We killed two beef this morning. I just returned from burying the cast-off bits of in the compost pile and I smell of that particular wet gut smell of just-slaughtered bovine. Did you know that every just-slaughtered animal has its own smell? It’s true. I’ve noticed that pigs and beef smell a little sweet, though a different sort of sweet from one another. I think I like the beef-sweet smell better.
I can confirm that we did not “harvest” these animals; we killed them. I know because I saw them both go down; it was my finger on the trigger that released the hammer that ignited the powder that drove the .410 slug into the brain of the second animal we killed this morning. It is popular these days to talk about harvesting animals, and I can sort of understand why, but from the perspective of someone who just looked a trusting animal in the eye and dropped her to the ground with no more physical effort than it takes to pick his nose, I’m not buying it. She probably thought I was coming in to scratch her on the back of the knob where her horns would’ve grown if she’d grown horns, which is understandable, since I’ve done that at least once a day for the past two years. I liked that girl. Sometimes I stood with her for a few minutes, just scratching and looking out across our land and feeling like maybe I know my place in the world.
What I’m saying is, you harvest a potato. You kill an animal.
Down below the house, Penny and Rye are fleshing the silky hide from the cow I shot. She’s a Highland /Jersey cross and there is talk of huaraches and who knows what else. The heads, having been cleaved in half to extract the brains for tanning, went into buckets with holes drilled in them to allow in the ingress and egress of flies, which will lay millions of eggs on the rotting flesh. Our chickens will eat the resulting maggots. We will eat the chickens. If it’s true that you are not merely what you eat, but what you eat eats, then we will eat maggots. I find that perversely pleasing, sort of like when I was driving over to our friend Lucian’s a week or so ago with a couple of pig heads in a bag so he could make head cheese. I kept thinking of the opening scene in the movie Repo Man, where the old dude gets pulled over and the cop wants to look in the trunk. “Oh, you don’t want to look in there,” he tells the cop, which of course only makes the cop want to look all the more. I imagined getting pulled over and the cop asking me what was in the bag. I actually passed a cop just before I got to Lucian’s house. I tried to look like the sort of guy who might be driving around with something suspicious in the back of his Subaru, but he didn’t even look my way.
I believe this is the way it should work. Things should become other things and in the process they should not decrease, but increase. The cow I shot was a nurse cow to her calf and Apple’s. She provided milk to feed our pigs. She gave us shit to grow our beans. Her meat will give us the fuel to chop our wood and bake our bread and argue and love one another. Her hide will protect my children’s feet. The maggots that grow on the hollowed-out remnants of her head will make eggs and chickens we will cut up and fry in the lard that came from the pigs we raised on her milk. The calves she nursed will be next season’s beef and the whole damn thing will happen all over again. The trust. The trigger. The wet-gut, beef-sweet smell. The maggots. The lard. The chickens. The calves. The compost.
What I’m saying is, you kill an animal. But that is only the beginning.