I can still hear the rifle shot even though I had my fingers in my ears.  I’ve just walked home alone from our neighbor Momma Goose’s pig harvest.

Twelve of us — 5 women and 7 men, including my brother and 16-year-old niece — turned out at 9am on Sunday morning, the day after the neighborhood turkey harvest, to help Momma Goose’s husband, Brooklyn Man, slaughter and butcher a 900-pound boar.  Even though it’s only three years old, he’s just too heavy to mate with the female pigs.  The pig farmer gives him away and is glad to find a taker.

I was the only one who cried out when the huge pig slowly lumbered out of the trailer sniffing the trail of raisin bread and was shot in the head so hard it fell over like a bowling pin.

I wailed and sobbed, and my niece hugged me.  But I couldn’t breathe, so I excused myself to walk home and…what?

Stand at the kitchen sink.  I thought I’d be fine.  I’m a veteran of four poultry harvests.  Just yesterday I helped slaughter 22 turkeys!

I stroked the necks and held back the gobbly flesh so Momma Goose could make a clean hard cut.

Mainly I rotate between butchering and wrapping the plucked birds…

… although I’ve worked the scalder and plucking table a lot, too.  I’m seasoned.  Or thought I was.

I’ve been staring at the rain for just fifteen minutes when my niece comes walking in the back door.  She is my youngest niece and lives in San Diego, California and I haven’t seen her in years.

“How are you, Aunt Christi?” she says and I burst out crying again.  She holds me for a long time, letting me press my heart into hers, this niece I haven’t seen for years, hugging the tears out of me.

“I don’t know why I’m so upset,” I say finally.

“I do.”  My niece’s dimples are her mother’s as are her Asian eyes.  Her hair is long and dark and thick and she asked me to braid it before we went to Momma Goose’s this morning.  We had laughed at how thin my ponytail is compared to her mane, which she now flips over her shoulder.  “It’s the cycle of life,” she says.  “A farm thing.”

“Yes, but it’s still a violent act, no matter how much you thank the animal and treat it compassionately and humanely.”  I grab a paper towel and blow my nose.  “You don’t have to stay here, Sweetie, but thank you so much for coming back to comfort me.  I’m okay now.”

“I want to be with you,” she says, and a few more tears leak out of my eyes.  “Let’s do something therapeutic.”

“I told Brooklyn Man I’d make him an apple cake,” I say and point to the recipe hanging from the light fixture over the kitchen sink, the pot of Braeburn apples from our neighbor Lou, and the cream cheese on the counter for the frosting.  She reads the recipe and says, “Two eggs!” and heads for the fridge.  Then she peels and chops apples while I line the cake pan with parchment paper and gather the other ingredients.

As the cake bakes and fills the house with a caramel apple scent, I get my personality type books.  “Let’s do your numbers and letters now,” I say and give her Enneagram (numbers) and Myers-Briggs (letters) tests to read and fill out while I heat some defrosted homemade chili for lunch.  I told her earlier about these tools to help figure out who you are, which I’ve given to our kids, and she is very interested.  But she clearly already knows a lot more about who she is than I did at age 16.

I’m getting out onions when she comes in with her results.  “You know,” she says, “if you chew gum when you chop onions you won’t cry.”

I laugh.  “Maybe I should have had some Juicy Fruit this morning at the pig harvest,” I say.  I feel much better.

Then the men come home.  My brother says he took almost 300 pictures and puts his huge camera case in the living room.  He is a professional-grade photographer with a foot-long lens, and he worked all the night before editing the 600 photos he took of the turkey harvest making an exquisite 97 image slide show.

Momma Goose is going to offer it to the Pierce County Conservation District, where we rent the equipment, as instructional promotion.  In an odd bit of good timing, they had asked her if she’d take a few pictures.

The four of us eat chili and cheese and onions and salad, then we frost the cake and my niece decorates it with pecans shaped into a heart.  She takes half of it to Momma Goose’s and stays there all afternoon to help make sausage.

I’m upstairs sitting at the computer when she returns.  She kneels beside me.  “Smell,” she says and holds up her palm.

I smell something sharp and raw and fleshy.

“Meat,” she says and smiles.

“Something else, too,” I say, “not just meat.”

“Oh, yeah…that’s the seasoning.”


