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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Reg Darling's Coyote Soul, Raven Heart — A Review

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., June 11, 2005.)
"I knew, long before I could articulate it,
that what happened in the woods was healing."
It's the reading season, time for the everyday hunter to sit back and examine what fellow hunters write. It's worth doing for the sake of improving our skills and for refining our philosophy of the hunt. That's why this space will review two or three books worth reading during the summer months.

The first is Coyote Soul, Raven Heart: Meditations of a Hunter-Wanderer, by Warren, PA philosopher and traditional archer Reg Darling. This assembly of essays and journal entries is part autobiography, part nature philosophy and part social analysis.

Some readers will be disappointed. If you're uncomfortable with controversy, you'll be antagonized. If your worldview is pro-business or exclusively Western, you'll find yourself in principle disagreement. If you are an animal rightist -- or not -- you'll be frustrated. If you find his occasional profanities gratuitous or stumble over his references to the joys of certain human behaviors, you'll miss the value in this book. Darling is a maverick and he prides himself as such. In the tradition of mavericks, he is a combination of humility and arrogance, and he'd like to challenge you.

Let none of that stop you from reading this book because Reg Darling is an uncommonly good writer. If he ever becomes widely known (and he deserves to be), some of his meditations will be classics -- on par with the best of outdoor writing. He releases sentence after sentence like arrows into the heart of the target. His piece entitled "A Fletcher's Meditation" is one example. "That the perfect flight of an arrow loosed with courage, confidence and concentration can bring us sustenance from the land is a great wonder."

"Camo" is another essay that repeatedly hits the mark. He views brightly colored noisy nylon clothing as disrespectful and irreverent toward the land, and goes on to say "Camouflage is simply the visual component of quietness." Clear, direct, substantial, and poetic. If you're fishing for quality sentences in quality essays, here is deep water loaded with lunkers.

While most of his views are understandable, occasionally he offers something mystifying, such as this journal entry relating to his teenage son: "Coffee is an adult treat Oren is allowed only on cold hunting days." It strikes me as oddly patronizing and controlling, especially given Darling's resistance to cultural norms and the confession of some of his own personal propensities.

A few of his descriptions seem unlikely, almost unbelievable, such as his account of hearing a coyote breathing as it paralleled him in the dark. But he admits later, "I look for meaning in things. I am probably excessive in that habit, and sometimes stretch desire-driven speculation pretty thin…."

Reg Darling is part child of the 60's, part Pleistocene man who shuns mechanical weaponry. Non-conformist blood runs in his veins. Hunting is a spiritual matter for him, but he is a little pessimistic about where it is headed. Not every hunter will identify with him and you don't need to agree with him in order to appreciate his writing -- but he might just change your mind about a thing or two.

You won't be able to pigeonhole Darling even after you have read his book, but you'll probably respect him and his philosophy. Perhaps the topic sentence of the entire book is on page 3: "I knew, long before I could articulate it, that what happened in the woods was healing." If you believe that, you'll get along with Reg Darling.

Coyote Soul, Raven Heart ends with a 7-page bibliography. The references it lists are not overtly cited in the book's 180-plus pages, so a paragraph on why it is included would be helpful. It seems to be a listing of the most formative works that brought Darling to his worldview, and offers an exceptionally good reading list for the thinking hunter.

I can't resist one more line from the quotable Reg Darling: "The meat matters. It is the umbilical cord that connects the hunter to Mother Earth." I like that. Coyote Soul, Raven Heart is available online at www.Amazon.com.


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