truth

Here’s Knowing You!

Pork and Belly 2

 

It was a good day yesterday. Pork and Belly, our pigs, are hanging in the garage and the job of butchery begins tomorrow. We have four sides to get through and the process will be a learning situation. The process of raising, slaughtering and butchering your own meat is (as the words used to describe the process) a somewhat violent process towards the end but I choose to broaden my perspective and see the beauty in the cycle of life.

Pork and Belly were happy right up to the end. Sniffing at the barrel of the pistol that was about to end his life, Pork was at ease and full of trust; never stressed and never felt a thing. As I took a minute or two to calm my nerves, holding the pistol and watched as he poked at it innocently. I describe this not to disgust or dismay, but to remind us all (including me) that death is not the important thing: life is.

While it is true that Pork and Belly trusted me and I broke that trust, it is also true that I built that trust by giving them the best life that I could. Their life was full of rutting around, eating acorns, pats and scratches and a warm bed of hay every night. There lives were good by any standard and it is that life that I am proud of.

This is a process that I believe is necessary if we insist upon eating meat. It affords us the understanding that by eating we take something of great value, something that we must come to appreciate as we cannot bring it back: a living, breathing, and thinking entity. I do not thank a god or gods for their lives. I am thankful that I have been given the chance to look at life straight in the eye; all the blood and beauty of it. It only gives me a greater appreciation of the food that I eat, and the animals’ lives that I take in order to do just that.

Raise a glass with me to Pork and Belly
Good pigs they were, and good food they are!

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Art

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A musician searchs for intertwining melodies, chordal movements, and counterpointed lines to paint a mental picture or to tell a story that can only be understood through sound.

A painter splashes paint, dabs color, carefuly inundates the canvas with lines of imagination, shapes of surreal dreams, looking for the picture that is indelible, cemented in his mind.

The poet draws words from the canvas of language and rhythm; memories are real, and reality as clear as the words on the page. The black and white of paper and pen the most beautiful of all.

The philosopher searches for the illusive truth, the difficult understanding and the never-ending hunt for reason. The art is euphoric and personal but applies to the world.

The farmer wakes with the dawning sun and looks over mother nature. His animals await, his plants sit silently in the morning light. Pitchfork in hand, plough on horse, the farmer smells the earth, the manure, the life that he creates.

The teacher draws in the coffee smells and pulls up papers, hoping for the spark of intelligence. Eager faces look for guidance, and the teacher looks for secrets that we call learning.

The carpenter draws a blade across the wood and puts his nose to the newly planed plank. Timber becomes lumber and lumber becomes the necessities of life.

If only…if only perfection were found in art. Then, and only then, the artists could rest their weary heads and contemplate the perfection in their hearts.

Pain

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This week I have had that old and misunderstood teacher, pain, in my life.  This time it came in the form of an old piece of oak and a table saw.  As good teachers ought to, pain pointed out my stupidity but did so not in a condescending way; my lesson was learned in a split second and by my own hand.  I have no excuse, which was the lesson taught.

I have all of my fingers and they all will work normally but for the time being I have thirteen stitches in two of them (nine in my index an four in my thumb).  I took the test and failed.  However, failure is as it always is, a chance to learn.  My Renshi, pain, has not let me down and I have learned; if only I can remember when the lesson is finished.

A teacher and a student are one in the same, but a teacher sometimes needs a reminder that they are a student as well.  I’m not sure what lesson Master Pain has learned.  My lesson has been one of trust: do not do it with machinery and wood!  I have an old adage: comfort is your enemy, and there is another one: familiarity is a teacher of men.

My lesson is all bandaged up now and the learning process has started.  Flashbacks of my lesson continue, I cringe, and I type with eight fingers for the time being but the lesson came at a cheap cost.  Pain is unforgiving, straightforward, and honest as all good teachers should be.  And I am thankful as all understanding students come to be.

The Act of Caring

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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.

Sometimes…

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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.

Busy

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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 Silence of Space

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Much of this blog has centered upon the goal of self-sufficiency, but little do we realize that such goals come with their own baggage.  No matter what the goal we have, it will pale in comparison to the idea of that goal.  This is simply a reality rather than a judgement.  The idea is so opaque, so brittle in its nature; easily breakable but it is the only solid ground we have to stand upon if we are to succeed.

If to simplify we must complicate, then to achieve a goal we must have an idea of that goal . Perhaps the most important act (it does come down to action) is to move forward while remembering the past; to complicate in order to simplify.  But again, remembering the past complicates the very simplicity that we desire.  It does sound so encumbered, so esoteric.    How can self-sufficiency be so complicated?  It is because that while life is simple, to act is complicated.

We must all light upon a surface and look around; we must all settle in the security of knowing that the life that we lead is not only up to us, but up to our realizing that there is no ideal.  We must acknowledge the silent moments and learn from them what we can; they are so few and far between.

