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a nice, fat buck deer

2014 October 30
by Rachel Turiel

Dan is home from hunting with a nice, fat buck deer. Rose greeted him in the driveway with her rat, certain he’d missed keeping up on Mae’s life (which involves sleeping, scritching, scurrying, and sniffing, which is to say, he didn’t miss much). Dan immediately tapped into everyone’s needs. He gushed over Rose’s rat, fielded my kisses, and asked for Col’s help shuttling game bags stuffed with deer legs to the freezer, lifting 95% of the weight himself but letting Col feel his assistance was indispensable.

The next day, Col and Rose at their respective homeschool co-ops, Dan and I settled into butchering (we’re also butchering our friend Dave’s elk). I’m always surprised at how much I love this work. All the many previous years of meat-making rise to the surface like a scrapbook, or manual, but really the work is a fluid covenant between hand and knife. The mind can rest. I pull back my hair, tie on an apron, grab the requisite tools: pandora station, coffee, sharp knife, and get to work.

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Elk hind legs: otherworldly pieces of meat. It takes four hours to get the meat off the bone.

Inside each hind leg, mounded with fat, are unbroken ruby slabs of roasts. The piece-work of sinewy shoulders become sausage. The heart, a fat-swirled red gumdrop, goes right into a marinade, to be smoked (incidentally, during my 4th/5th grade writing class, causing a pestilence of flies and distraction). The liver, that surprisingly large, slippery, purple meat-vitamin, gets ground into a mix of burger. Everything is so pleasingly familiar: how the hunting stories spill slow and steady; the feeling of great wealth; all the lurkers angling for a meat scrap: our cat, magpies, chickens and yellow jackets. Cut, trim, wrap, label. Shut the freezer door on a deep well of white packages; bring on winter.

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For the vegetarians: squash curing
Nothing else I do is this simple. Homeschooling is a cryptic moving target, and I am a clumsy arrow. Last week, an assignment I gave Col made him cry. I wrestled with myself over the importance of pushing through versus the importance of letting go. I tried both; I still don’t have an answer. Meanwhile, Rose confidently tackled a worksheet requiring her to differentiate between words starting with a hard “g” (goat, great, girl) and a soft “g” (giraffe, giant, gem). She got half wrong, inexplicably, and suddenly the worksheet seemed like the sort of thing invented to keep children from becoming revolutionaries, or at least prepare them for paper-pushing in some future cubicle. As my friend Gretchen said, hilariously, “I don’t think Rose will ever mistakenly call a goat: joat.”
The elk and deer meat is now all off the bone. (Bones packaged for bone broth). Tomorrow we’re making sausage and calling it homeschooling, simply because we’ll all be together working towards a common goal. When Dan is too old to hunt, I’ll have to start putting ads in the paper: Will butcher for…for the joy of practical work…for work that I’m actually competent at…for inner peace.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. Melissa permalink
    October 30, 2014

    That is just beautiful, Rachel.

  2. October 30, 2014

    You guys would get along so well with the rest of my deer loving family [I am the only vegetarian in the house]. My husband opened a deer processing plant this year and they have been seeing quite a lot of deer come in. Have you made hash with your deer liver? It’s a big hit in the south, and the smoked sausage is really good they tell me. Have fun!

  3. David permalink
    October 30, 2014

    While I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a San Juan Drive butchering session a few times, it’s been a long time and the line about the yellow jackets brought it all back!

  4. nan permalink
    October 30, 2014

    I love that you are wearing a fish apron while butchering meat. I also love that you use all parts of the animal . My husband hunts deer, moose and elk, and between us , our dogs and wildlife, we try to make sure nothing goes to waste. I wish I looked as happy as you do while deboning the meat. You are my husbands dream girl.

  5. October 30, 2014

    Congrats on a successful hunt! (and those are the best descriptions of offal I have ever read).
    -Jaime

  6. October 31, 2014

    Wonderful! I’m glad Dan was able to get a buck. I have a friend who was just out hunting for a week. I haven’t heard back if they got anything or not.

  7. Andrea permalink
    November 4, 2014

    Congrats and yum! Also, your butcher room looks huge! Like, bigger than your kitchen.

  8. Lesley permalink
    November 9, 2014

    I loved The Rosie Project too Rachel!

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