Sunday, December 9, 2018

2018 Hog Butchering!

It's not over but the end is in sight! In the background the vacuum sealer is busy at work, with Terah and Alida vying for the best view and Jason trying to keep his cool. :) The parents in this family are both energized and exhausted! It's been a full, busy, emotional. fulfilling, fun, and challenging several days! Read on to travel with me through the days if you wish!

On Wednesday I walked with one of the students in my program, who is fast becoming a new friend and is such a wise soul! I was expressing to her how challenging butchering is for me and exposing my angst once again about this power we have to choose when an animal's life will be over. And my discomfort that these animals have trusted us to be bearers of goodness (ok, food!) for them and then we "betray" that at the end - it feels so hard. I also shared my own journey of challenging myself to live with this discomfort since there is no escaping that my life requires the taking of life. In response she said calmly, "have you tried talking to them?" She went on to share with me how, back in her home context, they would thank the animals for their life before killing them to eat. She even remarked on how they would hold the animal and how it even seemed to have a calming effect on the animal. 

Somehow this conversation had a profound impact on me. I have so often felt grateful for our pigs but I had never thought to actually thank them directly. I think my own discomfort was taking up my emotional space and hadn't made space for gratitude. 

So Thursday, while Jason was up the hill prepping for the butchering, I went down to the pig paddock with the girls and made an awkward attempt at expressing my gratitude for these creatures for providing us with nourishment. I hope to get better at it! Once the butchering days get underway, there is not a lot of time for reflection as it requires all hands on deck but I can tell in pockets of time that I'm grasping for others to help me articulate what this process is like. How transformational it feels! How it engages all my senses and makes me feel fully alive and also connects me with complicated feelings of grief and gratitude, sadness and joy all intermingled. Today in my floundering around the internet looking for "reflections on hog butchering" I found this quote that, while not a perfect reflection of my experience, resonated: “I’ve never figured out how to fully articulate what happens...I don’t feel guilty, and I don’t feel bad. It is a pure and intense experience, but it is the most complicated experience you can have in terms of living and dying.”

Of course Friday morning we started off with Wendell Berry's poem, reading it a few times! We have yet to write a better one and not sure we even aspire to as this seems he's got it covered! Here it is again: 

For the Hog Killing

  1. Let them stand still for the bullet, and stare the shooter in the
  2. eye,
  3. let them die while the sound of the shot is in the air, let them die
  4. as they fall,
  5. let the jugular blood spring hot to the knife, let its freshet be full,
  6. let this day begin again the change of hogs into people, not the
  7. other way around,
  8. for today we celebrate again our lives’ wedding with the world,
  9. for by our hunger, by this provisioning, we renew the bond.
The day started at 5 a.m. for me and Jason. I was on for getting breakfast/coffee going for our household (which included my sister Brenda and her boyfriend Greg who joined us for the weekend) and lunch and supplies together to head up the hill, while Jason did the chores with a headlamp so he was ready to help with the first kill at daybreak. (And now I will put in a disclaimer for readers that I'm interspersing pictures throughout these reflections of the butchering. In the case that someone does not wish to see photos, you probably want to stop at this juncture - though I never take pictures of the actual killing as that somehow doesn't sit well with me at all)

