Pork and Belly: it has been a pleasure!
It is getting close to doing the inevitable for the last time this year: I must “process” the last twenty-five chickens and more difficult, I must say good-bye to Pork and Belly our two pigs. There is no getting around the fact that death is violent, no matter how we choose to express it. Killing is even more violent. But death and killing are ubiquitious and we must come to understand that sometimes the acts are not necesarily wrong if we are to live with peace of mind.
When the decision was made to make self-sufficiency the goal the decision was also made to act philosophically; to be philosophical we must also act philosophical. And the reality of eating brings upon us the reality of killing. I have run into many that have expressed their opinion of the uselessness of philosophy, but in my years of teaching and trying to live philosophy their conclusion seems empty.
To kill an animal, even for food, honestly, we must look it in the eye and put the knife to its throat; this is the honest thing to do and because honesty is important to the act and so the act is philosophical. The question of killing is most certainly a moral question, one which the homesteader needs to ask themself: is it the moral thing that I am doing?
This is all to say that Pork and Belly present a unique opportunity to put philosophy into action, but also present a moral decision. We started with two pigs and they become as much pets as livestock. So, the obvious answer seems to be: more pigs, less pets. In other words, with more animals on the chopping block we don’t get attached. However, this solution is sidestepping the real question; it is a way of making ourselves immune to the inevitable act of killing an animal.
In the end we must choose: to eat meat or not to eat meat, but in making our decision we must also realize that life includes and is not the dichotomy of death: life and death are one in the same, and this idea (again) is philosophical. As humans, we have the ability, the capacity to choose morally, we must choose philosophically; life does not care, but we must because we can.
In Memory of “Bob” the rooster and one of his girls.
This last week we have lost a beautiful rooster and hen; one to a hawk, and the rooster to (what I believe) to be a fox. These losses were unfortunate, but the fact remains: this is what those animals do. They are predators and they were acting naturally. As a farmer, my natural reaction is and was anger: something must pay, and the hawk and fox were prime possible recipients. As an intelligent person, however, I am capable of understanding justice.
Sometimes we are faced with difficult decisions and in these situations we must make a choice: to react or act. I could shoot hawks and hunt fox but for what reason? There is only one answer to this: revenge. Perhaps killing the fox is necessary for it will return, but the hawk…and at best such a decision is only partially reasonable.
This led me to consider reason. As humans we are emotional creatures with the capacity, with the freedom, to act intelligently. Unfortunately often enough we do not act accordingly. The loss of my rooster and hen presented a situation in which I was presented a choice: to act reasonably or emotionally. But I had left out another choice: the middle ground: to act both reasonably and emotionally.
I was saddened to lose my rooster and hen, but I could not get myself to simply kill animals for what they do naturally: they cannot be held accountable and so it would be immoral of me to kill them for acting the way they act. However, I did not want them to return and kill more livestock. The logical conclusion, was to accept the losses and try to lessen the chances of the predator’s capability of doing what comes naturally: to give them a chance to learn.
Many farmers would tell me that it is not worth the trouble: to kill the animals, and sometimes they would be correct. However, I value my farm animals and other animals and their lives in a different way: as living things. So, according to my values it is “worth” my trouble to find a compromise. Sometimes a little emotion goes a long way, and sometimes (in order to remain moral creatures) we must learn to value all life rather than simply the life we deem worthwhile.
In September, work changes from input to output; that is, canning starts and thoughts of “processing” any animals, the euphemism for killing and cutting up animals, starts sneaking in. Winter work plans are on the back burner; the shop needs a cleaning, planting winter rye and watching the hens scratch it up. Trying to get the newly cut oak posts in the ground (around the garden to keep the hens out) while the ground is still able to be dug in.
Fall kale and beets planted and the greenhouse is closed at night. The trees are turning and as the leaves think about falling, thoughts of last minute winterization roll around in the head. The fall, for some reason, seems to be the starting point when some assess the year past and compare it to the year to come. This comparison is important and painful all at the same time. What we did wrong and what we can do better; the time we wasted and the time coming to make it up.
We stay busy; we are busy and we will be busy. It really doesn’t matter what we do but it seems that a lot of us do. I wonder…what is the comparison in our busy lives? Were we busy last year? Should we be busier next year? Does being busy make us better or just tired? Are we busy working or just busy being busy? There is one other thing that we should compare: time, and how much of it we have used and how much of it we might have left.
But none of this matters to the trees that turn, the canning that continues, and garden that continues growing. Time will churn and we will be busy turning the crank.
The word “adventure” conjures up fun and excitement, endless activities and wide-eyed happiness coupled with friendly unknowns. And while this is true, it is true like most things concerning human life are true: partly. In coffee shops around the world people sit sipping coffee and munching scones, talking about what they “would do” if given the chance; but they never do it. Perhaps, the adventure is already alive, but waiting for us to act upon it.
In the fifty or so years that I have been alive I have travelled to some forty countries, lived in four states, travelled throughout the lower forty eight, been a truck driver, a musician, and a college teacher. I have climbed mountains and trekked the Annapurnas in Nepal, eaten curry in Calcutta, and a Vietnamese sandwich in north and south Vietnam. I have drank instant coffee in a cave high up on the sides of mountains in places that I can’t name and have believed that cup of coffee to be the best I’d ever had. I have drank beer in more pubs than I can count in England and eaten Bratwurst in Germany, spaghetti dinners in Italy, drank Belgian beers in Belgium, meatballs in Sweden, and enjoyed the beaches in Denmark as well as wine in France and crabs in Norway. I am a homesteading farmer and carpenter at present and those activities present me with even more adventures.
This is all to say that the adventures that I have experienced are life: there are good and bad times, boring times, scary times, frustrating and irritating times. There are times when a cup of coffee at a well known coffee shop, surrounded by suburbanites in a “safe” neighborhood is an adventure and there are times when scaling a peak at 13000 feet is an adventure: I’ve tried both and while the feelings are different, they can both get interesting.
An adventure is carved out of the experiences that we have while living. The only time we miss out on adventures is when we choose not to do something because we are afraid, or tired, or lazy. Sometimes an adventure can be had sipping a cup of coffee and sometimes we need to put the cup down and do something. The adventure starts when we know what to do and when to do it.