Killing Animals   18 comments

When I was young, I killed a possum. It’s my earliest memory of killing an animal. That’s not surprising, as I don’t have many instances of killing animals to remember. I loved animals as a child. I still love animals. I grew up wanting to be a veterinarian, and while that doesn’t appeal to me nearly so much these days, I love the fact that I get to work with animals on a regular basis. Sheep, cows, chickens, pigs . . . I honestly enjoy being around them, feeding them, interacting with them—even when they go and muck me up, as they so often do.

But years ago, I killed a possum. Well, I think I did, anyway. I was somewhere around ten years old and I did it in service of another animal: our dog, Buster. He must have been chasing the possum, because it had clamped down hard on Buster’s lower lip and had no intention of letting go. Buster was in pain and  very unhappy about the situation. My older brother and I found the howling, snarling tangle in our back yard, at night, my flashlight illuminating the pained scene. My brother grabbed his pellet gun, a rifle loaded with pointed lead pellets. I put it against the side of the possum’s head. I didn’t want to kill the animal, but I didn’t know how else to get it off Buster. I loved animals; this was a big deal for me. But I’ve always had this background belief, too, that there are just things you sometimes have to do, and it felt in that moment like something I had to do. I can’t recall ever believing the world to truly be a clean and neat place, even if I’ve often wanted it to be so.

I pulled the trigger. I killed an animal.

In hindsight, maybe I didn’t. The possum let go of Buster and, in my memory, it’s confirmed as dead. But looking back, I wonder if the little air rifle really would have killed the creature, even from a point blank head shot. Or maybe I wounded it but didn’t kill it. Hopefully not; I’d rather not the possum have died slow and painful from a messy infection. At this point, it’s long settled. And in a way, it doesn’t necessarily matter if I’m remembering the event correctly. What I remember is the echo, and it’s the echo that shapes my thoughts today. It’s the echo of that first killing that frames what I have to say today.

— ∞ —

I can’t recall any vivid killing of other animals in the years that followed. The only real exception is that I went fishing a few times and, in my success, killed a handful of fish. But killing fish has never bothered me that much; I certainly recognize them as living creatures, but their alienness—that lack of mammality—render them less sympathetic for me. I feel a slight regret at taking them out of their world, ending their life, but not a significant one. Not in a way that particularly resonates, except in one particular example that I still need to write about one of these future days. (Stay tuned.)

At the age of sixteen, I became a vegetarian. I was influenced by others around me at the time, but it also felt right. And a couple strange visions preceded the decision. Who am I to argue with visions? Regardless of where they came from, the message seemed clear enough to me and I felt I should heed it. My vegetarian status stuck for twelve years, relatively easily, and then it left. I suppose I debated the decision a bit, but looking back, it seemed to happen as easily as the initial decision to quit eating meat. No visions preceded it this time—just some reading and reflection. But, again, my needed course of action seemed clear.

That decision arose from the beginnings of a shift in my perspective on death. I began to see a greater complexity around the moral question of killing other creatures. I think I also began to have a better understanding of how much death I inflicted anyway, whether or not I ate meat—and even within the act of not eating meat. (Grains, beans, fake meat—there’s death in these, too, of plants and often wild animals and, of course, innumerable creatures at a much smaller scale.) But I still thought mostly of the visible, of the animals I would eat or not, and I grew sympathetic to the idea that the way these animals were raised and slaughtered was more important than whether they were raised or slaughter. I thought, if they were raised well and in natural environments, if they were respected and considered, if the farmers who raised them did it with care and consideration, then that was what mattered most. All creatures die. All of us die. Death began to seem to me secondary. What led up to the death? How was the life?

— ∞ —

I’ve twice now participated in a chicken slaughter at the farm down the road. Most recently, about a month and a half ago. I killed chickens. I killed ducks. The ducks were a touch more challenging—they’re cuter. That might sound flip, but it’s true. I can’t think of any other reason I should have felt worse killing the ducks than the chickens, except perhaps because I like ducks a bit more. I’m pretty certain it’s because they’re cuter.

I didn’t want to go the first time. I did, but I didn’t. I felt it was an experience I needed, but the idea of actually killing the chickens unnerved me. I went anyway, and—this may sound odd to some of my readers—I loved the experience. The killing quickly became easy. I don’t mean light, or inconsequential, but easy. We all started laughing, joking, breaking apart the stress. It felt communal and shared. Intense and elemental.

The second time, this year, was not as good. Perhaps the vibe was different owing to the different people involved, or maybe the heightened stress of my first time created a release and subsequent high that I didn’t get this time. Still, I enjoyed the process and it seemed almost natural, simple. This time I focused more on the cleaning and gutting of the chickens. I didn’t do that at all my first year and wanted to get some experience with that, so I would feel capable of completing the entire process on my own. And while I’m no expert at this point, I do think now that I could go out, slaughter and clean a chicken without too much trouble. That’s satisfying.

It’s interesting, though, how quickly I went from being unnerved to . . . well, maybe not cavalier about the process, but okay with it. Okay with the entire situation. Satisfied to have gained a valuable skill. Just one more task.

