Melancholy of Hunters


The boy is eager to hunt with his father. He cannot wait. He would have smuggled himself in a car trunk to the hunting field if he could: anything to be closer to his father. Hunting gives them both, father and son, the sense of camaraderie in action. It’s a man’s sport. Silence is a prerequisite. Children are not welcome to the hunt because nothing can prepare them for watching a wild boar at full gallop suddenly collapsing to the ground. Out of shock, in protest, little boys cry.

But this boy will overcome his disgust, fear, and unease to earn his father’s approval. He loves his father in a simple way. He believes in communicating through actions, not words.

Thanks to the hunting they become providers. When they hunt for ducks, no duck is left behind. All ducks are collected from the field. It is the boy’s task to wring their necks, if necessary, to complete the process of dying. The ducks are then brought home, and mother is made happy. The family guts them at home ( he remembers the smell of intestines, when perforated by a bird shot), then cooks, and finally eats them. Conscientious and grateful eaters, they are careful of flattened bullets and broken bones. The boy leaves but a pile of chewed bones on his plate.

Father and son are no fancy hunters. In the 1960s people still hunt to eat. The boy is also a skillful fisherman. When he carries four buxom pikes through the village, he feels uplifted when he overhears other people craving the bounty he is planning to lay down, like an offering, at his father’s feet. A moment later he feels terrible because his father places a pike’s heart, like a red flake, right in the palm of his hand, where it is beating for what seems like a long time after the gutting.

The boy works as a whipper at the hunt. He cheers every rabbit who manages to escape, unless the hunter who missed the shot is his father.

For the hunting, father and son use home-made bullets. For bird shots they use blanks, greenish shooting powder, cardboard, and felt. They also cast their own lead bullets, two at a time, for larger game. The book doesn’t specify where this production takes place (in the back room, in the basement?), but we picture the boy and the man busy at the table where a wooden box with compartments and a mold for casting lead bullets rest next to lead-filled tapes, a conical peg, and various pouches, tin cans, and small jars, barely exchanging any words while calibrating, folding, and turning the crank for what seems like hours and hours.

Random images of hunted animals inhabit the writer’s memory. The first deer he sees shot dead is a three-legged buck, crippled, obviously, after some earlier incident that nevertheless had left him alive (the skin with fur grew over the lost hoof). He is glad that it wasn’t his father who shot the crippled deer.

No stag, he explains later, is allowed to die a natural death. The only remaining mystery is whether it will be a tourist hunter who paid a fee in euros, or a local one who is going to bring him down.

They go to the forest on a motorbike: the boy watches his father breathing with relief at not having shot the wild boar who turns out to be a female with a cluster of piglets behind.

It’s at dawn in August when at last they round on their first buck. It might have been an ordinary summer day for the two does and a buck, but the father and son use a trick to provoke the latter to expose himself to a shot. The does flee (the scientists have been able to prove that animals who are victims of trophy hunting develop a permanently heightened level of stress). They find the buck toppled in the grass, intestines oozing from the hole in his belly. The father has to slash the buck’s throat, while the son tries to hold down the animal’s hind legs. The buck screams and slackens at last. On their way back, with the body of the buck on his knees, the son feels that “something very wrong has happened.” The father, too, is overcome by sadness. Both men, equally dispirited, return home.

The boy grows into a man who watches wild boars running for their lives, dodging bullets to no avail, and hopes he shouldn’t be the one to shoot them. But he does shoot them, almost involuntarily, as if his gun was emitting blasts on its own accord, a hunter who is about to give up hunting, dejectedly counting the corpses and accepting praise from his hunting mate (men hunt in pairs).

Kruczyński does not appeal to emotion. He doesn’t demand sympathy–at least not for himself. He did not write this book to exonerate himself.  In the interviews he talks about addiction, and when he does, he makes the unhappiness of an addict palpable, the sense of unease and woe of someone who finds a momentary happiness only when watching the rabbits playing with buds and stalks and, enchanted, lets them live.

After he quits, he will appeal to reason.


Zenon Kruczyński, Farba znaczy krew. Wołoniec: Wydawnictwo Czarne 2017.





Digital StillCamera


What I’m failing to understand is our government’s ambivalent relationship with nature. Natural law is treated literally as the substitute for God, when it comes to erasing the three exceptions (incest, rape, and the danger to women’s health) from the harshest anti-abortion law in Europe. Similar to the dismal amendment brewed in the ministry of justice’s cauldrons, the minister of farming issued an order to hunting circles to eliminate 40,000 wild boars by shooting. Now, the hunting of the wild boar, as I’m reading on the Hunters’ Daily discussion forum board, should not be done in the spring because it unavoidably involves shooting females in advanced pregnancy or nursing. But an order is an order, and the government insists on its completion under the threat of closing down some factious hunting circles.

