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the cycle

2013 November 12
by Rachel Turiel


There must be ways to tastefully photograph what an animal looks like after it’s dead but before it’s on your plate. This is what I was thinking as Dan instructed Col to hold the hoof away from the deer’s body so he could unstitch the entire shoulder from its socket with his knife.

There was blood and hair and bone. There were chickens bob-heading around the yard, nipping at red threads of unprotected flesh. There were neighbor boys—pulled out of their endless backyard baseball game—equal parts fascinated and repulsed.

It is startling to gaze so intimately at another creature. It seems improper, a breach of propriety somehow, to view another’s secretive internal organs: the fat-shrouded heart, the lungs lacy with alveoli, the rubbery trachea that shuttled breath from outside to inside. It hints at our own animal mortality – that underneath our vibrant lives, we too are muscle groups bounded by elastic fascia, blood vessels of all sizes looping like trails throughout our bodies.

A friend came by and uttered a few rounds of a Sanskrit prayer as Dan removed legs as expertly as a surgeon. The way we make use of the animal—hide, bones, meat, sinew—every meal a song of gratitude, feels like the best prayer I can offer.

Col was Dan’s apprentice every step of the way. He was by Dan’s side when the phone call came in from Highway Patrol about the dead buck on Farmington Hill. Together, they assessed the body, hefted it in the truck, and drove it back to our house. Together, they lowered the deer into our wheelbarrow, spilled it onto a tarp and made the first cut through the hide from anus to neck.

If Col was affected by the pooling blood, the eyeballs losing their sheen, the coil of intestines—brownish-green with semi-digested grasses, spilling out of the opened belly—he didn’t show it. He didn’t flinch when Dan reached in behind the intestines, wrestled with something, then like a magician furnished the dark smooth liver.

Col brandished his own knife to snip the backstraps off the spine, as if that was precisely what his knife—ever-ready on his belt loop—was put there for. He was his father’s smaller shadow absorbing the grace and efficiency of an intimate task that will feed him in many ways.

A deer dies. A boy learns. A community will be fed.

Admittedly, I don’t know how to tastefully share this story through photos. But you can choose to view the photos or not. They’re not meant to shock or impress. They’re simply what an animal looks like after it’s dead but before it’s on your plate.

Working in the shade is imperative, though not great for photo-lighting.deer1

Col gets the knife.


Col and assorted neighbors watching Dan’s lesson on internal organs. I think Dan is sniffing the meat here, pleased to find no “off” odors.


Chicken: “I am not a vegetarian. Enough with the soy feed, people.”


Col, cutting out the prized backstraps.


You’re still here?!

I wish I could have you all over for some grilled backstrap, or deer sausage. We’d all hold hands and pray in our own way in gratitude for this life that will become our life.



23 Responses leave one →
  1. Danielle G permalink
    November 12, 2013

    Great story (and photos). I always want to share hunting/fishing/homesteading photos on Instagram because, like the other things I share there, it is a big part of our lives. But it is hard to deal with the comments even from good friends. So, I don’t. But, maybe I will. My husband is castrating a piglet today.

  2. Amanda in Montana permalink
    November 12, 2013

    This is what we did last week. We are so thankful for the healthy, lean meat all year!

  3. Chris permalink
    November 12, 2013

    Loved this post Rachel, would that every meat animal were so thoroughly honored in becoming sustenance (and tool – hide, antler, etc.) and an opportunity for learning and sharing. It reminded me that I originally found my way to 6512 and growing through a story you wrote about Dan recovering a road-killed squirrel in a similar fashion. Thanks for both stories and all that you’ve shared in between – very happy that you will have meat to put up for the season!

  4. Jessica permalink
    November 12, 2013

    Very tastefully shared, indeed. I’m happy to see these photos and have been very curious about the process ever since I started reading your blog. So, many thanks for sharing. It’s super cool that Col is following right in Dan’s footsteps.

    I have questions though. Do you need to sanitize the wheelbarrow and the tarp before using them? Is there a contamination issue or is is dedicated to meat processing? These are curious questions as I really don’t know how this stuff works!

