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43 American alligator. Photograph by Deborah Mitchell. 3. EARTH, FIRE, AND FLESH Territorial Refrains To become animal is to participate in movement, to stake out the path of escape in all its positivity, to cross a threshold, to reach a continuum of intensities that are valuable only in themselves, to find a world of pure intensities where all forms come undone. —DELEUZE and GUATTARI, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature Several years ago I was walking with Glen Simmons, then in his late eighties, down a weedy section of the Old Ingraham Highway, a remnant road within Everglades National Park that once served as a major thoroughfare for backcountry hunters. The day was warm, that welcoming warmth of a southern Florida winter afternoon, and the surrounding marsh was alive with the sounds of flitting warblers, herons, and egrets. In parts of the glades the dry winter parches the earth, and on that day the sweet musty aroma of sun-baked algae mats filled the air. Throughout our slow walk, we bent to examine the many alligator drag marks that crossed our path, sloppy indentations where alligators had jerkily hoisted themselves across and over the road’s muddy banks. Together, he a bit unsteadily, we crouched down and peered into these drag marks, looking for traces of claws and tail, trying to guess the alligator’s size and how long ago it had passed through. Walking with Simmons, I imagined we were characters in a natural history detective story, putting together clues of past wildlife adventures. Then he said something that abruptly dissolved this line of thought. I distinctly remember that we were poking at some rather antique-looking alligator scat, and I asked him, “When you see this, do you think of hunting?” At the time, I was surprised that I asked him this question, the passing of years 44 Earth, Fire, and Flesh having long erased his hunting days. He paused, and then slowly, with great deliberation, said, “Oh, yes.” Though he said only these two words, his tone conveyed an urgent matter-of-factness. I realized then that we were experiencing vastly distinct Everglades and that his was and would always be a hunter’s landscape. Alligator hunting is often described as the “nastiest way to make a dollar ,” and the following descriptions certainly illustrate that sentiment. At the same time, alligator hunting was one of the most reliable sources of income for glades people, for alligators could be hunted year-round whereas other game animals were seasonal. Fur-bearing animals—raccoon, otter, or mink—were only valuable when their pelts were thick in the wintertime. Without a doubt, market demand shaped hunting practices. Changes in fashion (plumed hats, alligator purses, belts, and suitcases) and corresponding prices for these animal objects altered which animals hunters sought and how they prepared their skins and hides. For instance, the craze for raccoonskin caps in the 1950s, instigated by Fess Parker’s role in the Walt Disney television film Davy Crockett: Indian Fighter (1954), reignited the dormant raccoon-skin trade, with rural folks all over the country sending parcels of ’coons off to the Sears, Roebuck company. Later in this book I discuss the politics and economics of alligator hunting , examining the market and regulatory frameworks that shaped the supply and demand of the trade. But before proceeding to those analyses, here I describe the practice of alligator hunting itself. At its most basic, the hunter’s aesthetic is one of bloodshed and boredom. Though we often think of aesthetics as the conventions of taste, particularly as they relate to a refined contemplation of the beautiful, Susan Buck-Morss reminds us that originally the term “aesthetics” suggested a form of knowing involving “the whole corporeal sensorium.”1 Everglades hunters relied on their instincts, experience , and senses to track, kill, and prepare glades animals. The practice was graphic, messy, and physically taxing—an aesthetics of bodies, both animals and humans, immersed in water, mud, and smoke. In this chapter, my wish is to evoke some of the tactile immediacy of the hunter’s landscape. Like a song, the aesthetics of the hunter’s landscape is composed of repeated refrains, akin to what Roland Barthes, in his Lover’s Discourse: Earth, Fire, and Flesh 45 Fragments, calls “figures.”2 Barthes offers a detailed and wide-ranging compendium of “figures” that characterize the experience of lovers. For Barthes, figures are those recognizable phrases, images, or the “read, heard, felt” of a particular social discourse, such...


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