The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seem inordinately short this year. Not only are there fewer hours of daylight, there are fewer days of preparation. The constant to-do list of vegetable harvest and preparation has been temporarily relaxed. There’s not much I want to do right now except create Christmas gifts. This year, I’m feeling more confident with knitting.
Like my fellow farmwife, Robin, I am fond of small projects with sticks and wool that can be seen through to completion in a relatively short period of time. Unlike Robin, I don’t have sheep, so I work at the mercy of whatever yarn I can glean from friends and local craft stores. Also, I haven’t yet absorbed from my crafty friends how to do those great thumb gussets, so I’m still at the stage of creating nice rectangles, and simple circles. Nonetheless, the act of that creation, especially when it is for one of the wonderful friends or family members who grace my life, is extremely satisfying.
But what else corresponds with this season of intense creativity?
Shots ring out in the early dawn, and my Fellow Man is out of bed and long gone before sun shines down the hollow. Around here, venison is for dinner.
So, knitting projects abandoned, I spend a day, or two or three, with my husband, in the kitchen, preparing our year’s worth of meat. As I slice and wrap and label and pack, freeze, can, make stock, and can some more, I wonder. Food isn’t that hard to come by. We spend a tremendous amount of time and energy focused on almost every aspect of our food supply, every season; the labor is rather relentless. Why do we do this?
There are may answers to every question of course, and I have many thoughts about hunting. I will only break the ice here.
Right now I’m thinking about responsibility.
Lulah and I have been reading compound words lately, so I’m enjoying breaking language down into smaller parts.
Response. Ability. How able are we to respond to the situation at hand?
There is a growing consensus among health-care providers and the population at large, that the quality of our food matters. From here, we can look at what ‘quality’ means. Does it mean marbled Grade A? I don’t think so. The quality of vegetables has largely to do with the soil in which they grew and the nutrients they end up with. The quality of meat has to do with the life of the animal. Poor, depleted soil grows deficient vegetables. Animals who lead lives deprived of sunlight, clean water, proper food, and exercise make poor meat. There’s much more to be said about these issues. I know I’m simplifying, but I think the reasoning holds true even when simply stated.
Our friends grow some excellent meat. Sometimes we buy, trade, and receive as gifts lamb, pork, and beef. But if we had to buy everything we ate, we probably couldn’t afford it. Along those lines, we don’t live in a highly populated agricultural area. There aren’t acres of tobacco, corn, or soybeans being grown in the immediate vicinity. The deer here are browsing in the woods (and in our gardens). Like our friends’ livestock, these deer are NOT eating GMO corn and soybeans. They are leading natural lives, doing what deer do best.
We don’t have a large land base. Our livestock consists of small flocks of chickens and turkeys, and we don’t really feel that we have sufficient space for the turkeys. My husband is not made to be a vegetarian, and neither is our daughter. Levon would like to live on blueberries and yogurt, but that’s another story. Our household best thrives with some meat in the freezer.
We also don’t have large predators around here. Wolves, bears, and panthers used to walk these hills, but no more. Deer populations are thriving, however. Our garden is surrounded by four to five strands of electric wire because without it, we would not have a garden. One year, before the fence, the deer ate half of a long row of beans, down to the ground, in one night. Some years, in flood or drought, their populations become too large to sustain and they sicken and die in the woods. Humans are the biggest predators in the local food web, and so we have a job to do.
So, it seems to me, that my Fellow Man in the field, and I in the kitchen, are responding to the best of our ability, to the needs of our family as well as the living community around us. The act of Living entails relationships, and certain responsibilities. Dying does too, I suppose.
And it’s not with a grudge that we fulfill this responsibility. Paul enjoys the woods before dawn, the quiet, still time. I enjoy the time with my husband in the kitchen. We stand across from one another at the counter, chatting. We mourn, praise, and admire the deer, and we are thankful for this wild abundance that comes our way. The deer, like the squirrels, hawks, raccoons, owls, chickens, groundhogs, and human neighbors, are part of our community. We admire, respect, and appreciate them for their contributions. Sometimes they contribute song, sometimes amusement, sometimes manure, sometimes trouble, and sometimes food. We try to give back, too. It’s part of the responsibility.
Now, with the pressure canner rattling happily in the kitchen, my gaze returns to a bag of sticks and wool. Sweet December. There is time enough for all these things, and probably, for more.