Caution: if you have a squeamish tendency, or you are my parent, you may not want to read this post.
Just kidding. Kind of. But here’s the tale of my last week and a half!
We are entering the upswing of the honest-to-goodness farm season. The time when you realize that you were just being silly and naive when you thought things were busy before. You ain’t seen busy until you’ve seen mid-July thru the end of August on a vegetable farm. The vegetables are finally appearing out of nowhere… there are now MOUNTAINS of goods maturing daily that need to be harvested, cleaned, packed and sold. (Actually, they are appearing out of somewhere — all those thousands of seeds we planted back in the spring). We are having to work hard and work fast and work long. This ramp-up time, I remember from last year as well, is not necessarily a smooth transition. It hits with a rude awakening. With the lack of sleep and increasing frantic-ness around the farm, semi-major and semi-minor catastrophes start piling up in all of our personal lives as well. This serves to remind us that oh wait, were we trying to *have* personal lives in mid-season on the farm?? That would be a silly and impossible idea
So it was on a Thursday at the beginning of July, as I awoke at 5:45, that I first felt it catching up to me. For the first time this season, I did not want to go to work. Alice and I dragged ourselves in to the barn. I could not wait for the weekend and a chance to catch up on sleep. “I can’t believe Saturday is still two days away,” I was thinking to myself. Farmer Adam greeted us with his usual enthusiasm. “Good mornin’ rockin’ ladies! So we had talked about everyone having Monday off for the 4th of July, and that is still cool, but we’re going to have to work Saturday instead to make sure we have everything prepped for Sunday and Tuesday.” Sinking-heart feeling. Add an extra workday before that needed weekend. Gotta go to bed early tonight, I thought to myself. I drove home after work, and, feeling lazy, I drove all the way up to the yurt, maneuvering my car around the ruts and mooshy spots in the road instead of parking in the usual place on dry ground a little ways away from the yurt.
Friday dawned much the same as Thursday. I hit the snooze button a few times, raced through bunny chores and wolfed down breakfast, then sped off in the car with about two minutes until 7am start time. Sped off, that is, for a few feet until my car came to a dead standstill as it buried its right front tire in a deep mucky rut and propped its front end on a solid ledge of dirt. FUUUUUUUuuuudge. I walked in to work, arriving about 7 minutes late. “Sorry Adam!” “It’s okay, Becky. Why don’t you go out to field D and harvest cabbage.”
Nice! A new crop to harvest for the first time this season. I swung my harvest knife with gusto, chopping through the thick, meaty stalks of the plants. With practice, a harvester can make a single swipe to sever the cabbage head at exactly the right point so that it can be plopped directly into your tote without spending any extra time peeling away loose leaves. You want to refine this skill so you can be quick because you have 158 heads to harvest this morning, and plenty of other tasks to get to after that.
Phone call: “Hi Adam, I finished cabbage.” “Cool, why don’t you walk over a few beds to where Yolanda and Flaviano are harvesting parsley and help them finish up and then all come in together.” Okay, great. Okay, I’ve never harvested parsley before. Okay, I don’t speak Spanish all that well so I’m going to watch how these two are doing it. Man, I’m really hungry for lunch. Man, I’m really… THWACK.
Holy effing frick, I just CHOPPED MY HAND with my harvest knife instead of the FRICKING PARSLEY. Not good not good not good. Owwwwwwwww there’s blood, thumb goes in mouth, drop knife, grab cell phone, call Adam. In the truck next to Adam, I examine my left hand and see that I’ve sliced neatly THROUGH MY FINGERNAIL at the very base of the thumbnail. “I’m glad you’re okay, it’s going to be okay” says Adam as he takes me in. I’m crying, from hurt and shock and embarrassment but I can tell I’m not injured badly enough to go to a hospital, just badly enough to bandage it real well, get some hugs, stop crying, sit down for an early lunch and then get back to work on some tasks requiring only one functional thumb.
