Guido hunts wild boar 2
Sat 16th September, 2007, 4am.
I have much to complete before I leave here, especially regarding my folio and it’s presentation to curators. I went out hunting the other day with Guido, when I got back I wrote down as much as I could remember about the experience. This is it below, uneditied – it may be some time before I can polish the writing but for now I wanted to share with you about the trip, and maybe anyway the ‘rawness’ of the writing is more appropriate to the experience.
I leave at 3am, taking a taxi to Oranienbourg, getting there at 3.45am. The taxi driver is kind; he gets lost, tells me so, and turns his metre off so as not to over charge me. When I tell him that the man I am supposed to meet is due at 4am, he offers to sit there for 15minutes so that I can wait inside his cab. I decline and give him a tip, for giving me such a good start to a journey that I am a little nervous, but excited about.
Guido arrives, I do not recognise him at first, he has a different vehicle to last time, a white van – I briefly remember that when I lived in a very rural part of the lake district, some of the forestry workers I knew seemed to have a different patched up vehicle each week, and briefly wondered if it is the same here. He is also wearing a boyish baseball cap, unlike the traditional looking green, (felt?) wide brimmed ‘Stetson’ style had he had on before (must find the proper name for this hat).
We drive off in a tired and comfortable intimacy, journeying in the dark, that reminds me of the days when I used to hitchhike a lot – with radio lights playing, both driver and passenger, though strangers, content to sit close and quiet, aware of each others physical presence yet saying nothing. After a petrol stop we arrive after about 25 minutes at a woodland edge – Guido pauses and instructs me "Now we are at the hunting grounds, no noise, no slam doors – OK!" "Yes" I say as I remember with a cringe how I slammed the door chatting away on our last trip.
We drive along a very bumpy track, a tunnel of dim lights on the trees ahead (is he driving only on side lights?) – it is windy and the trees do that thing where the branches across our path look like thousands of hands straining to grab us as they thwack on the window screen. Not for the first time (it is our culture to do this) I am reminded of films – The Blair Witch Project; something too about zombies, and murders in the woods – was it the chainsaw massacre? The images recede as I think to myself "must stay present and alert, notice things, look, study, watch…"
We stop, I hear but cannot see him getting out, I await a torchlight flashing on. When one does not come I get out too – is it really this dark? I cannot see anything – NOTHING – when is he going to switch the torch on? "Psst, Cathryn" I hear in the distance, I belatedly understand that there is going to be no torch, I briefly wonder if I am up to this, if I haven’t just made a terrible, terrible mistake. I move forward, luckily Guido is wearing white trousers (pale jeans) and fleetingly every now and then I see a ghost like shadow, a white spectre, fleeting and low to the ground. This is all I have; this is all I can see – I think later that Guido’s sight is quite simply different to mine. I wonder how this happens – are our eyes like a muscle? Do they improve through use? Deteriorate through lack of use…?
I move onwards following these brief white vaporous apparitions, each is only a glimpse seconds apart and I wonder if I am following the shadows of my imagination? Am I simply wandering off into the woods in the wrong direction? Am I about to fall into a ditch? Why can I not hear Guido? He is so quiet. Eventually my eyes begin to adjust and I can just about see that he is still ahead. I look inside myself and see that I am not scared – I think to myself "I should probably feel more fear than this" but I do not. I feel only trust and the desire to keep following the path that I have set myself.
We come out into the open and ahead I see our destination – a hut on stilts near a tree. I follow Guido up a narrow near vertical wooden ladder into the ‘tree-house’ affair. Once again I notice all thoughts of falling of the ladder – which I can hardly see and have to find each step through feeling with my feet – that in other circumstances I am sure I would have, are suspended as I move quietly ahead. We climb in and sit. Silent.
I will notice later on that we are on a garden style bench, for now I only notice that it has a cushion on and it is quite comfy as I sit down – cosy even. As the light grows I will notice the soft dappled green carpet, quite practically used on the walls to stop the wind blowing through (and green so it doesn’t stand out) however it’s impression is somewhat decorative, domestic, feminine. Along too with some beautifully woven ‘spade’ like shapes pinned to the ceiling – Guido tells me later that these are made by a hunter when they go to hunting school, they are made from 4 kinds of tree, and it is a tradition on their first kill, that it is pinned in the hut.
We sit for some time in silence awaiting the dawn (Guido says once "it is too dark") – quiet that is until I decide to take my camera out. Why oh why did I not remember this from last time! I should have had it out ready! I should have NO bag with me and only the camera! I curse myself as Velcro RIPS and plastic bags and zips do the sounds that they do…
"What is that?" he asks
"My camera, I am getting it out – is it too noisy?"
