One winter day, while walking in the woods, I passed an area of former forest, about an acre in size and „harvested“ last year, that was close to our house. Nothing reminded me anymore of the beautiful, fairy-tale-like leafy walkway that the bushes and shrubs, heavy with snow, had formed with their branches along this path in the middle of a snow-covered forest as recently as last winter. Instead, to my left lay a wasteland perhaps a hundred by a hundred yards on a side. A few pines still stood crooked and lopsided like palm trees in a desert. The snow contributed to this impression and at the same time mercifully covered the deep wounds and devastations that the heavy harvesting machines had left on and in the forest floor.
In the course of the past year on the fallow land had also been planted new cuttings. A row of pine. A row of beech. Always in alternation and one after the other. Row after row. For their protection, the whole area was surrounded by a two-meter high galvanized „game fence“. This circumstance led, among other things, to the fact that the deer, which had inhabited or at least roamed this piece of forest before the „harvest“, were now often to be seen in completely different places. In places that were much closer to the human dwellings than they had been before. It was getting crowded in the forest.
The young farmer of the farm, in whose possession this former piece of forest was, was just driving his tractor towards the edge of the forest and the old farmer was just about to get on his black bicycle. Something must have been going on at this spot.
I greeted the old man friendly. Made a remark that he was probably without his dog today. A trivial remark. Harmless. Like talking about the weather. A ritual with which people assure each other of their good intentions and the harmlessness of their encounter. I mean you no harm! Nothing more. But also not less. An important, indispensable ritual. Especially in the country. The old man, probably over 70 years old, small, spry with hard and dull pale blue eyes, replied something to his hunting dog in the somewhat broad pronunciation typical in northern Germany with the remarkably rolling R. One could not always have the dog with one. A tree had fallen on the fence from outside during the storm and now the deer had gone inside. And then he said, really astonished, almost thoughtful – as if he was looking for an answer: „Strange. How they always find it. Those spots in the fence.“
We exchanged a few more words about fences and dogs, then he got on his bike and followed behind his son, who was already out of sight and earshot. I stood by the fence for some time thinking about the farmer’s words. How honestly amazed he was at the fact that the deer find the gaps in the fence. Farmers don’t often act surprised toward newcomers like me. They tend to be reserved, a little self-righteous and aloof. On their land. It was a real amazement, a pondering and not understanding that was expressed in his words that he shared with me.
How could this man be so amazed, I asked myself. A man who lived all his life in the fields, woods and meadows, who had seen thousands of deer and certainly killed hundreds of them on the hunt and consumed a lot of them later. An „arch hunter“, as they call people in this area who often and gladly go hunting. For whom the joy of killing is part of life.
And as I stood there thinking, I realized that all of nature was nothing to him. The fields that he cultivated year after year with corn, leached and then brought back to life with manure. The cattle he fattened and sold. Creatures that were periodically taken away from their dark stalls bleating with fear and replaced again by other equally bleating creatures. The hunting dog, which eked out its existence day in and day out alone in its kennel. The forest, which was destroyed together with soil simply by gigantic machines. And also the animals. The chance-less animals, which were shot by him year after year at the especially for it furnished feeding places from his high seat down from the ambush.
In the life he led, the idea that these animals might be able to walk along a fence placed in their path and change direction 90 degrees at a gap because they recognized the tasty young cuttings as good food was completely foreign to him. It would not be necessary at all to ascribe to these deer an intelligence by human standards, but not even the ability to go through a gap in the fence as they would go through a gap in the bushes – like thinking and autonomous beings – could the old farmer grant them in his imaginary world. The deer were nothing. They had to be nothing! A seemingly purposeful – thinking – action seemed utterly baffling. It seemed strange that these animals were capable of it. They were – like his ground and everything what was on it – nevertheless only soulless operating means with which he could do and do as his glory wished. Perhaps one must deny everything to all existence – perhaps one must make everything to things – in order to be able to lead a life like his. When I realized this standing at the fence that morning, it was I who was stunned. Stunned, about the lifelong fading out of essential aspects of his life.
But perhaps it is also this thinking that makes it possible for many other people to spend their lives so far from the natural orders in streams of capital and consumption. Nature as nothing. In the worst case as an enemy; in the best case as a means for leisure. But then also optimized according to the human desire.
However, it should be said: It is a certain old-age mildness, which seized that farmer with his hard eyes in increasing years of life. In younger years he would not have found the behavior of the deer worth thinking about. He would have simply fixed the fence. A purely material act. And he would have done a devil, to a pulled in such a reflection – yes almost already internal pondering and brooding, …..doubting…. – doubts. Perhaps there is hope.