Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Running for Rabbits

I told Steve this might be the quintessential Querencia story. I mean it covers special places, foodways, hunting, paleo-history, culture, more and certainly, worse.

It is a story so politically incorrect that it simply has no political context in which to fit. It is a story out of time. From my point of vantage, locked in an eagerly overcrowding and self-conscious corner of America, it is simply fantastic.

Here's the nutshell: Young men, most of them black, living in a couple small, poor towns in the Florida Everglades, run down rabbits on foot for fun and fitness and a few pounds of fried meat. How did I not know about this? It happens at harvest time, when farmers burn and mow the sugarcane fields, and the marsh rabbits scurry for dwindling cover.

The visual effect is spectacular: cane smoke billows over large mechanical harvesters, while nimble, muscular kids and quick rabbits play a deadly game of tag in the dirt below. In a few minutes of film, perhaps the whole of human evolution is put on display. Here is the human animal as harvester but also as effective predator, a thinking and planning machine, with the physical chops to do the work of any hawk or owl or fox or dog. Watching it makes me proud to know we've still got it, as a specie; we can still do what we were doubtless doing hundreds of thousands of years before the present day. It's a hopeful sight, given that we may someday have to do it again...

So these kids are throwbacks? Some kind of modern primitives? Hardly.

This is a region of Florida known for producing some of the fastest college football players in the nation. A few of these young men are destined for fame and fortune and some of them are already getting a taste of it. Legend has it that their long-established local tradition of running down rabbits at harvest time gives these kids the skills and athleticism necessary for success in the nation's most competitive collegiate football programs. As one local high school coach has it, their rabbit hunting is a kind of recruiting tool: You want to play wide receiver? Go catch some rabbits and we'll talk.

I kid you not.

ESPN produced the footage I saw, so football was the focal point. But there's a lot more of interest here than football. For one, these are modern-day American kids who choose to spend their free time outdoors, hunting rabbits; kids with working field craft, unafraid of getting dirty or working up a sweat; American kids who can still kill, cook and like to eat wild game.

Not one of these young men needs The Dangerous Book for Boys. And what's that about the last child in the woods? There are still a few left in the cane fields!

This story defies all our easy stereotypes. Could you believe a self-sustaining rabbit hunting culture on the outskirts of Miami? A fair-chase, no-weapon contest; a real hunt with strategy and effort, honest pride and a good meal at the end. And no preaching about it. No high-minded, over-educated commentary (unless mine counts!) No rules except those set by the speed of the rabbit, the depth of the soil, and the endurance, good hands and healthy appetites of some rural kids. It just is what it is.

Those of us guilty of making a cult of the past and fearing for the future should remember that the future doesn't come to every place at once. In some places, the good old days are now.

I don't know how long this particular hunting tradition can survive. The publicity it receives from ESPN (and now me and the rest of the modern world) may well kill it. If it does I'll be ashamed, but I couldn't help but share this with you.

(HT Shelly Mullenix)


Isaac said...

Wow, what an awesome story!!! I'm sure I'm not the only one that watches that and thinks it would be a blast...and hey, if it leads to a career as a pro football player all the better! :-P

Anonymous said...

Oh, is going to LOVE this one...

Chas S. Clifton said...

Fine bunch of hominids there.

But I've read my Mary Zeiss Stange -- where are the women with the nets? What's all this "man the hunter" stuff?

Neutrino Cannon said...

run down rabbits on foot


If that's a throwback then I'm giving up evolving.

PBurns said...

Excellent. Lifted the video with a h/t to Q.

I knew when they sent the cane fields on fire they shot rabbits (deer and other stuff too), but running them is new. Wow!


Teddy said...

In the early 70's when I worked for the NJ Div. of Fish and Game, the more urban wardens often dealt with gangs of Hispanics who used lightly built pound dogs to flush and run rabbits, the young men bearing sticks to complete the coup de grace if they could also run up on the rabbits. I understand from an old Ford Times article that southerners used to throw sticks at fleeing rabbits, the sticks known as 'tapsticks'. I say hooray for primitive.