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
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.
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!