Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Something Primal Keeping Me Going

I hesitated as I considered the task in my parked car, finally gathering up my courage and wits. I had passed a dead deer a few miles back on the edge of the road. Cause of death was clearly humans, who may have otherwise left the body to rot or put it to some dishonorable use under some bureaucratic name. My decision to pick the deer up led to a weekend of manual labor and a weekend of incredible reward. I was happy to lessen the tragedy of this deer dying unnecessarily and prevent it from being obscured in society’s cloud of waste.

Doe, a deer

My sister in the ecosystem met an untimely death. As I took apart her body, it was clear that she was healthy and had been eating well. White-tailed deer in cold climates eat as much as they can in Fall to build their bodies up for the Winter, not knowing when their next substantial meal will come. The amount of hard, white fat I found indicated that she would have made it through Winter. The cold winds whisk away the warmth from an animal, and those fat sources burn to keep the body warm. I now think of my own body as a heater when I’m out there on those cold days, burning my own fuel to keep warm.

Well, she and I spent a lot of time together. A late night, sorting out the battered, gory tissue from the still edible meat, all while watching Youtube to make sure I was correctly remembering the processing technique from my class at Charm City Farms over a year ago. Though I hadn’t eaten for quite a while, and had gotten up well before dawn, I was completely engrossed in the process, something primal keeping me going. By 4 AM, I had the deer quartered, and was ready for bed. The night hearkened back to my days as a grad student in the science lab, running experiments into the wee hours of morning.

I was exhausted when I woke up a few hours later, but had planned days before to have some friends over for breakfast. We enjoyed some splendid sourdough pancakes, made with the last of my sourdough starter. I then had some tidying up and planning to do, but was mostly just tired with a dull headache. I talked with my friend Kevin who invited me to come out to process the hide and prepare it for preservation at Overlook Community Farm. The hours just flew by as I was thinking about all of the deer parts and how to honor each one - a true challenge when you are living in a sea of concrete and neighbors all stacked in a concentrated housing operation. I couldn’t help but yearn for my next stage, living somewhere more wild.

The next day was probably the most wonderful of all. Joseph and I did the final butchering, with assistance from our new Youtube friend Richard Smith, who was there with me and the deer the whole time. Joseph and I were both amazed at the ease with which we were able to use a knife each and make some pretty nice cuts, all in a few hours work. Processing is quite intuitive; it has been made mystical only by disconnection from our food. 60+ pounds of meat, with no money needed; just our time, and a few sharp knives.

I stuck Joseph with most of the clean up and hopped in the car to head out to Kevin and McNeill’s for hide processing. The peace and green of the farm were a welcome respite from the busyness and grey of the city. Kevin lent his expertise, and all of the tools, to help me remove the fat and meat from the underside of the hide. We then salted the hide for preservation and further processing in Spring. Kevin and McNeill prepared a wonderful dinner for us, we talked and laughed, and I then bid them adieu. I went back out to the barn in the pitch black, tidied up, and rolled up the salted hide. I bashed my shin on a wheelbarrow in the dark. I didn’t mind. I thought of it as a reminder to slow down; there was no rush. The dark was peaceful and in no way threatening, a comforting glimpse into my future. I felt at ease.

Salted hide

I headed back to the city, hide in the back of the rugged Prius, with the bits that had come off the hide left behind in Kevin and McNeill’s compost. It was comforting to know that those parts of the deer would be incorporated back into the soil. In contrast, it was a bit deflating to come back to the city after being at the peaceful farm, now having to worry about locked doors and someone possibly busting my car window to steal anything that had the slightest suggestion of being valuable. I did laugh at the possibility of them rummaging through my stuff and coming up with a deer hide!

I ended this amazing day at Joseph and Katya’s, had some of the delicious odds and ends that were left from the butchering, which they had cooked up in bone broth. I sipped some tea that the couple found in a free box out in front of someone’s house, another score from the vast urban 'waste' stream. We reveled in all of the meat we had the pleasure of being fully present in obtaining, and the bright future of being able to acquire the necessities of life without the need for riches. It truly is the taste of freedom. The simple act of picking up this deer brought me into a new connection with my ecosystem, including tightening my bonds with other people. What a weekend it was - I’ll never forget it!

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