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.
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.