"Better that you do it now than later" comes the reply of an adult being patient with an impossible child.
He had told me in the car that he only had 2 hours sleep that night as he was working late in his restaurant. Additionally, later today starting 10.30am working till maybe midnight, he has a party of 110 wedding guests to cater for, including all 3 meals that they need throughout the day (not just the evening meal).
He falls asleep.
He looks so lovely, so peaceful, like a child, that I could hug him.
It grows light slowly; I sit looking inwards as much as outwards. I feel supremely at peace, it is so beautiful doing this, this sitting, watching, waiting – the light seeping in through the night-time sky. I wonder to myself – how would it feel if we weren’t here hunting? If we were just doing this, sitting and watching? I realise as I did on the last hunt with a shock that I enjoy the frisson, that it wouldn’t be the same if I were just there watching with no purpose in mind. These feeling once again shock me. I am surprised to find myself, theoretically at least (as we have not shot anything yet) enjoying the hunt.
It looks light enough to use my camera, I try but my screen is blank (Guido is still sleeping peacefully). I start to panic about things, silly things. There is nothing on the screen of my camera yet I can now clearly see the landscape in front of me. I check half a dozen times or so to make sure I have taken the lens cap off, yes there is no lens cap (though there might be a dozen sticky finger prints now on my lens where I have mauled it in the place where I was convinced that the lens cap was…). I start to panic about more silly things. I imagine having come all of this way and having to go home without any footage. I imagine the embarrassment of having to say to Guido "I think my camera’s broken", I wonder is there a way I can make this a successful trip and NOT take any footage? Then I think "NO" I am here for a reason.
I curse myself then for not knowing my equipment better, for though it is light enough to see clearly outside through the hunting slits, inside it is still very dark. I imagine I must have something incorrectly set ("perhaps I have the manual light metre on and have it set too low…perhaps, perhaps"). This carries on for some time as my fears spiral out of control until I realise that I am panicking. "Ok, this is panic" – I name it.
So I slow my breathing and think – and remember that I have my small stills camera with me. I open this (more impossibly loud Velcro noises…) and turn it on (even the mechanism, it is so loud!) and – once again the screen is blank as if there were a lens cap on (only this camera has no lens cap to forget). They can’t both be broken. I look out and realise that actually it is still much darker than I think, but that my eyes have grown accustomed to the dim light. The way I am blinded by even just the blank LED screens on my cameras confirms this hypothesis, so I turn all equipment off and relax.
Half an hour or so after my panic I see that it probably really IS light enough now to film and turning my camera on confirms this. Again as I am filming I do as much looking within as ‘without’. I enjoy the framing, the seeking out of details with my lens – the shape of the gun, the camouflage flapping in the wind, the shapes in between the trees.
I notice within me a lack of ‘belief’ saying already "I don’t think we will catch anything today". I think once of again of what I have learnt – that Guido hunts several times a week all year, making only a few catches in the year. I think of the confidence needed with those odds to get up and out by 4am after a long shift in his restaurant, knowing he has another to do the next day too.
Not for the first time I think that there is many parallels between this, and the kind of love and faith I see in artists undertaking their practice. This returns me to my own current lack of faith – in both the hunt today and often in my own practice – I notice the thoughts whispering in the silence "we won’t catch anything today, there is nothing in sight, not a whisper of an animal, I have scared them all off with my noise" etc etc. I think that perhaps I have come all of this way simply to confront something lurking deep within myself, something that is not helping me in my work.
I try to imagine the opposite, believing today that we WILL shoot something, but this feels wrong too – strained – and I realise the trick is to learn to simply be with WHAT IS, and to rest in that present moment, with a gentle undercurrent closer to faith and trust than belief or hope.
We have sat in near silence for well over an hour (maybe two?), it is now light and I am really enjoying shooting the footage] – the details, the scenery, the changing light, flashes of Guido (though it is hard to film him, sat close next to each other, knees touching as we are).
It is impossible to film him from these close quarters, and yet if I were to get up and stand at the door, which would be the only place I could get enough distance to frame him, I would disturb his hunt. So I content myself with the little glimpses of him I can catch in my camera. I notice also not for the first time that he is a very beautiful man. Peculiarly German pale grey blue eyes, very masculine in his physical presence and way, but with a soft, even slightly feminine face and wavy mid brown soft hair – a kind of sexy angelic androgyny.