            It may be that all the blood and gore of the proposed springtime wild boar hunting is meant to habituate the hunters, first, to following any dreadful and nonsensical order they are handed, and, second, to habituate the hunters,  and their children, who are legally allowed to participate, to an even higher level of atrocity than that which is normally associated with the elimination of animals, like watching the unborn piglets move in the bellies of their expiring mothers. Not accidentally, the government’s plan to form the armed militia is taking shape simultaneously—as we read in the currently released report of the National Center for Strategic Studies, the militia, named Territorial Defense, but resembling a lynch-mob, armed with machine guns, is expected to “constitute a preventive means aimed to discourage the anti-governmental opposition.” That is, us. Will I feel intimidated by the young men with machine guns? Time will tell, but for now it seems as if the part of me capable of experiencing fear has simply taken a hike: no one can be preventively afraid day in and day out. Still, we are not expected to sink into hysteria, not for now, because “this plan doesn’t have yet univocal support in the decisive circles.” But is univocal support necessary? Shouldn’t it suffice that the civilian militia is the most cherished idea of our insane minister of defense, who will now be speedily promoted to the rank of general, since the president of the Peace and Justice (Piecemeal Justice) party expressed just such hope in his speech at the prominent national mourning celebration only last Sunday (April 10th).

But who will become part of the civilian militia? Well, apart from the hunters interested in adding on to their duties in the Hunters Union, it will be the shooting circles who have been meeting for years now at provincial parishes. For the hunting circles, the mass spring killing of wild boars will be a formative experience. They will learn how to act in a similarly discouraging manner towards the anti-governmental opposition; this will be their education: to follow absurd or atrocious orders without thinking. Someone noted recently on Facebook that, “Luckily, with the Poles, it all ends with a lot of talking.” Sometimes it does end with talking; sometimes it ends with mass purges.

Ah, but the soccer fans. They are the hefty players. Also destined to be fed into the civilian army, this group had already started the year as guests of honor at the Częstochowa sanctuary, where they amused their priestly hosts with rocket shooting and a midnight march with torches. Special guests from Hungary were present. They all united in Christ. But we are the anti-Christ. As a sideline to the national mourning celebration, the former “Solidarity” chaplain, an important figure, condemned taking part in KOD (Committee for Defense of Democracy) marches and deemed a hunger strike a deadly sin. Poor Miszk (a native of Gdynia, he started out in the democratic opposition as a teenager, in the 1980s) is fasting in front of the first minister’s office in Warsaw: it’s the 27th day now. Other deadly sins, just to keep the record straight, are: pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

Meanwhile, the mass logging of Białowieża primeval woodland, the only one of its kind in Europe, with the approval of the environmental minister, is taking place in the background. The condemned trees, in the eyes of the government, are old and contaminated and useless. Ecologists counter, however, that the old trees, even if they fall of their own accord, are essential to the forest’s ecosystem. Is this simply greed, as the trees will prove useful at last when logged and sold as wood planks? (IKEA, by the way, has already declined to buy Białowieża wood.) I suppose it is a sort of message sent to the opposition made up of, as our foreign affairs minister believes, mainly cyclists and vegetarians, that the government is all powerful, and we can stuff ourselves and feel embittered (like Milton’s Satan, free to reside in “Regions of sorrow, [among] doleful shades.”

When set side by side, these random targets (women, woodlands, wild boars) begin to make sense: women must submit (to dying if necessary), and the woodlands, too, have to be controlled and felled-to-order. As to the hunters, the only hunters that matter are the hard-currency bearers, eager to pay good bucks for the pleasure of shooting Białowieża’s deer, foxes, and, why not, ancient bizons, thus deserving easier access to the beasts, no longer hindered by the old trees.



On April 12, Greenpeace has started the occupation of the Ministry of Environment roof in protest against the destruction of Białowieża Forest. Check for the latest information at and @ObroncyPuszczy or @Greenpeace_PL on Twitter. If you wish to show support, post a picture of yourself with a hashtag #KochamPuszcze or email



Easton, Adam. “Poland’s ruling conservatives clash with EU over media control.” BBC News 4 Jan. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. 

Discussion Forum, thread 111938. Dziennik Łowiecki (Hunters’ Daily). Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Molga, Tomasz. “Chłopski minister zaplanował rzeź 40 tys. dzików. Nawet myśliwi buntują się przeciwko ‘wielkiemu safari’.” NaTemat. 6 Apr. 2016. Web. 6 Apr. 2016

Noch, Jakub. “Wyposażona w broń formacja odstraszy przed działaniami antyrządowymi.” Dlaczego PiS tworzy obronę terytorialną?” NaTemat. 10 Apr. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Paszyn, Maciej et al. Koncepcja Obrony Terytorialnej w Polsce. Raport. Warsaw: Narodowe Centrum Studiów Strategicznych, 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

“Poland approves large-scale logging in Europe’s last primeval forest.” Agence France-Presse. Guardian 26 March 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.