for Leah Atwood
The way you prepare a sheep for slaughter is to praise her, kiss her pointy face and tell her how grateful you have been to know her, weep while she eats the treat of oats you’ve offered her and then lead her to the pasture where the stun gun awaits.
Daisy knew something was up and resisted mightily, but we pulled her forward to where Adrien and the rest of the team awaited us, and they took over. We held on hard while the deed was done in 2 quick motions of a stun-gun and sharp knife. She fell, bleeding, at our feet; it took less than 2 minutes.
We were seven adults and five children in the goat meadow, and we drew together, arms around one another for comfort, and I noticed that even the youngest of the children did not look away. It seemed as though they sensed how important it was to know about how the real world worked, even when it was hard to look at.
They had a million questions – so did I – and Adrien calmly answered each one in his Albanian-accented English, while he separated bone from bone, slit skin and prepared what only moments before had been “Daisy” and was now something to be skinned and eventually eaten.
Hanging the carcass upside down from a tree-limb, Adrien gave four of us adults each a small, sharp knife and demonstrated how to skin the carcass by pulling the fleece slowly downwards and gently stroking away at the connective tissue between skin and pink flesh. Working together, shoulder to shoulder, we were so absorbed in our task it was easy to forget that only moments before we had accompanied Daisy, on her own feet, to this place.
Before slitting the belly to release the organs, we set up buckets to catch them and we asked Adrien to name each organ as it slid out.
“This is a kidney,” he announced, holding up a small purplish blob surrounded by fat, “…and here’s the intestines in this sac. See the heart here? And there’s the gall bladder, watch, don’t slit it because it will stink, and the liver – it’s big, no? …”
It took less than an hour before the carcass was totally skinned and eviscerated, hanging upside down and ready to be butchered.
When the empty carcass was laid on a waiting table, we asked Adrien to identify for us the cuts of “meat” as he butchered the body into chops and tenderloin, stew meat and leg of lamb. The children began to disperse to the hammock to play and for the next few hours the adults cleaned up, shared cuts of meat to take home with them or to put into the freezer on the farm. Adrien claimed all the fat and Brent brought the ribs to his yurt for a barbeque and invited everyone down to his place later that night for spicy ribs.
When it was time to bury the offal, Hannah from the Black Banjo Reclamation Project combed through the small intestines to harvest the thinnest strands for banjo strings, and the rest was brought down the hill to where we’d been hearing coyotes late at night.
Not a morsel of what had been Daisy was wasted.
Later, the sizzle of lamb fat on the grill drew us down to Brent’s place where we gathered around the spit and tasted the meat for the first time – all of us except the vegetarians. She would now become part of most everyone who had known her in life and witnessed her death – we were now all kin, part of one another in a yet deeper way.
Looking straight at life and death is a profound lesson for us now as we move into an unknown future on this planet, learning to face some hard realities and knowing that we need one another to survive, and always have. To provide the sustenance we grow on this farm-in-the-city requires a whole community of people each doing his and her share of the work, and the sun and healthy soil and regular rainfall and the bees all in balance, together. It requires that we know each other well enough to live and work together, to feel admiration for each of our particular gifts and a willingness to trust that with one another we create a much stronger fabric than if each of us is a separate strand competing with the others for what we all need.
I was moved by how strongly we bonded doing the work of providing for ourselves together. No money passed hands, but by the end of the day we felt even stronger as a group, having provided protein for most of us during the next 6 months.
We had gone through a painful, but necessary process together and I figure it was practice for the challenge everyone on the planet is facing now, as the end point of our outdated mindset becomes more evident. Either we shift some of our assumptions about how the world works, or it could be curtains for all of us: old assumptions that claim a competitive economy that sets me against you; that if I win, you lose and if you matter, I do not. That some of us are born to lord it over the others, and the earth can be sold to the highest bidder.
After well over 2000 years of being taught that such notions were the ‘truth,’ we are at the brink of a major shift of mindset we may have to fight for. And we are the ones who have to make this transition, starting with ourselves.
It is that change of consciousness we have been born for, I believe, and we are the very ones we’ve been waiting for – and it is happening right now!
I do not expect it will be easy, but the old story is over, whoever takes this election – it’s just a matter of time. We’ve all been traumatized for centuries and have been nursed on the fear residing in our mothers’ milk. It is an old, old story of enforced trepidation: that we need to be afraid of one another because if you have enough, there will not be enough for me, and if everything is a contest, I have to be a winner and not a loser.
Whole societies have been based on this model of separation that raises some of us, especially males, high and lowers the rest to ‘females and ‘slaves.’ Unfortunately the natural world is considered to be in the ‘slave’ category, meaning that those with enough power and money can buy and own it – and do with it whatever they please, including wreaking havoc with it!
What will it take for our consciousness to evolve and recognize that we are all in this together, through life and death, playing our roles side by side with one another and learning how to listen to the larger music we all make together?
I remember the time, many years ago, when I sat in on a rehearsal of a Schubert string quartet in which my boyfriend at the time played second violin. When the quartet reached a strong, rich chord, the woman sitting next to me leaned over and asked in my ear,
“Who’s the best one?”
I believe I answered, “They all are.”
Or at least I hope I did.