    Congrats on the gift of good meat.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      November 12, 2013

      Thank you for asking Jessica. I learned so much watching Dan do what he usually does out in the field. When the animal was on the tarp and in the wheelbarrow, all the meat was always protected by the hide. The hide can get bloody and dirty if needed, because it will later get hosed down before the hide-tanning process begins. Wheelbarrow and tarp get hosed down after use and dried in sun.
      Soon as a leg (or heart, backstraps, liver) is removed for further butchering it is placed in a game bag and hung, or in a pot that goes into the fridge. Later, when butchering, we remove any hair, pine needles, bits of dirt that have come into contact with the meat.
      It was pretty cool to see Dan’s methods of field dressing which aim to get the meat cooling soon as possible while keeping the meat clean.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      November 12, 2013

      Also, that’s the true name of this post: the gift of good meat (as you say above).

      • Jessica permalink
        November 12, 2013

        Thanks for teaching me something new!!

  5. November 12, 2013

    My 11 year old daughter says that if you can’t stand to see the process of how the meat landed on your plate, then you shouldn’t eat it.
    Thank you for this! I love that Col is right there, helping.

  6. November 12, 2013

    Om Mani Padme Hung…

  7. Molly permalink
    November 12, 2013

    Which raises the question: If you drive a car at dusk in deer and elk country, are you really a vegetarian? Or just the kind of vegetarian who doesn’t ask what’s in the dumplings, and uses bloodmeal to kickstart the compost bin?

    If you eat roadkill rather than intentionally killed things, are you just basically a vegetarian who doesn’t spit out the bugs when they fly in your mouth as you bike to yoga class?

    I love Dan’s gusto. I once switched jobs when I was asked to do a sniff test on the salmon coming down the cleaning line, to grade the quality. I moved to the beginning of the line. Beheading fish and ripping out their guts is so much better than sniffing them, in the end.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      November 12, 2013

      Roadkill Philosophy 101 for sure.

      Also, I’ve heard it’s usually roadkill or pregnancy that pulls vegetarians over to the other side.

  8. November 12, 2013

    That was tasteful! I also never know how to share photos, especially “deer with tongue out” or “pheasant with floppy head.”
    It was interesting to shoot my one and only deer years ago. I definitely felt like I was helping myself exist–providing sustenance for my family. I immediately realized that I’d much rather my husband do the skinning and butchering, and come to think about it, all of the hunting! I will just make sure to have the garden veggies to go alongside the meaty meal.

  9. November 12, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this!
    What a wonderful education for Col to be there, gaining those survival skills.
    We almost hit a deer on the road to town from the Colorado Trail at Junction Creek; after we chilled out I told Wes I would have called you if we had hit it! ;-)

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      November 12, 2013

      yes, keep that phone number handy. :)

  10. November 12, 2013

    always so wonderful Rachel! I wish more people could live such an honest existence on this earth! Bravo!

  11. Susan S permalink
    November 12, 2013

    Oh, Rachel! Everything I love about this post ties into the way you express mindfulness: That harvesting is hard work, and it should be. It’s seasonal but unpredictable as well. One life ends, presenting an opportunity for your lives to be sustained by it. The respectful thing to do is make the most of that transition with grace and prayer and gratitude right now, without waste. Your children will grow up with that mindfulness, the constant awareness of their part in the cycle. What an incredible gift.

  12. Emmanuelle permalink
    November 12, 2013

    “He was his father’s smaller shadow absorbing the grace and efficiency of an intimate task that will feed him in many ways.”

    And: “The way we make use of the animal—hide, bones, meat, sinew—every meal a song of gratitude, feels like the best prayer I can offer.”

    This is exactly why your story is beautiful and true.

    (I am a vegetarian first and foremost because of the way animals are raised and slaughtered… this deer had a true life and since he’s dead, the way your family honours him is its best sepulture)

    • Emmanuelle permalink
      November 12, 2013

      *his* best sepulture :o) since I guess the deer was a male…

  13. November 13, 2013

    haha yep im still here. i think its important to really understand where our food comes from x

  14. Andrea permalink
    November 13, 2013

    Looks like Col had another awesome day at school!

  15. November 13, 2013

    This is how learning should happen, through the natural ways of life. Thank you for sharing. As for the pictures I think they were quite “tasteful” within the subject.

  16. November 13, 2013

    Oh, Col. You have the best teacher. When I killed my first deer I was alone and had been a vegetarian for far too long. When all those organs spilled from the deer’s body, his blood mixing with my tears, I was completely in the dark. I had no idea what I was doing.

    Loved this.

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