11 responses to “Seasoned

  1. I read Seasoned this morning and have thought about it all day.
    My grandfather raised hogs for food. Loaded them in his big truck to take to slaughter. I only saw the care my grandfather gave his hogs.
    The only animal I ever saw killed was a collie dog of my uncle’s who somehow contracted rabies and was walking the edge of the farmyard in a wobbling erratic manner. My uncle saw his dog’s behavior, told us to stay on the porch, got his rifle, and shot his dog – a clean shot – while the dog was far away.
    Oddly,,,what I sensed was danger…what I saw was an immediate effective action…afterward what I felt was safe.
    I am so grateful that your niece was aware of your feelings and able to comfort you.
    She was also aware of life on a farmlet, a farm or a ranch.
    A life in the heart of life. Daily.
    It touches me every week – your sharing of this active, rich, difficult, joyful, heart aching, heart warming life.
    Apple cake with pecans on top shaped into a heart. A gift of Thanksgiving to the day all of you shared.
    Sending love,

    • Thanks for this remembrance, Christine. I’m still sorting out my feelings, too.:) Part of my reaction could have been the two harvests back-to-back. As my brother said when he got up on Monday morning, “What are we going to kill today?”

      Today we made cornbread and cheesecake! 🙂 Here’s to a wonderful Thanksgiving for you and Den and your nephew, and whatever lucky guests you have at the Azure Gate.

  2. Its an entirely different premise killing a pig to killing chooks. Pigs are intelligent and that old boar was not something that you had dealt with before. Killing is brutal. If you are not part of the entire process it can come as a real shove in the guts. We discussed what we could and couldn’t terminate and chooks, roosters to be specific, are the only thing. Pigs are too charasmatic and “real”. I am sorry that you had to witness something like that. That’s part of why I don’t eat meat. I can’t handle thinking that what is on my fork could think, have babies and could have a life with plans of its own. We have our own test coming. We have to get rid of our feral cats. They are starting to breed and 8 is turning into 20. We have to face up to catching them somehow and having them euthenased and it will break our hearts to do it as well. I guess sometimes being a human and being at the top of the food chain comes with some really tough decisions. Hugs from Tasmania and I am SO glad that your niece decided to visit when she did and salved your aching heart :). I wondered why I hadn’t heard from you in a while…you are very VERY busy! 🙂

    • Greetings to Tasmania and thanks for your heartfelt words of wisdom, Fran. I feel for you and Steve and the cat problem. I don’t know what I’d do in your situation. Perhaps put out a local ad (Craigslist in the USA) to find homes, people who want mousers? But there’s still the relentless breeding. Best of luck to you as you sort it out, my friend. Oh, and yes, it’s been crazy busy. I need to go stare at the fire for a while.:)

      • We are just about to light some fires before they slap a fire ban on us for December. We have warnings all over the place about how hot and dry this year is going to be and we have some piles of debris that really need to be dealt with before they become a fire risk so pyromaniac Steve can light them tonight 😉 might even check out how to make smores 😉

  3. Your niece is a good young lady. Go long on that stock.
    I get it. I don’t have to kill anything nowadays to eat, but someone kills it for me. If I had to, I would serve as executioner. I might also be sad. But do remember, Christi, that in the wild, Mr. Boar would kill for his food without compunction. We are really not so far removed from our atavistic side as we would sometimes like to imagine. At the very least, take some comfort in the knowing that anyone you deal with is likely to have let the boar live a halfway decent life without deprivation.

    • Thanks, J.K., and I do take comfort in the good life of the pig. But I don’t think I’m built for the pig slaughter…we do what we can, is what I tell everyone else. Now I’m telling me, too.

  4. Hi Christi, So thankful that your neice was there and that the human connection worked wonders–as did the cooking. I see the film Life of Pi today. Some of the themes are about animals and how life includes the carnivores and the vegetarians. Love to you today, Sheila

    • I loved the book Life of Pi, Sheila. And I remember how Richard Parker stayed a carnivore and vicious, never becoming an anthropomorphic tiger/person, which I liked. Life does include meateaters. Thanks for the reminder, and love to you, too.:)

  5. I read your article on the adoption of your brother. It was incredibly brave, powerful, moving and important. I am so sorry for all of you.

    • Mahalo, Cindy. The silver lining is that Tony’s adoption completely changed the dynamic of our family, which needed some change. Those of us who are left, my mom, sister and brother, are living a more compassionate family life thanks to Tony. xo

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