After work that day, I headed home with Alice and my bandaged hand. I was fully expecting her to be able to help me pop my car out of the mud situation. We’d gotten the Jeep stuck plenty of times and it always just needed that extra shoulder shove. What I’d forgotten to factor in was the difference in clearance between my car and the Jeep. No shoulder shove in the world was going to get that Mazda off its little perch. God damn it all. I got weepy again as I limped my sorry ass home with a broken thumb, an immobilized car, the prospect of another 7am workday, and PMS. (Seriously, it’s true, I have up to two grumpy and/or sad days per month and they were happening right now). Everything seemed totally out of control and the only appropriate reaction seemed to be tears. It’s kind of funny for me to have these emotional moments every now and then and kind of watch myself acting all irrational, because most of the time I am the most overly rational and cerebral person you’ll ever meet. I always feel like I have to be in control of everything in life, to the point where it is a bad thing. It takes a kind of big curveball (like almost cutting my thumb off) to knock me off my pre-planning mode into reactionary mode. It’s obviously not super great to get injured, but it’s good for me to be reminded that life can’t ever be pre-planned, life just happens, unexpected things happen, and that’s the beauty of it. Sometimes something really great could happen. Sometimes shit could happen that makes you cry.
I have noticed that my dad seems to worry about me losing life and limb in a farming accident. He has pointed out the dangers of propane heaters, tractor tires exploding, stepping on rusty nails, etc. See, Dad, I have been listening. There are indeed lots of things that can happen. I never would have considered parsley harvest a dangerous task – things just happen when you don’t have your mind focused properly. Mom and Dad, I was scared of what you would say when I told you I hurt myself farming. I briefly considered not telling you about it but it turned out I needed a Mom call to help me when I was crying and upset Thanks for that, and thanks for not suggesting that I could avoid future injury by pursuing a less dangerous computery type activity.
The next day was Saturday, which was finally my last day of work for the week. Alice was gone to the city so I was going to be dependent on either myself or the farmer bosses for getting my car out. I mentioned it in the morning, hesitant to ask them for a favor. “Yeah, we can help…” said Adam, when I asked in the morning, but I saw the “I don’t get a lot of time to spend with my family and have you really tried everything you can to get it out yourself?” look in his eye. So I left work in the evening without asking again and I took a shovel home with me. Instead of feeling frustrated this time, I was feeling doggedly determined. Hello car, hello mud. I’m going to do whatever I have to do to separate the two of you from each other. And that is how I ended up spending my Saturday evening on my hands and knees in smelly muck, getting bitten by mosquitoes, with my arm up to my shoulder underneath my car while I had it up on my jack (which the manual is very explicit about CAUTIONing you NOT to do… sorry again for telling you this M & D), digging with a shovel and a hand trowel and my HANDS to unstick my car from the Earth.
Pro tip: shingles, discovered in a pile back behind the yurt, make excellent grippy things for tires to grab onto instead of mud. They work better than 2×6′s. One go-round of jacking… shovelling… trowelling… shingles… unjacking… rocking it back and forth between Forward and Reverse… I could feel it getting somewhere but not quite popping out. Another go-round of the same. Rock it, rock it, ever so slightly more each time…. aaaaaaand….. UP and over and out. Oh good god yes. Thank youuuuu….. mission accomplished. I drove in to the barn and did my laundry and then I went to bed.
In a weird sort of way, all these unexpected events piling on top of each other have reminded me that I can relax and let life happen. Scary and sad and frustrating things happen, but I can depend on myself to be able to deal with whatever it is – on my own and with the help of the others around me. I can do more on my own than I give myself credit for. I don’t have to fall into my usual trap of “I haven’t done that before so I can’t do it.” I’m the queen of over-preparation, hedging against any eventuality so that nothing will ever “go wrong.” When things go a little bit wrong, I get stressed out about it easily. But as it turns out, when things go a lot wrong, I can handle it.
As if I needed another occurrence to drive this point home, here’s another story from just a couple of days after the prior events.
