Two Swirls


Over the past two days we slaughtered and processed two of our three pigs, a task that to me is always more daunting in anticipation than action. We have now killed and processed enough pigs that the process is etched in our thoughts, emotions, and bodies. I know the particular anxiety I will feel in the moments before death. I know the certain fatigue of six straight hours spent cleaving the carcasses into chops and roasts and sausage trim. I know even the small sorrow of leaving one pig alive, and I wonder how that it is for her. She exhibits no distress, nor displays any change in routine that might be interpreted as such. But still. How can she not miss her mates, if only for the warmth of their bodies at night? Or perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps she’s glad for all the extra space.

I have written enough on this site already about killing animals for meat, so I will add only this: After so many years, it has gotten easier. Maybe I should not admit this, but it has. For better or worse, we have accepted and acclimated to our role in the conversion of others’ flesh into our own. It’s been a humbling process, and this humility feels right to us. There is peace in this humility. I cannot tell you exactly why, and I would never have anticipated such, but we have found it to be true.

On Sunday, after we’d finished dressing the hogs, I washed my hands at the kitchen sink. I’d nicked myself earlier in the day, and now I removed the bandage I’d applied to stem the cuts’ flow. As the water ran over my hands, I watched two distinct swirls form in the sink basin: One my own, the crimson-blood shade of a shallow extremity wound, and the other the russet-red of the pigs’ arterial reserves.

In seconds, drawn by the drainward slope, the two swirls became one. I turned up the water and the blood soon disappeared.

20 thoughts on “Two Swirls”

  1. Yes, beautifully written.

    I’ve often wondered about how folks who kill/butcher/process in the packing plants feel about their work. Can’t be remotely the same. Or maybe remotely in that they accept and have acclimated to their role. Other than that… I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud.

    1. I wish I remember where but I have read something on the topic of slaughter house workers and their “acclimatization” to their jobs, as you say. I believe it may have been after one of those awful exposes of such workers treating cows or turkeys or something or other cruelly with their actions caught on film. I think the argument was that a clear desensitization comes with killing things for a living, day in, day out, with no limits. I also remember reading of farmers who plan their herds with limits in mind as to how many animals they can kill in a year and not experience this numbness or desensitization. I’m not sure what causes the leap from numbness to cruelty and that certainly is not a topic of issue here but your comment brought this to mind. Kind of also goes along with conversations I have had here or maybe Andrea’s blog about the concept of enough. Maybe, there is a need for the recognition that we all, just by the act of being alive, cause the death of other things but that we should have some interest in saying how much is enough.

      1. Yes, of course, The Jungle. How could I forget. Gave me nightmares when I read it in high school.

  2. We’ve just begun to raise and butcher our own meat. Humbling. That is exactly what struck me after our first experience killing and processing animals. It’s nice to hear the same word here. We’re not as far along as you, and, for the moment, it has become harder. We now know, as opposed to anticipate, the weight we will feel in taking the lives of animals we have cared for in order to carry on with our own lives. I wonder if that will shift with time.

    What has shifted in me most is the certainty that whether we butcher animals or not, whether we eat meat or not, being alive depends on death, in every form. (I feel a heaviness when we harvest our root crops, young lives taken before they’ve had a chance to spread their seeds!) Life and death are inseparable. Evidence of that exists everywhere, especially in a teaspoon of soil. I am grateful to live with that awareness. It makes my own life feel simultaneously more and less precious, if that makes sense.

    I do struggle a bit where we humans fit in with this cycle. Our end seems removed from the physical flow of life. I do feel struck by how much we take, and I wonder how much we give back at the end of our journey, given the end of life rituals and regulations that predominate. Though I’m not dreaming of being a cougar’s meal, I am not opposed to the idea of being picked apart by turkey vultures.

  3. Very nice post Ben, thank you. I almost feel like printing this post out, and going to McD or any eatery place, standing up on a chair, and slowly like some preacher, reading your words to all those unsuspecting meat eating peeps. . . Would like to see the reactions. Anyone interested to capture this on tape?

    Do you have any of same thoughts while cooking or eating the meat?
    Is all that oneness thing rubbing off on you and you really starting to feel one with the piggies? I am surprised though that the last pig did not react and did not show any signs of stress when left alone. Is that pretty typical of other farm animals you guys observed?
    Blood mixing. . like the sect rituals. When we were kids, before aids, we did blood drop mixing. Washing away the blood, symbolic.

