10 Nov An Unexpected Gift
Driving down the highway on a warm September day, I savored the moment while talking about heavy machinery and transport trucks with Asa. Suddenly something caught my attention. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a deer running out from the woods and charging full speed down the short embankment. There was no time to swerve only a moment to brace myself for the inevitable impact as this deer was headed strait for the side of my vehicle.
I will never forget the look in its eyes while it desperately scrambled to alter its path.
Slowing my vehicle to a stop, I collected my nerves and turned to my child. It all happened so fast. He wasn’t aware of what had just occurred. I looked at the flattened side mirror pressed up against the window and glanced in the rear view to see struggle and pain laid out on the side of the road.
In moments like these, you get to see what you’re really made of.
Calmly, I let Asa know that we hit a deer. After answering some questions, I told him that I needed to go help it and I would return shortly to check-in with him. As I walked, I found our side mirror shattered on the pavement and I heard the sound of labored breath in the distance. I knelt down close and held its quivering body. Tears welled up but did not fall as I attempted to offer comfort, knowing all too well that the support needed was a swift end to its suffering. Cars and trucks whizzed by while I prayed. As I held its nose and throat tightly closed, it fought, struggled, and thrashed about.
I quickly lost my nerve so I decided to go back to check in with my son and give myself a moment to regroup. With blood on my hands I opened his door. Sitting quietly in his car seat looking up at me with calm and curious eyes, Asa asked “Is the deer dead?”. I took that moment to have a conversation with him about the importance of ending the tremendous pain and suffering this animal was experiencing with compassion and mercy. He looked at me and said “so it can go back to the Earth?”. In the moments to follow he spoke about how God is in the ground, specifically held within the dirt, because that’s where all things grow and bloom and all things return when they die. Makes perfect sense to me, kid. Some look to find comfort from above and beyond and some look to find it within.
How do we make use of the gifts we are given?
In both my personal and professional life, I have been in service to those who are seeking a deeper connection to their physical, emotional, and spiritual lives. I have held space for all the joy, loss, and transformation that living brings. I have spent time with those who are dying and hold dear the invaluable gift of companioning that journey with presence, compassion and healing touch at a bedside vigil.
I have a deep trust in how things unfold. But most importantly, I have a well of faith. The mystery of why this deer collided with me has been slowly revealing itself over the past month and the experience has grounded and strengthened me in ways I am still discovering.
I asked myself, “Would this be a senseless death or an invitation to step forward and have courage?”
As I slowly backed the van up to where I had moved the deer off the road, my almost 4-year old asked if we could process it together. It was then that I realized I was being given a gift. It was an unexpected opportunity to turn a senseless death into something meaningful. So, I leaned into the chance to learn and grow.
Now mind you, the only animal I’ve helped to dispatch was a rooster. The learning curve with this was going to be steep. In the past, I have relied on Phoenix’s skills and shied away from learning how to butcher large animals out of fear, guilt, and emotionality. Well, as fate would have it, Phoenix was away at work for the week and if it was going to happen it would need to be done swiftly.
I never would have chosen this for myself. But, the way it all unfolded felt significant and intentional.
As I ended this deer’s life a county Sheriff pulled up to see if I needed roadside assistance. When the officers got out of their vehicle they were surprised by what they discovered. I was grateful to find out that one of the Sheriff’s was a neighbor of mine who also farms and uses those life experiences to homeschool his daughter. It was one heck of an ice breaker and I found myself in good company with an ally in my homeschooling endeavor.
When I asked if I could take the deer home they offered to help me lift it up into the back of my van. That morning I had decided to lay down a tarp so I could load a couple bales of straw into the back of my van and ended up being gifted with a free pallet to put them on. Looking back, I’m in awe of the timing and trajectory, the moderate size of the deer, minimal damage to the van, the heartfelt assistance, connection I gleaned while receiving it, and the ability to easily transport it without making a mess. It certainly felt fated and meaningful.
Once we got home, the real initiation began.
How does one learn to process a large animal with an eager child that’s still young and looking for ways to help? You get the kid an apron and a butter knife with a serrated blade. I talked with Phoenix briefly about where to start, what to tie off and what to avoid. The rest was all luck, intuition, and leaning heavily into my bodywork and anatomy knowledge. When in doubt, follow the fascia!
This lead to an exploration of anatomy and an embodied understanding of how bodies work and the relationship within of all the systems. My child watched intently as I uncovered layer after layer of tissue, organs, muscle, and bone. We carefully packaged up the liver, heart, and kidneys for us to eat and saved the lungs, intestines, and tripe for our livestock guardian dog’s to feast on. As I carefully skinned the deer, we examined all the networks of blood vessels just below the skin. Asa helped me move through layers of fascia, using his fingers and the butter knife that helped to separate the skin and uncover layers of well defined muscles. We fleshed the hide and covered the skin with a thick layer of salt to dry it out before tanning.
He took his own breaks as needed and came back each time with ease, curiosity, questions, and a desire to participate. We located the veins and arteries within the body and saw how the heart is connected to the lungs and felt how the ventricles access different chambers within the heart. We discovered that both the windpipe and esophagus were connected and it was a fascinating system that had a noticeable difference in texture and structure between the two.
We saw freshly eaten grass in the esophagus before I tied it off and had the experience of looking inside the ruminant (stomach) to see how large it actually is when full of bright green masticated grass. We opened it up to see all the villi inside the rumen and the honeycomb texture of the reticulum which is sold as tripe at the meat counter.
It was a commitment.
It took us all day, from morning ‘til night. It was a struggle for me to hoist the deer high enough up so I could hang it from the rafters of our little shed. After feeling triumphant, I soon realized that I had hung it with it’s legs bound together which was going to make butchering it very challenging. To my surprise getting it untied and lowered was harder than hoisting it up! I was already tired from the first go around, so trying to hoist it up a second time was daunting.
Finally, I was able to pull it all the way to the top of the rafters with each leg individually wrapped. In hindsight this is where a pulley would have been incredibly handy.
As the day progressed and the temperature rose, the metal roof of the shed was scorching and the flies found their way through every nook and cranny. I soon understood the benefit of hunting in November after the temperatures drop and most of the flies have died off. All that buzzing was certainly a motivator to move quickly and not get distracted from the task at hand.
At the end of the day we felt enlivened, accomplished and most of all, resilient.
This experience anchored in a new level of proficiency and confidence in my capacity to be self-reliant, resourced, and brave. I got some traction around being able to teach something I wasn’t proficient in with relative ease as I was simultaneously building a new skill set. And most importantly, my son was able to embody the wisdom that comes from sourcing your own food and the patience, discipline, and courage it takes to follow through with it.
What started off as a tragedy, turned into a life-changing opportunity for embodied knowledge.
In the end, I feel we were able to honor and cherish the life of this sweet soul. For some, having all that meat in the freezer is the ultimate goal. For me, it fully encompassed the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms and highlighted the interconnectedness of life and death. It has given me time to contemplate and converse about the many valuable life lessons that Phoenix and I are offering our child as we become an example of how to hold both the beauty and complexity of paradox.
When we face death in a meaningful way, it transforms life into a prayer.
Step forward and have courage,