Chapter 13 – changes and thanksgiving

The turkeys grew plump, the soaps cured, the feta cheese aged, the ducklings hatched, the goats rabbleroused, the canning jars sealed, kale was bunched, the duck eggs were being delivered, the seasons changed, the plans were in action- my farm life was on a joyous trajectory. I was 30 and I was a farmer. Not full time yet, but I felt hopeful that I was heading that way. I was obsessed. I was my farm’s tender, nurturer, mother. I lived and breathed and birthed it, and could never be satiated with enough farm, farm, farm.

My personal life however felt like a crazy mess and I was going 100 directions at once. After we went through counseling, my (ex) husband and I decided to split. My intense desire to become a legit farmer had brought up serious issues and differences of opinion that we just could not pretend weren’t there. Going through all of my family’s tragedies and hardships together had really pushed us to the edge of both insanity, and facing reality. We’d been there for each other through some wild years, but now we were heading in 2 separate directions. No hard feelings, it was an amicable split, and we were both very glad for that.

I absolutely loved having my farm as my own, but I’d had a hole deep in my heart for a long while. I wanted a real farmer partner, a farmer husband. Not a creepy farm partner who would let me farm at his place so he could spy on me, like the neighbor who had housed my ducklings. I wanted a partner to love, to work and share with, dream and plan and make things actually happen- together.

My sister had her daughter that fall, and the relationship we had seemed patched and healing. I didn’t share with her what was going on at the farm; I kept my “dark” secrets to myself, to keep the peace. While her baby was newborn, and between visiting them and bringing her nourishing vegan food, I was participating in the harvest of goats and ducks.

An old friend and co-worker of mine, Andrew, offered to set up a website for my growing farm business. He did a beautiful job and explained how to begin posting bogs and photos. I gave him a bunch of my soap, duck eggs and cheese as payment. I absolutely loved having this new space to share my thoughts, ethics and my farm journey. I wrote about veganism, heritage poultry, and turkeys. Thanksgiving was approaching, and the time was drawing near for turkey harvesting. One of the first posts I wrote on the website was an ode to my turkeys:

“its not a far away place I desire to go,
just here, on my little farm, surrounded by your existence, presence and beauty
It is hard to say goodbye to you, my darlings
a friend told me his grandma would tell each animal before harvest, said a little prayer
“a toca tu, a toca me”
Today it is your turn, tomorrow it is mine.
Sunday means your turn, and I trepidatiously enter the day of your last
But each of you carry with you a thankfulness
as you will be the amazing centerpiece of Thanksgiving feasts for many families. For this I am grateful.
Grateful I was able to experience you in all your turkey splendor, enjoying your life on my farm. I am grateful to you for enriching my life here. I have enjoyed our turkey songs together, the bunch of you and I.
You’ve done well, my turkeys, grown as you should, fat on organic corn and oats and vegetables and fruits. Each of you has been a delight to know and care for.
Tomorrow you will pass through the doors of heaven, your spirit will go away from here, your bodies will nourish us.
We are thankful, on our Thanksgiving Day, for so much, but especially for you. Thank you for living and dying so beautifully.”

With harvest day approaching, I grew absolutely terrified. The turkeys had become enormous 30 pound birds, and my most skilled poultry harvesting friends were not going to be in town or able to help me. We talked about it over the phone, and they suggested a few things that would help with set up and handling. I had my first customers coming out and I was so nervous. I wanted to have visual documentation of what we were going to be experiencing, so I’d agreed to let a photographer come shoot the scene. He’d attended the goat harvest the month previous and had taken beautiful action shots of the whole process, so I felt sure in his abilities to be respectful and not in the way.

When Sue, Mary and Charlie pulled into the driveway, I thought my head would explode. I felt faint. None of us had done this before, but here they were; we were about to slaughter turkeys. We talked about how it was going to go, what the actual plans were, and the desire to make this as humane as possible for the turkeys. The photographer pulled up and got his camera ready. I told them I couldn’t do it, and as the moments in time held still, I summoned a strength, a fortitude within myself. These were my turkeys, and they were here to provide sustenance. They had lived an amazingly wonderful turkey life, but now it was their turn, for tomorrow it would be mine.

I placed a feed bag over the turkey’s body with his head sticking out the top, in order to contain his massively muscled body. Charlie put his hand on my shoulder as I crouched over the first turkey and cut the jugular vein. The power of the spirit leaving such a big bird was flabbergasting. The harvest was done with the utmost respect, care and thankfullness. We hung up the turkeys after they bled out and carefully dry plucked their feathers, and then eviscerated them. When we were all finished and the turkeys were in coolers, we shared what we felt and thought, and discovered we’d all experienced that surge of life energy during the process. It was an exhausting but energizing, simply incredible day. Stephen Filla took these beautiful shots  on that heavy, overcast morning.

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