    On a happier note, What do you guys do with some of the head stuff? Do you eat the pigs ears? Smoked pigs ears (and tail) with peas and beer is my Lithuanian favorite, and I cannot convince my family to eat them.

    Brynn, I liked your post. Very true. All of it. Even if we do compost our 150 or so pounds into the dirt, or feed them to the turkey vultures, if you think that an average American will throw away 600 times his or her body weight in their lifetime (and that is just throwing away stuff), it becomes kind of clear we are not as nice as pigs.
    Yes, you eat meat or not. Still killing something somewhere. You can be drinking some lemonade and just have killed some innocent bacteria in your intestines.
    Cougar or turkey vulture, what is the difference. . 🙂

  4. Slaughter day comes, for me, with the dread that I won’t get it right somehow and will cause suffering. That eases with repetition and practice and the greatest cause of anxiety for the home producer, that they will cause suffering, abates. I’m now confident with chickens and sheep, a little less so with pigs and we have a good routine but still enlist the help of a skilled friend for beef. I don’t think beef will get much less concerning as we don’t do it often enough but I think we’ve got our routine as good as we can. It’s we who feel the anxiety of the day, not the steer.

    1. Cassie: I think you said exactly how we feel when harvest day comes at our house. We don’t process often enough to have it down pat, so when the day comes, the first ones are the hardest as we struggle to get it right. Oh the anxiety and dread. After the first few, the muscle memory kicks in and the rest go better. I ALWAYS struggle with the killing, even to the last rabbit.

  5. It’s funny because I’ll read the title of your post, and come up with a quick guess as to what it’s about. I quickly realized that the post was not about ‘two swirls of fresh delicious cream’ when I read ‘slaughtered’ in the beginning sentence and having the story end in fresh cold blood.

    Good read as always though:}

  6. In my little experience, it does indeed get easier, but the regret when things go poorly gets sharper, and the pride of a job well done gets greater. We once left one pig alone for a while after turning his sister into sausage, and he did show changes in behavior and signs of distress. He’d lie around all day, totally inactive, then gallop to the fence to get his belly rubbed when we’d finally come home. He was pretty lonesome, I think, and he got pretty attached to Sean.

  7. As a child I became a vegetarian after my dad, who was a big hunter, brought animal after animal to our table. Squirrels, rabbits, pheasant (hate the shot pellets!) deer, pig, fish from pond or canadian lake. We even had a moose once. He always cleaned them where I wound up watching and then I couldn’t eat them anymore. That was the emotion of a child. Now with the intellect of an adult I can fathom the process.

    1. Tres, I can see that. . My daughter is sensitive if she sees too much meat processing, she does not want to eat it. My son is younger and it does not bother him one bit. According to Steiner (Waldorf edu founder), kids under 7 or so should not be eating much meat anyway – supposedly too heavy for them (but this thinking is from 100 years ago), maybe sensitivity to flesh is natural to kids and they truly do not need much meat protein. . I don’t know how that goes with paleo trend.
      As kids, we were never allowed to watch pig or cattle slaughter, although were able to watch chicken slaughter sometimes, and lots of fish catching/cooking.

      1. My son doesn’t like the killing part of hunting, but he doesn’t mind eating meat, plinking pop-cans, or poking holes in paper at the rifle range.

        My daughter wanted to hunt and had gone with me when she was 9 and 10, so she understood that killing, cleaning, and processing was part of the continuum. I told her that I would build a rifle for her if she scored 100% on the Hunter Education exam, which being a competitive sort she did, so I put together a great rifle for her. After spending several hours at the rifle range to become proficient with it, she went out that Fall and she shot one deer with it. After doing so, she was totally indifferent toward the whole deer hunting thing, but still likes to plink at pop-cans, poke holes in paper at the rifle range, and will shoot the occasional wild turkey if she doesn’t have to walk more than a quarter mile.

  8. I see that you have snow in Cabot. It is 42 and sunny here, but was a bit warmer yesterday and much warmer on Monday.

      1. No snow here, but plenty of snow in the high country of Colorado when we were up at Vail over the holidays. Sure could use several inches of precipitation over the next couple of months down in Las Animas. It is so dry there that you can’t be a good steward of the land and graze enough cattle to support a ranch without some sort of off-ranch income that doesn’t involve livestock.

        Do you ever take the boys over to Northeast Slopes in East Corinth? Possibly the only time that I went up the hill faster than I could go down the hill.

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