Through my camera I get lost again for a while in a ‘cinematic’ version of the reality that is unfolding around me. I realise this is so when Guido alerts me to the presence of a "Bambi" nearby and picks up his gun. I suddenly am aware just how unprepared I am for the actually of an animal killed before my eyes – for the reality of a dead Bambi – and as in my last trip with Guido, the part of me that was vegetarian for 15 years contemplates making an ‘accidental’ noise to alert Bambi to the danger…
I contain this response however; as I remember that I am here for a reason, I have chosen to confront this issue head on. The surface ripples say "stop it, don’t let it happen" but the underlying current that runs deeper and much, much more strongly freezes me to the spot saying "no, watch this, you need to see this".
Not for the first time I see that whilst I can make lots of ‘logical’ explanations as to what brought me to this juncture – my oft repeated story of "15 years a vegetarian starts eating meat, who always said to herself I would never eat meat again unless I could kill the animal myself well here I am following that up, want also to explore things we are disconnecting from in the city through supermarkets and packaging" etc etc etc – I realise that this is all a front – that there is actually something else compelling me to be here, something that I have not quite grasped yet…
Bambi hovers some distance away, then moves on with no assistance from me whatsoever. I am both relieved and disappointed.
We sit for a while longer then leave. I can’t believe that we have been there for perhaps 3 hours or so. We go for a coffee, meet some of his friends who have made two kills and Guido asks if I want to visit the refrigeration unit to see the catch. I say yes, suddenly guilty for my fleeting desire to spoil this mans hunt, who has been so open and generous in allowing me this access to what he does, when I am sure he has no real idea what I am doing and finds me a bit of an enigma – but still he says yes anyway. I have taken him a bottle of what I think is whisky for this trip, but he has asked for no payment. I think to myself that if I go out with him one more time I must get him a bigger bottle of better whisky, and I realise how much I want to develop some really excellent new work around this footage, how I would love to be able to then give a piece of this work back to him…
We go to a private house and in the refrigerator see 4 dead wild boars, hanging for the meat to tenderise. His friends turn up with one more wild boar and what looks like a deer, though I think it may not be (must try to identify what it is) because Guido doesn’t call this one Bambi, he has another name for it, which he cannot translate.
His friends are jovial as they wash and hang the catch in the fridge. I find that I really like them, 4 men total. They shake hands with me and introduce themselves, we can talk little owing to my lack of German (I was so lucky with Guido to find perhaps the only hunter in the whole of east Berlin who speaks some English; I had been warned this would not be possible as the second language amongst most older east Germans is Russian and definitely not English owing to the history)…
They all shake hands with me and although I cannot talk with them, I am on the one hand pleasantly ‘ignored’ in the sense that they take no notice of my filming various parts of their activity. On the other hand I am included very often in their activity with a warm smile, a glance or a wink and I feel very grateful for the warmth and generosity that allows me to be here seeing this.
I suspect that if I could talk with these men, in discussion there might be many, many things in our worldview that we disagree on. The joy though in a way of NOT being able to get caught up in these differences is that I see more clearly to they’re ‘being ness’ and find that I really like them. They are warm, kind, genuine people – very at odds with the stereotypical hunter I have imagined in the past.
I stand and watch some red squirrels playing on the lawn, we are in the grounds of a wealthy estate. Guido guides me as to what I can and cannot film as the grounds belong to "a man who is not here" so out of respect for his privacy he instructs me when to film and when not.
There are beautiful flowerbeds, ornamental trees, and lots of rose hips fat and juicy and Guido and me discuss making jam.
Later that weekend I meet a girlfriend whose mother was German. I tell her about my trip and she says yes she has seen this in her family, a strange mixture of masculine and feminine attributes – very masculine men who weave or make quite feminine things and don’t feel threatened by that.
I remember too hearing once that it is quite traditional and normal for men in Norway knit. I think after all perhaps these things seeming masculine and feminine to us is to do with being British? That there is a different way that ‘gender’ operates on an everyday relation between the sexes level, in a European context.
My friend says "it would be great to meet a female hunter and see how she does thing differently / the same" – I think briefly of Guido’s mom – he told me that she used to hunt. I would so love to meet her, but I have worked so very hard just to get this far with him, building up trust, and I suspect I would be pushing the boundaries too far to ask to meet his mother too.
I reply back to my friend – "yes, well maybe that could be me?" as I remember that I have seen a course in game keeping in the UK that I could do, and I remember that for a while I used to work in forestry. In the early 90’s I worked in the lake district as a conservation volunteer with the BTCV; through that I gained my advance chainsaw certificate and did all sorts of things I would never have imagined myself doing before…
And so the making of this work continues.