In the first few pages of Lily Raff McCaulou's memoir, Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt my Own Dinner, she quotes the opening line from the cover letter she sent to prospective employers in Oregon, Idaho, and Montana while living in New York City: "I'm not just a city slicker looking for a Western adventure." That line apparently worked well enough to land McCaulou a journalism job in Bend. The book chronicles her adjustment to and eventual immersion in the Pacific Northwest's rugged, frontier lifestyle. Humboldt readers will delight in meeting McCaulou as she meets us Westerners; her descriptions of spandex-clad coffee drinkers, passing wild animals on her commute to work and fly-fishing dates are spot-on, self-effacing and highly entertaining.
Call of the Mild could easily have been a trite "fish out of water" story, detailing the hijinks of a city girl donning camouflage, encountering rednecks and eventually finding herself (and romance) amid the buckshot and deer scat. It also could have been an autobiographical Omnivore's Dilemma, lecturing readers on the moral and environmental superiority of eating wild game instead of factory-farmed meat. Instead, McCaulou uses her experience as a novice hunter to craft a whip-smart and poignant book that raises questions about individual life choices and federal environmental policy with equanimity.
McCaulou is first drawn to hunting as a means of understanding the rural life around her and more closely aligning her urbanite environmentalism with her daily life. She attacks her goal in a way that is familiar for her; she reads everything she can get her hands on about hunting history, science and culture, and she signs up for every available class on the subject. McCaulou's account of her first hunter safety class, in which she is the only adult student, is laugh-out-loud funny.
McCaulou portrays her subjects in a respectful, even manner. The hunters, gun salesmen, game wardens and loggers interviewed are all depicted as knowledgable, thoughtful and eager to welcome the author into the world of hunting. For readers who feel squeamish killing animals or aligning themselves with the NRA, McCaulou offers a palatable introduction to a world that is far more nuanced and complex than the political rhetoric that surrounds it.
While McCaulou's book could be read and appreciated by any audience, its themes are likely to resonate with Humboldt readers in particular. Our community thinks of itself as closely connected with the land for recreation, economics and food. But the folks who shop at the Arcata farmers market are not always aware of the folks who hunt geese along Salmon Creek, or how both interest groups are vital in the conservation movement. Call of the Mild is likely to be thought provoking for even the most righteous locavore among us.