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The Harvest: A Story About Giving

November 2, 2012
The Harvest: A Story About Giving

If, by some horrible circumstance, your child has cancer and they’ve always wanted to go to Disney World, the Make-A-Wish Foundation will send them.  If they want to go hunting, however, you’re out of luck.  So Tina Pattison found out when her son Matt was dying.  Out of her efforts to make his wish a reality came Hunt Of A Lifetime, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit dedicated to providing just such an opportunity to terminally ill children, and subject of first-time documentarian Gabriel DeLoach’s film, The Harvest: A Story About Giving.  In telling this touching story, DeLoach focuses on three out of the hundreds of kids that Hunt Of A Lifetime has helped over the years.

Tyler is fourteen and his Hodgkins lymphoma is in remission.  A natural outdoorsman, he has an almost instinctual sense for animals.  He’s been trapping raccoons on his own, but what he wants is to go to Maine to hunt a three hundred pound black bear.

Arianna is also fourteen, trapped in her wheelchair by spina bifida and advanced kidney disease.  Despite predictions that she’d live out a short, basically inert life, she is charming and gregarious, and not shy about getting what she wants on her own terms.  And what she wants is to shoot a Merriam’s turkey in the black hills of South Dakota.

Casey is twenty.  Diagnosed as a young child with a brain tumor the size of a lemon, his treatment was able to render the tumor operable, and his cancer is now in remission.  But the attendant swelling pressed on his optic nerves, rendering him almost completely blind.  Still, he’s a better bowler than I am on my best day, and he wants to go to New Mexico to hunt an elk.

The obvious question for many people is why a child whose own life is at risk would want to take another’s.  And if you go in thinking that hunting is first and foremost about killing, then this is indeed a problem.  But DeLoach makes it clear that, to these kids at least, hunting is about connections — to family, to tradition, and to the land itself — which are often severed by illness and disability.  We may take the unconstructed, natural world for granted, but if you can’t see where you’re going or can only go there in a wheelchair, it can be pretty inaccessible.

Hunting is also about the control and self-determination that disease can strip away.  It provides a sense of accomplishment.  And for many kids who may never get the chance to provide for a family of their own, hunting is literally about putting food on the table in the most direct way possible.

So I may not be a hunter, and may have no interest in the hunt myself.  But I do appreciate the meaning it holds for these people — all the more so for watching DeLoach’s film — and I appreciate what it means to have people like Tina Pattison devoting their lives to providing that to those who have already lost so much.  It obviously can’t replace Matt, but it’s a chance to turn a tragedy to some greater good.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: if it applies to documentaries, fail.

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