Yesterday, bored, Kendell and I decided that we'd go and check out the new Cabela's in Lehi. Last year, when I was teaching in Lehi, the store's opening was big news; everyone was excited. I wasn't really sure what all the fuss was over, having never seen one of their catalogs nor felt an extreme need for camouflage. Kendell and I had talked a few times about going to see the store, but it just never happened until yesterday.
So, we pull off the freeway and start following signs, road signs like you'd see on the side of the freeway, but telling you how to find Cabela's. Before you pull into the parking lot you pass a massive, rough-hewn stone wall sitting atop a grassy slope that's in turn surrounded by the grasses that covered the hill before the store was built. (I'm just weird enough about grass that I thought to myself oh, my, they must fight weeds without ceasing in that grass!) Then you finally get to the top of the hill, and there's this enormous store and a gigantic parking lot. We parked and battled our way through the wind to the store's front door.
Remember: I wasn't really expecting anything. I knew nothing about this store except that the students I taught who were fond of hunting and/or fishing were dying to see it. What I found was a strange mix of commercialism and emotional appeal to mountain-man ways. I mean...the salesclerks are called "Outfitters." Everywhere you turn there are guns and tents and maps and fishing rods and...well, everything you can imagine you'd need if you live 200 years ago and were anxious to make your living from beaver hides or deer leather.
That mix was simply strange. But the store also made me sad. In addition to all that rampant outdoorsy commercialism, there are displays scattered around the store. One entire room was dedicated to taxidermy-ized deer and moose, with a few brown bears thrown in for good measure. There was a sort of mountain, one side displaying desert wildlife, the other, arctic animals. One smallish wall had a display of African animals (I always thought warthogs were bigger than that). In a corner was an aquarium, the kind you walk through, sort of like Sea World but with rainbow trout and catfish. (This, by the way, was when I realized, fully and truly, Kaleb's unusual and startling intelligence: we walked into the aquarium and he started flapping his lips together, the Sorensen Baby Sign for fish! How smart is that?)
Of course, my kids loved this. They ran, they exclaimed, the pointed out. They even read the informational signs like the good children of a geeky mother. But as I walked through the 150,000 square feet, I grew sadder and sadder. How sad it seems to me, that there are people in the world who find purchasing guns and ammunition a normal thing to do, who find happiness in tramping through the outdoors not to enjoy God's good green earth, but to find something to kill. I thought about the wild places of the world, which grow fewer and fewer, and of how empty they are, how silent, void of the animals that should live there. I wanted to cry, thinking of all the wild things I have never seen and will never see, that my children and their children will also never experience; thinking of how we humans cover the earth like a fungus, an unstoppable fungus that damages and takes and destroys. And I thought of this poem, by Wendell Berry:
When despair for the world grows in me,
and I wake in the night at the last sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
and felt sad that the places where we can be fed (and not in a literal, shoot-that-bird-and-eat-it sort of way) by the heron or the wood drake or any of those animals I saw stuffed in the Cabela's display rooms have nearly vanished. Usually, this poem makes me peaceful, because it describes so well the way I feel about nature: a solace. Yesterday it just reinforced my sadness.
Because there just isn't enough left of the grace of the world, I think. We've devoured it. And that to me is the greatest irony of a store like Cabela's: in one hand it offers the things you need to survive in whatever wilderness you might find; in the other, the tools you need to destroy that very wilderness.