Friday, June 30, 2006

In honor of Walter

Walter was butchered this week. There had been some question about whether or not he was suffering from old age. I guess the rest of his family was killed last thanksgiving, and Walter, a one-eyed turkey, was alone and growing too fat among a bunch of riled-up roosters and babbling hens. He would walk slowly around the yard and make an occasional empassioned gobble as if trying desperately to find a companion who spoke his language.
I'm glad the slaughter was optional. It had been on everyone's lips for the past few weeks and some people were very eager to be involved in his demise. I was more wary, especially because I have memories of a goose slaughter I attended at the age of 8 or 9. I don't recall visiting too many farms as a youngster, although at the time we lived in rural Pennsylvania and drove through farm country all the time. We belonged to a great dairy and I remember going there about once a week to get milk in glass returnable bottles, the smell of silage, the feeling of a black and white cow licking your hand... The only other farm experience I remember was the goose slaughter. I remember my father thinking it would be a good idea to expose me to this reality and I've wondered a lot since about why he thought that was necessary. From that experience I remember a bloody funnel nailed to a post through which the neck
of the goose would go. I remember big white feathers littering the yard and the rancid smell of freshly dead birds being plunged into boiling water to remove the feathers.
I was a bit torn about whether or not I should attend Walter's end. Part of me felt that as a consumer of meat, and now as a farmer, I should witness the moment of and take some responsibility for the death that turns Walter into dinner. But I didn't want to do it. I wasn't nearly as squeamish when Josh asked me to take two mice that had been discovered in a bucket in the shed and feed them to the chickens! I had no idea that chickens eat mice! I guess my curiosity overpowered my reverence for life at that point. I took the mice to the chickens and watched as one of them was pursued by a big hen, killed by her strong beak and then pecked apart and eaten. The other one escaped with his life by running under the barn.

The pigs were my responsibility this week. I changed their water twice each morning, picked up food scraps from local restaurants, mucked out their trough, fed them and created a mud hole for them to sit in during this week of hot weather. On Thursday when I arrived to shovel out the dirty slop, there were Walter's feet amidst muddy grapefruit rinds, onions, whole potatoes and other things the pigs won't eat. Walter's claws were the size of acorns. His skeletal breast bone, neck and head were there too. One of the pigs was choking on something and vomiting. The whole scene made me sick to my stomach too. In the kitchen, Walter's breast was on the counter--the breast alone was as large as a normal Thanksgiving turkey. Kimberly was preparing to bake it for our lunch but when noon came, it wasn't yet ready to eat. Thank God!
I marvel sometimes at my mind's ability to dissociate from the complexities and contradictions of life. I am disturbed by the process of nurturing a life for the express purpose of taking it. And yet I continue to have no aversion to buying drumsticks and thighs, ground beef or chipped ham. These contradictions upset me, I think, because my love for the animals is too moderate to change my behavior...

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