So, as I feed the animals I must take the time to consider them.  When I work in the garden, I must look for those moments between the weeds that give me happiness.  When I work a piece of wood, I must follow the history of the grains of the tree that it is made of.  When I look up, I must realize that in the end we are self-sufficient like it or not; realize it or not.  The silence of space reminds me of that, and the act becomes complicated.

A Good Day to Die

MeatChickens

Farming sounds romantic: the bucolic environment, the clucking of chickens and the smell of manure and soil.  Certainly, there are aspects of farming that are romantic.  There is the peace and quiet, the honesty of the work, the freedom of the day as well as the rituals of the chores.  But farming, especially when the farm includes animals, is a reality that soon makes itself clear.

This week I will be slaughtering the first set of chickens as well as some roosters.  And while I’ve done this before the act is never comfortable.  Most of us eat meat, but most of us do not slaughter our own meat.  This disconnect is clear for the farmer, and the disconnect soon becomes a cohesive whole as the day for the killing nears.

Killing an animal should never be easy, for any reason, even for food.  But when one sets off to the country to be self-sufficient, killing to eat becomes a reality.  Most hunters make this argument but I doubt that many of them kill simply to eat.  Perhaps the hunt becomes separated from the killing;  I’m not a hunter, and don’t see the point in it with few exceptions.  But I eat meat, and that necessitates the act that I will soon partake in: killing animals.

I believe that there is an honesty in killing your own food, but that honesty comes at a price: we must look our meals in the eye while we put knife to throat.  There is no easy way around this, at least any way that is honest.  But the fact remains: if I cannot kill the animals that I have raised, I should not be eating meat.  Peter Singer goes further with his concept of speciesism.

To raise animals for food is really a balancing act between morality and need, or perhaps desire: that I’ve not figured out yet.  However, if we decide that we cannot kill our food but expect others to do it for us, we really should not be eating meat.  I like bacon, and barbecued chicken and for those reasons I must do the deed and pay the price.  Moral food has a price.

The Human Condition

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Always remember that sometimes it is your expectations that are the problem, they can hold you back.  This sounds counterintuitive, but think about it: it is old philosophical news that we act upon our emotional rather than rational motivations.  Our expectations are often our long and hard sought rational musings over possible situations, and when we finally act those musings often do not coincide with how we feel.

But should we, as rational beings , act upon our emotions?  Our intellect informs us that we are acting emotionally and tries to override how we feel with what we think. Do we act or do we think?  We are capable of both, but eventually we will act upon our emotions.

This is problematic for rational-capable beings such as humans.  We think knowing all along that we will act emotionally: we have no choice.  We know that we will act emotionally and that knowledge is not enough: this is the secret.

Our expectations will always be squandered, they will never be met because they are the product of our understanding.  My friend, Chris Ransick, and I have often debated (over scotch of course) terminology (he is a poet and I a philosopher/farmer).  I think that we are arguing this exact point: the intellect is our ticket to freewill, but we will consistently act emotionally knowing that we give up our freewill.

This is not a new discussion, it is centuries old in philosophy, and it will continue even given the knowledge that how we feel will determine the outcomes of what we think.  This, I believe, is the human condition: we must continue to think seriously about what we feel and why we feel that way.

Playing God

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There is no better way to get a perspective on one’s life than to start raising the very food that you eat.  Life is a cycle that is often times invisible to us both mentally and physically but on a farm, a self-sufficient farm where nature is allowed to take its course, that cycle is clear.  We raise chicks here on the farm and we start them in an enclosure complete with clean sawdust, clean water and ample food.  They enjoy the digs, they eat and drink.  Their fate is sealed: they will be dinner.  But, they are oblivious to this and most other things, as long as they have their food and water.

As I look down into the box at the chicks as they create their world, I think to myself that their world is not much different than most of ours: we eat, we drink, we sleep and do not question much as long as we are comfortable: our fate is sealed, as long as we have our comfort.  At the end of the day there is not much of a difference.

Of course, we have more potential, but what is potential and how many of us actualize that potential?  What is potential to the chicks?  They are potential food, potential compost makers, they give back what they receive, probably more, but in the end their lives will end on the sharp edge of a knife wielded by me.  They will end up in my freezer and will supply me with the comfort of knowing that I will have food.  They will supply my compost pile and then my garden.

Their potential is in effect endless.  I wonder, then, who is god: us or them?  They fulfill their potential without ever knowing it while we struggle to even know ours.  They are efficient users of resources and effective suppliers of the very thing that sustains life; we are consumers without understanding what we consume.  This is all not to judge, but simply to ponder the fate of god, the fate of us all, which is to supply life in all its confounded mystery and magnificence.