I got the call from Dan when I was at the library,
reading blogs, working. “Bull down in XXXX gulch,” he said. And then I shot out to the patio so I could “omygod” as loud as I needed to and not bother anyone with my galloping heartbeat. And it’s funny, I neither expect nor not expect Dan to kill an elk with his homemade bow. It’s both in the realm of possibilities and a somewhat supernatural feat.
The meat packers, Cody, Colin and Robbie, who like fairygodpackers, arrived at camp 5 hours after I first talked to Dan, packed out a full load, stayed to eat elk tenderloin and wild mushrooms, and then drove back to town in the darkness of night. Thankgoodness for the unencumbered, childless, semi-employed. Note: elk hoof. Oy. Dan is the kinda guy who packs out most everything: lower legs, ribs, hide, brains, heart, liver…
And then everything proceeded as it always does, which is to say we go into high celebration mode, toting all of our mixed tapes down to the sunroom, allowing the coffee hour to easily blur into the beer hour, while getting a pleasing little bit of butchering carpal-tunnel.
Dan (telling his hunting story to his mom, or brother, or maybe Jojo), possibly more muscular and sinewy from his days in the mountains, while I’m slowly ripening like one of my own butternut squashes.
The jackpot: telling the unabridged hunting story to Chris Chambers, someone who’s been all over that country. Dan doesn’t hold back. “So, then I doubled up on my elk pee,” (elk pee: DIY scent camo) he tells Chris, who impeccably keeps track of the details, including the particulars of wind. “So, the wind’s still coming down the mountain?”
Truthfully, I do most of the butchering (as in: 2 hind and 2 front legs, 2 backstraps. Check). Dan is the great butcher table orchestrator: organizing which meat scraps are for the chickens (who’ve been, saying, as Rose reports: “this is the best day of my life!” as we toss a pile of hind leg-fat in the coop); which scraps are for returning to the woods; packaging and labeling the roasts that I Ginzu off the bone; all the while making sure my beer is filled. And, I get the luxury of focusing on one, singular task, rather than my typical September day which is: whiz a gallon of eggplant dip through the food processor, sniff at burning-tomato smell coming from oven, and wonder if I can attribute “mold-growing espeerments” and “DIY hair-cutting” to homeschool work.
This is a front leg (what we call a shoulder). Not pictured: the Rolling Stones crooning Emotional Rescue on “Rachel’s Driving Mix, 1990″ and me trying to get Dan to dance.
It’s possible that I get a little proprietary about cutting the meat off those four legs. While my usual work is herding cats and squeezing words out of my recalcitrant mind, butchering is blissfully straightforward and I love it. When you get down to the smooth, white expanse of a scapula, you’ve finished a shoulder. Anything that isn’t pure ruby meat gets returned to the woods. Backstraps become steaks, hind legs are roasts and the piece-work of sinewy shoulders goes to the pile that we’ll grind into burger and sausage. When you shut the freezer door on a deep well of white packages, you are done. Crack a beer! (Okay, true. We’re not too finicky about delayed beer gratification).
Sausage spices, featuring my new favorite: smoked paprika.
Tendons pulled out of the elk lower legs, to be dried, pounded, and adhered to the backs of Dan’s bows to impart more tension (I don’t know what that means either).
Father and son antler voodoo. Dan says this is a 2 1/2 year old bull.
Col and Rose were certifiably helpful this year, by actually helping, or by playing independently. It was a pleasure to have them around, to feel like this was a family effort.
Rose graduated to “packaging and labeling” this year.
We got out knives professionally sharpened this year (Columbine Knife Sharpening, who are at the farmers market, and work out of their home, which happens to be 3 blocks away from our house), and the knives were so fabulously sharp that I can’t believe we sharpened them—shoddily—ourselves for the past 13 years.
There was also much practicing of the competitive swing routine.
And naturally, some dancing.
It’s A-okay to wear your pink prom dress to the butchering table.
There was a little celebration to honor the animal, the hunt, all the helpers, and the bounty of the fall harvest.
And now, that entire bull elk is settled into our freezer, the mixed tapes have returned upstairs, Dan is back to work, but the feeling of celebration and luckiness remains.