We harvested two of our sheep this week. Our ram, “Gentle Gerry” and a Shropshire ewe named “Martha”. It was as most days are when we are to harvest our animals: solemn and serious followed by jubilation that only comes hand in hand with enormous gratitude. The moving from such a heaviness found in the act of killing something you have affection for to the time after, when the body that is left behind fills us with wonder and awe. The emotions are everywhere and diametrically opposed from second to second. It’s in that space, our lives, their deaths, that I’ve come to know a fullness in who I am and how I fit.
I remember the first time I walked one of my cows into an abattoir to be killed. She was a gorgeous, deep, red haired Highland with magnificent, regal horns that spread wide and reached, with a flair, to the heavens. Her name was Rosa.
I insisted on walking Rosa through the gates. I watched as she entered the fluorescent lit, white plastic lined room where they would shoot her between the eyes with a bolt gun. The room smelled of bleach. There were no windows. Under her hooves, plastic matting. She was wild-eyed. I watched as she stepped a foot forward, into the “kill-box”. I watched as she crumpled.
I made myself participate even though I would have rather dropped her off and drove away. I didn’t want that weight. I didn’t want to know. I made myself know.
Beautiful Rosa. Born on the soil of our land. Nourished by the grasses that were nourished by the soil. She had given life to sweet, slippery calves on that soil. All of Rosa’s every breath under the same blue sky. Hooves puncturing the skin of the earth into divots that little microbes would turn into whole universes.
And then one day, a trailer. And then there, surrounded by stainless steel, clanging metal, and white sanitized plastic without a single window to let in one lone ray of sunlight to rest on her long red hair as she died.
I learned how to harvest animals in the field. I learned how to shoot an animal in the head from a distance, while it chewed its cud or used its enormous tongue to rip grasses from the ground. Years later, with a farm of our own, we continued to harvest our own animals. But when we started selling our meat, we had to abide by regulations. Regulations and rules and laws that dictate that animal meat sold must be brought to abattoirs to be killed and butchered.
So, we stopped selling meat. We moved to a smaller farm.
To the uninitiated, it may seem that the tools needed to harvest one’s own animals include a hard heart and a courage out of reach to most. The truth of it is that what’s needed is a compassion beyond that for self. A compassion and duty-bound value to do what is right even when it’s the last thing we want to do.
That’s the hard part to convey. The hard part, but the most honest part of it all. We kill our own animals. We kill our own animals, the ones we have raised and nourished, been delighted by and worked so hard to ensure their good and fulfilling lives. We dedicate ourselves to the exchange of our work and energy, efforts and money, to give them all they could want and need to live in the fullness of their lives.
We name them. We scratch them. We learn their personalities. We come to understand the dynamics of their flocks and the hierarchies of their herds. We allow them to mother and protect and pass on their knowledge, wisdom, and vibrant health to their offspring. We keep our animals for a long time. Our cows die well into their teens. Our steers years older than most. We do all of this and then we kill them.
There’s nothing strange in that. No misalignment. Nothing wrong in what I’ve written. It is nature’s design. A law above any. In knowing the natural world, really knowing it, we must be humbled by the brilliance. We are not smarter. We are not so evolved, so civilized that we can pluck out parts, rearrange, and improve. That’s not what we’re doing when we decide to do things our way. We’re just looking for shortcuts and convenience and profit and then we mislabel it all as progress.
Doing what’s right when it’s easy is no measure of character. We have far too much of that in the world today and look where it’s bringing us. It’s doing the hardest of the hard, the toughest of the tough as you see it that matters. It’s in the stretching of your every fibre to go beyond what you want to do and aligning yourself with the noble truths of Creation that we come to know what lies dormant in us all. We honour the innate intelligence and gifts generously bestowed to us by aligning ourselves with that higher, worthy place over the limitations of self.
That’s what I have learned, and continue to understand in my participation in nature as an integral part of nature, according to her laws. My separation, my individuality is an illusion I was sold long ago. I was raised to see the twisted as straight and the true as harsh. We all were. By stepping out of my emotions and into humility and servitude to the sacred, I have come to find what I didn’t even know was lost. It’s been through that willingness to serve the design of Creation instead of the design and offerings of man that I have come to experience great peace and love in my life in ways that theoretical offerings or intellectual reason cannot offer. When I live in God’s design, I live in God.
Nature and peace is in the holy blood of a lamb running over my fingers as surely as it’s in the waves crashing ashore on a tropical beach. In fact, there is infinitely more beauty and more meaning in the nourishment of that lamb than in any instagram-worthy image of a lone soul walking forlornly on a beach. That lamb brings with it the nourishment of body for my body. That lamb gives life for life. That lamb designed by an ever-loving God to fill me with all that I need so that I can move through the world to do the work I am called to do.
I now know myself beyond what I have ever known. I see in myself so much that I was blind to. I’ve been able to understand myself as spirit and flesh and human and animal, as crucial and needed in this time and place as the fertile soil below my feet and the sun crowning my head in a hallowed ring of warmth.
I am needed. Fully.
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