pay a knowledgeable guide to take them to just the right spot, kill whatever walks in range of their high-powered rifle scope, then pay a taxidermist lots of money to mount the animal’s head so they can hang it proudly in their home. If the hunter is responsible, he will pack the meat out and pay to have it processed by someone else; but he may or may not have had the knowledge and spent the time and energy to field-dress the meat properly. And when he gets the processed packages of meat back, he may or may not have much luck getting his family and friends to eat it. “Tastes too gamey,” they usually say; and they are usually right.
Hunting in southwest
My friend and I are adequately compensated for our work as health care providers, and we can afford to buy fresh meat at the store. But part of one’s acceptance in this culture, and one's understanding of it, is governed by one’s participation in it. Yupik culture is entirely oriented around subsistence activities, and the people here appreciate that I participate in their activities. My credibility as a health care provider is markedly increased by the fact that I mush dogs, fish for salmon with a drift net, travel alone on the river, pick berries, and eat agutuk.
What I tried to convey in the story about my one-and-only moose hunting experience is that hunting has a completely different context here than it does in the lower 48 (or any other highly populated area of the world). Certainly, the trip I described was a tremendous experience that was a lot of fun, and a lot of hard work. There was respect, and a certain level of grace in our attitude towards the trip, the river, the people who helped us, and the moose whose life we took.
I left a very long comment to Dr. Ford’s post on hunting. I hope it did not come across as strident or defensive, as that was not my intent. It was passionate, however, which I hope did not override the context I was trying to present.
I think it is extremely difficult—if not nearly impossible—for people born and raised in urban American culture to understand just how vastly different life is here. The difference is not just about fancy houses and paved roads. It’s not just about wearing high-heeled shoes or dry-cleaned clothes. It’s not just about going to movies, plays, and nice restaurants. We don’t have all those things, and that constitutes an obvious difference; but it runs much deeper than that. Life here is about survival—in a cold, harsh, unforgiving and often cruel environment. The things that matter here are about taking care of each other and helping those around us. That is the most basic value in the Yupik tradition. Underneath all the noise, that is basically what life everywhere is about.
So, Medicine Man, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your beautiful tribute. It means more to me than you know. I think, underneath it all, we are not very different. I think our hearts are in the same place, it’s just the rest of our bodies that live in two different worlds. I hope, someday, you can make it up here for a visit.