Backstory: As you may know, we are raising meat rabbits at the yurt. They are 7 weeks old at this point, and have been moved out of their Mamas’ hutches and into a separate run where they can graze. Alice’s dog Russ has been driven to distraction by our poor bunny-management skills. As a hunting dog, he is simply following his instinct to track and chase these little critters that kept escaping the run that we had built with too-large a gauge of wire. “We gotta fix it so they don’t keep getting out,” Alice and I kept saying to each other. But the task got pushed to the back burner. Each morning we’d get up, round up one or two little escapees, and put them back into the run. It stressed me out that it kept happening, but I felt too busy to do anything about it. So. Cut to a Weds afternoon less than one week after all the above incidents. Alice leaves Russ home with me while she’s out and about. I’m alone near the yurt, doing some gardening, when I hear a frantic high-pitched sqealing. Without knowing what’s going on, alarm signals start firing in my brain. I drop my watering can and run to the yurt where Russ has chased, caught, and killed one of our rabbits. The white bunny lies twitching on the ground, already dead with its neck broken but involuntarily spasming as Russ stands by looking aghast at what his instinct has caused him to do. I, also instinctually, scream some nonsense at the dog that causes him to run into the yurt with his tail between his legs. I then stand there over the small furry body, “Ohhhhh, nooooooo….” all I can think. There’s no blood – it’s a clean kill. I’ve seen a dead rabbit before when I helped my friend Noe process hers, and my mind clicks in. I have to process it. I have to. This was an accident and I’m feeling awful and guilty about an early death being caused by my poor animal husbandry, but these rabbits were being raised for meat and now this animal is about to become meat, if I can remember what I learned from Noe.
It’s almost like I’m watching myself from an external standpoint. My actions are not pre-thought-out but simply happening by necessity. I pick up the bunny and leave it on the picnic table while I walk into the house and get a knife. It’s not sharp so I get out Alice’s sharpening block and sharpen it – a skill I only learned recently. I walk outside and cut the rabbit’s head off to bleed it. I can’t believe I’m doing this. Standing on my front lawn butchering a tiny animal. But at the same time I’m feeling focused, knowing what I need to do. Next I need to hang it up. I go inside and get my drill, a recent aqcuisition from my Gramp — little did he know what I’d need it for! I put two screws at eye level into the back of the yurt platform and search around for twine to make the slipknots that will hold the rabbit’s hind legs. No twine. No string. I find some red curling ribbon from my present-wrapping stash. Festive. I tie two slipknots. I bring a five gallon bucket to catch the internal organs and a bucket of water for the hide and two ziploc bags — one for the carcass and one for the giblets. I hang the rabbit and I skin it. I remember where to make the cuts and how to pull the hide off. I save the pelt. I’m feeling intensely focused and quite calm. I slit open the abdomen and pull out the insides, saving liver and kidneys. The liver looks healthy compared to some at Noe’s which had spotty livers indicating parasitic infection. I puncture the diaphragm, pull out and discard the lungs, pull out and save the heart. It cleans up easily and cleanly – the last things are to remove the tail and hind legs. The little carcass feels familiar in my hands as I clean it off with water and slide it into a baggie. It’s smaller than the ones I did at Noe’s, but not all that much smaller. There is meat here, and Alice and I are going to be able to eat it, turning this lemon into lemonade and following through on our original intention to raise these meat animals for our own consumption.
And we did. Two days later we both had the morning off and we made wine-braised rabbit with onions and fennel and ate it together for lunch. It was delicious, albeit a little earlier than planned. It was a moment for us both to pause in our increasingly busy lives, look each other in the eyes, and appreciate the import of what we are doing: trying to do the best we can to eat *well*, in every sense. The rest of the butchering is going to be easier to do because of this. Having been surprised into doing it once without any forethought or preparation and having done it properly, I feel confident about doing it again in a planned fashion.
I’ll post the rabbit recipe later. Right now it is 8:45 pm and I’m going to make the smart move of going to bed. My thumb is to the point where I wear a Band-Aid for work and leave it uncovered the rest of the time. It looks gnarly but it’s going to be allright. My car is safely parked at the barn and I’ve been biking to and from the yurt which is nice anyway. We added a layer of chickenwire to the rabbit run and have had no escapees since. Today I had a great farm day in which I packed and delivered vegetables to three CSA drop-off sites, two restaurants, and a grocery store. Tomorrow I’m going to wake up and harvest some more produce and tend to some more plants. Or maybe not – you never know what’s going to happen until it happens, do you? But you can bet it’s going to be another good day in the life.
Filed under: meat, the day to day | 7 Comments »