The next step in this saga--ironically--also involves 4-H.
After my job writing 4-H marine science materials ran out, I went back to school. I had gotten my Bachelor's Degree in biology from Florida State University, but since the Florida 4-H Department is located at the University of Florida, and they offered a Master of Forest Resources and Conservation, I applied for the program.
All of this was partly philosophical. Yes, I wanted to be a writer, but I also had an agenda. At the time I applied to the master's program, I was as anti-hunting as it gets. I was even a vegetarian because I hated going into the grocery store and buying meat. When you buy meat that way it's just a "thing" in a package, and it doesn't have any relationship to the animal. I had (and still do have) a problem with that. We have so divorced ourselves from the source of our food that we forget that an animal had to die to put those steaks on our plates.
So, my agenda was to learn enough about the outdoors and wildlife to write about how bad hunting is.
Once I got started into my master's program, my philosophy came face to face with reality. I bumped head on into the uncomfortable notion that hunting is not only a legitimate use of wildlife, in some cases it's far less wasteful than letting an overpopulation of large grazers starve as they attempt to thread themselves through the midwinter needle's eye. Not that I would ever hunt, I assured my friends, but I finally accepted that hunting is a part of conservation.
A few months later, one of the staff members in the department mentioned that he was going duck hunting. I talked to him for a while about it, half-dreading, half-hoping that he would invite me along. He didn't.
But he did bring me some ducks. I plucked them in the kitchen, leaving little mounds of fluffy feathers in the corners while my cats went wild.
For several years, that was as close as I got to hunting. I finished my degree and went back to work in the Florida 4-H Department, this time on a longer term grant, writing Integrated Pest Management materials for 4-H. It wasn't as much fun as writing the marine science materials had been, but it was a job, and it was writing, and it taught me to meet deadlines and work with printers.
Then in 1981 I got married and moved to the country. One of my first acts was to insist that my husband remove the remains of someone's old deer stand from a big oak tree on the back of our property. I might accept hunting as a part of conservation, but I certainly didn't want to be reminded of it each time I turned around.
I started freelancing--a tough gig no matter how you do it--writing about agriculture. It was a logical move, since I already knew many Extension specialists from my time in 4-H, and I was in an area with a lot of agriculture.
I also started doing a few stories for Florida Wildlife. This was the old Florida Wildlife, when it was still published internally at the old Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
Meanwhile, my position on hunting underwent another quantum shift. During my second winter in the country, I heard a couple of my neighbors discussing hunting. "You know," I thought, "hunting is a valid part of conservation. How can I call myself a conservationist if I've never tried it? I'm going to hate it, but I owe it to myself to have the experience."
I didn't get a deer that year, but I did the following year. The experience of taking an animal from the field to the table--knowing I could literally put meat on the table--changed my life forever. It is an incredibly powerful feeling to know that you can provide a meal no matter what it takes to get it.
Along about that time, I got a call from Rick Lavender. He had just been hired as the editor of a new magazine, Florida Game & Fish Magazine. Would I do a story on fishing?
You bet! (And just as an aside, I am still writing for them today.)
That's enough for one post. I'll pick up there the next time............and pretty soon we'll be talking about Africa.