I was amazed that both days the girls and I were out the door well before 9 a.m. packed for a full day up the hill, breakfast in us and lunch packed for the crew. Kali got up so easily both days and was outside ready to take part from the very beginning. The second day as we were bundling up to head out, I marveled to Kali how it is incredible how challenging it is for us to all get out the door by 9:30 when we go to church, but we happily were about to head up the hill with a car loaded down and bellies full and happy. Without missing a beat, she reflected, "Maybe it's because we like hog butchering better than church." Oh daughter, you name things I struggle to boldly own but it's true - and maybe more than that it is the kind of church we connect the most deeply with. We feel fully alive, we feel connected (with each other, with the earth, with the source of our sustenance), we are outside in nature, and we are honoring life and doing all we can to respect and appreciate what we need to live. 
Our girls were right there this time. Kali was present for all the killings but the one I went down for and she remained to be the point person for the younger girls. Alida helped stoke the fire. Terah watched with big eyes and questions and her natural curiosity. They were all happy taste testers of pig tongue, panhas, cracklins, and potatoes fried in lard.
When the butchering process got tedious or long or bellies got hungry, there were snacks and warm soup and there were friends to chat with, color with, read stories with, take photos with, etc... This year had the wonderful added learning and newness of having a few of the students from my program, along with a few friends, who came out for day 1 to take many of the parts of the hog that are delicacies in their home culture and that we are still ignorant of how to use (though our great-grandparents surely knew). I felt so grateful for all they contributed to the day and for helping us to use even more of the animal - we have yet to learn how to use stomach, intestine, lungs, feet, spleen, kidneys, and heads but they were eager to make good use of and savor it for us! Thanks to those friends, the amount of "guts" that was buried under our brush pile was relatively small this year. We have so much to learn...Little by little!
By the end of Friday, all four pigs were halved (and some a bit farther than that) and ready for day 2. And day 1 is a little shorter than day 2 in terms of what is required, leaving us with a number of great connecting hours at home around the fire, singing and playing piano and some game playing with Brenda and Greg. We went to bed happy and full in so many ways! Saturday dawned looking like this! Sure seemed to be a good start for the day! Jason and I were up early again to do the same routine (food prep for me, animal care for Jason), and then up the hill we went.
One of the changes for me this year is I got to be way more involved and on Saturday I decided to skip Terah's nap so we didn't miss anything. She did great and by day 2 was even not telling me every 5 minutes that she was scared of the dog. So some progress on that front too, for which I was very very grateful! Day 2 includes cutting up lard for rendering, cutting up meat for sausage grinding, cutting down the halves into ribs and backstrap and hams and bacons. It was a cold but beautiful day!
The kettles for lard and panhas got started a bit later than any of us hoped they would, and so I knew we were going to be racing the sun. The sun won! We finished off pouring panhas in pans and lard in jars with head lamps and clean up would have to wait until Sunday!
By dark on Saturday, Terah was so ready to go home. She needed to go potty and was exhausted. I probably pushed her about 15 minutes too long but I could hardly pull myself away! I brought the girls home and Kali stayed with the younger girls while I headed back up to help wrap up. Kali's help was invaluable throughout all the days. I love this picture of Terah wanting "up." She would be independent for awhile and then want to reconnect with one of her trusted people!! I'm glad she had so many trusted people around here to get re-grounded with whenever she needed that. 
So today - cleaning up, salting bacons and hams, putting things away, packaging meat, wiping down lard jars and tucking in the root cellar, loading up the freezers, more cleaning up and all the while the snow is falling outside (and makes me grateful that it didn't do that the last two days - even though we managed butchering in the snow last year just fine). 

Things are quite peaceful in the pig paddock as the two females can each eat out of a food pan and only fight a tiny bit to see if the one has something much better than what is in their pan. Of course we aren't leaving things as they are very long. We had planned today to go pick up an American Guinea Hog boar that we hope will father two litters of piglets for us. The snow changed that plan and so that's for tomorrow - which is great as we are still wrapping up butchering and really would not have had time to prepare the new quarters for the fellow today. So we are entering new terrain - wintering pigs over in the dryland garden using a deep litter system and hoping that both will get pregnant in the coming month so we can welcome baby pigs late spring. We'll keep you posted!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Thanksgiving travels, hair donation and a completed leaf pile!

Before I dive into the things mentioned in the subject of this post, two small tidbits that are scrapbook worthy!

We grew a lot of black beans this year! It rained a lot this year! That means that many of them sprouted before we got them out of the field, threshed and winnowed. So sitting in our common room for awhile was four loaded trays of black beans. It looked like a daunting job with a mixture of sprouted, moldy and good beans. We were faced with the dilemma that is so often a part of our life at Tangly Woods. Do we take the "unreasonable" amount of time needed to sort through all these black beans to pull out the good ones - which probably wouldn't amount to no more than 20-25lbs of dry beans. There was no way we were going to "justify" the activity by comparing to what a sack of 25lb of organic black beans would cost. But is that the gauge we should be using? Well, we sorted one tray's worth, found the activity rather addicting and then made refried beans with them. That made the decision. They were scrumptious - once again we learn that food grown here tastes best! We spent hours together sorting beans while kids played around us or joined in. Yes, a considerable amount of time spent on the activity but if framed as good and fun family times that resulted in lots of black beans that we will enjoy this winter, the beans then are almost a bonus! I often get the sense that some might feel that we are "wasting" our time doing so much by hand when you could just go to the store and buy "the same thing." I would argue they aren't the same thing, I would also argue we aren't considering all the costs of such a mentality (and some are already paying the price of it), and I would finally argue it is a pretty good alternative to family television watching time. You might wonder if I'm trying to convince myself. In part, I am! We are not immune to the pressures felt from our economy and culture.

Well, that clearly could be a blog post all it's own, but let's move along. Isn't this a beautiful sight? What you don't get are the beautiful sounds accompanying it. I'm very much enjoying the fruits of Kali's birthday gift of piano lessons, and she seems to be thoroughly enjoying them, too. It's once again a new experience for me of seeing someone choose to pursue something (after a long time contemplating it) and then enjoy practicing and improving with no pressure or anxiety involved - AND no need for me to enforce practicing or bug her to go over her "homework." It's delightful! So much so that I offered to do a duet with her on the piano for "Sing for your Supper" at Jason's aunts over Thanksgiving. We were great in rehearsal, Kali was great in the performance, and I screwed up. But it was fun!

So more on our Thanksgiving travels: I won't waste too much space on the care ride. 81 and 78 are never enjoyable roads for me to travel on and this time was no different. Terah is not a very enjoyable kid for me to drive long distances with and this time was also no different. I also was not as prepared this time as sometimes - I did good packing food for the meals on the road but neglected to think through the "entertainment." With no working CD player, we were subjected to a lot of "I hate the car" and "I want out of the carseat" and "I want to play." The good news was that Terah transferred from bed to car on the way to and from PA and slept some of the way both times. Had she been awake all 5-6 hours, it might have done me in! Even as it was, I was VERY glad to get to our destination safely on both ends of our trip!

Once in PA, we had many good family times. There was baby holding, swinging, cushioned-sword fighting, horsey riding, family walk/talks, singing, candle making, game playing, feasting, and did I mention baby holding? You will see some visuals below of our time together, but the best view I had in the few days we were there was the first photo here - I don't hold a sleeping baby in my arms very often any more and especially away from home with no to do lists looming. It was luxurious!! So we soaked up time all together and then we all departed and since that time are all exchanging notes on the pathways the various viruses we all shared with each other are taking as they make their ways through our bodies. I think there are a precious few from the family that have been spared illness. But despite it being a long time since I've had a good night's sleep (Terah is no less dramatic now with a cold than she was before), it was worth it!
Upon our return home, our chief task this week was to finish collecting leaves for the year. We had self-imposed an end of November deadline for ourselves. We decided by that time we should have enough for the year and we need to move on to other projects/tasks. So we hit it hard on the days I was not in the office this week - most of Tuesday and Thursday and then this morning. The pile has been above the wire numerous times and then we "worked" (ok, played) hard to compact it to add more. What satisfying work - fresh air, good exercise, fun family times. I'm in!!

Below we will share some instructional videos on the proper technique for compacting an enormous leaf pile. :)

#1 The dive:

#2 The face plant:

#3 The child drop:

If you are needing some additional tips and suggestions there are more where those came from! Jason and I make a really good raking/hauling team. And Jason knows all he has to do is mention how many leaf bundles he was able to take on one trip, and I'll be working hard to rise to the challenge. Our top number was 5! Thankfully the back injuries triggered by a previous virus seem to be healing up pretty well such that we both felt pretty good (in our backs if not our noses and throats) for our final day! We are grateful to our neighbors for allowing us to rake and haul away their leaf and pine needle crops. They seem equally glad to have us do it for them! The added benefit is that their massive yard of trees is also equipped with a play house, a swing, a slide and a trampoline. So we have built in kiddo entertainment when the thrill of raking leaves wears off. So I'm not sad to see this "season" come to a close, but I will also eagerly anticipate it when it comes around again next year! We are sure this is more than we have ever collected in a year and should keep us stocked for our humanure composting, chicken and duck bedding, paths and garden mulching, etc... 
Our outdoor work time is greatly curtailed during this time of year by the hours of available light. This often means we are racing the sun at the end of the day to get the evening outdoor chores wrapped up, but it also means longer evenings for indoor things. Jason has been noting the length of his hair for awhile now. Last evening, kind of spur of the moment, I noted that he has just showered (clean hair is a must for donating) and we were home "early" (before 9 p.m.) from dinner and visiting with Emily, Jonas and Ivy. So we sprung on the opportunity for a hair chop!! What we didn't realize was that our middle daughter was going to really struggle with this - it's a change after all and we had not given her sufficient time to adjust to the idea of a shorter-haired father. So while Terah happily went off to find her scissors to practice cutting daddy's hair and Jason worked to get his hair dry in front of the fire and to keep Terah from chewing on it (?!), Alida mourned the pending change. And she didn't do it all that quietly! Kali had faded again (the viruses taking their toll) and missed the whole thing. The ending was as we suspected it would be. Alida had an excellent frump session, I gave a useless lecture, we cut Jason's hair, and she couldn't even remember being upset about it this morning and loves her daddy just as much with short hair. I've got four long locks of hair to send off on Monday!
 Jason and I have had our share of exasperating moments lately as parents of three vibrant, creative, fun, loud, insistent, interesting gals! Terah, especially, keeps us on our toes and this week she is a bit extra demanding (and squeaky) due to her cold. Her wants and needs are completely indistinguishable to her at this age and there's no use trying to help her see the difference. She's also really cute right now in identifying when she just needs a little point of connection and then is ready to move on. Each day and sometimes several times a day she will come and announce that she needs a hug. Upon receiving one, she is off again to whatever she was doing. I feel like it is replacing the comfort and connection she once received from nursing (at least in part). Well it seems that ouchies need that extra touch too and last evening as Kali was sacked out sick and Alida was mourning Jason's loss of hair, Terah was needing some attention for a minute ouchie on her baby toe. I was trying to finish cleaning up the hair all over the floor and deal with Alida's emotions and Terah finally was loud enough to get my full attention and announce that what her baby toe ouchie really needed was a kiss. I obliged and Jason grabbed the camera!
If you have made it this far, congratulations! The best part is about to come. I want to close with a brief reflection from our morning reading/coffee time today. Jason and I are reading together Philip Ackerman-Leist's Up Tunket Road and it's another book that we feel inclined to underline about half of. It's so nice when we find a book that we no longer need to try to write because someone else already has. He articulates so many of the challenges, dilemmas, joys, questions, successes, failures, and musings about the homesteading journey that we resonate so deeply with! In this morning's reading, I was calling out "Amen" in some instances and feeling so grateful to him for articulating the connection that I feel with what we are trying (no matter how flawed) to do at Tangly Woods with my undergraduate studies in peacebuilding and liberation theology. I have sensed in my core the connections all along but at times struggle to put words to it. Thanks Philip! Here's one snippet: "Latin American liberation theologians - faced with death, economic oppression, and even opposition from their superiors in Rome - saw faith as a way to help their communities find their way out of seemingly impossible situations...This moment of doubt, confusion and uncertainty is what liberation theologians would call aporia, an ancient Greek word meaning 'without a door.' Aporia became not an impasse but rather the beginning point for new vision and understanding...In the face of so many global challenges, I find the minuteness of any given homesteading venture to be much the same, as we humans work to navigate our way through some of the biggest challenges that we have ever posed for ourselves. We are groping for a door, trying to determine where to put our faith and, subsequently, our energies...I believe that our best chance of dismantling our current ecological aporia will come not so much from our ability to harness the wind, sun, and tides as from our willingness to harness our wants and whims...and to find joy not so much in simplicity as in simple pleasures."  Yay for leaf raking together!!