— ∞ —

In a blog post from early in 2012, The Myth of the Machine, John Michael Greer wrote about philosopher Martin Buber’s concept of “I-It” and “I-Thou” relationships. In Greer’s summary, “I-It” relationships are “those interactions in which the individual can simply deal with other things as objects,” while “I-Thou” relationships are “those in which he or she must deal with other beings as subjects with their own inner lives and their own capacities for interpretation and choice.” According to Greer, the relationships that humans engage in (with all manner of other humans, creatures, items and objects) fall along a continuum between these two points.

It’s in these concepts of relationship and interaction that I have started to see my work with animals. Animals are not objects; they’re creatures, “subjects with their own inner lives,” in Greer’s words. They make decisions, have personalities, react to my behavior and the behavior of other animals and humans. They have desires and fears, wants and needs. I don’t know exactly what it is to be them, to be in their minds, or if the inner expression of their desires and fears are at all similar to our own, but they are there. You can see it in their behavior. Hell, sometimes I see it in their eyes.

I particularly remember one moment.

It was brief and small, this moment. I was at one of the farms I work for, outside, in the cold and wet winter, standing in the muck of sheep and cows up by the barns. One of the ewes was heading out for the field, starting to pass me. Brian—one of the farm’s owners and, also, blind—wanted me to grab and hold onto the ewe so he could inspect her. I can’t remember why; maybe he wanted to check her udder, or maybe something else. But I was to hold onto her so he could do his work and so I grabbed at her before she could get past me and out into the fields.

She didn’t want to be grabbed. She didn’t want to be held. She wanted out on the grass. And so as I attempted to grab her, digging my fingers into her thick fleece, she sped up, pulled away, steeled herself. I held tighter and tried to gain my footing. She pulled harder, bucked a bit, started to run forward. I half ran, half grabbed, and in that moment she was not a creature, not a being, just an object and an impediment to me doing what I needed to do. “I-Thou” turned to “I-It,” if only for the briefest moment. And then she fell. I pushed. I don’t know exactly how it all happened and I certainly did not intend to knock her over, but our balance and my grabbing and pulling and pushing and her pulling all conspired to knock her over, right onto her side, deep in the muck, legs flinging up a moment into the air and her head twisting toward me, eyes looking up at me while I looked down at her. Locking eyes with her, her gaze was one of betrayed. One of hurt.

I might be the one putting that in her eyes. I don’t know. Maybe she was just annoyed, or confused, or frightened. But in that moment, I saw betrayal in her eyes, and I felt terrible. It wasn’t even that big a deal. She ended up in the muck, knocked over, and I’m sure that was not pleasant. But, so far as I know, I didn’t injure her. And she got back to her feet and continued out to the pasture. The day commenced. Brian’s inspection would have to wait.

But that moment sticks with me. I felt terrible. And upon understanding the concept of “I-It” and “I-Thou,” I began to understand why I felt terrible. In that moment, when I wanted her to do something that she didn’t want to do, she became an object to me rather than a creature. I inadvertently harmed her—even if it was a small harm, and even if accidental—and it came out of my frustration and my inability, in that brief frustration, to continue to treat her as a creature rather than as an object.

These are the moments that stay with me. These are the moments that echo.

— ∞ —

Recently, at another farm I work for, the local butcher came out with their mobile slaughtering unit to butcher three lambs and a ewe. The lambs were ready for customers and scheduled. The ewe was a different matter. Something happened to her. Her back two legs stopped working. We didn’t know why. She was older, and maybe the ram had too vigorously taken after her. Maybe something else happened, perhaps internally. Maybe a stroke. It’s tough to say; you can’t grill them about their symptoms. Regardless, she couldn’t walk. She could only sit upright, her front two legs propped on the ground and holding her front half up, her back end sitting. It was odd and sad.

So the farm owners scheduled her for slaughter. The day the butcher came out, two of us lifted her and carried her outside. We set her down and she sat there, front legs propped in front of her, head up, looking around. She couldn’t move. She just sat there, out of necessity. And then the worker quietly said, “Goodbye, girl,” and shot her in the head. She toppled over.

I’ve driven lambs to the slaughter, delivered them to the place of their death. This was the first one I actually saw killed. It was hard. I’ll admit that. Far harder than the chickens, or the ducks. Even considering the fact that I wasn’t the one killing her.

But throughout the process, she remained thou to me. And, so far as I could tell, she fit into that category, to some degree or another, for all people involved. The man who shot her did it . . . casually, I suppose you might say. But not cruelly or dismissively. He had plenty of experience—this was a common action for him—but I didn’t get the sense he didn’t recognize that it mattered.

That’s the key for me these days. Sometimes I kill animals, and sometimes I’m involved in the process of killing animals. That’s okay with me. But I don’t want to lose the thou. I don’t want to forget that these are creatures. I don’t want to turn them into objects, into its. I don’t want them to become to me nothing more than impediments or frustrations. I don’t think killing animals is inherently wrong, but I do think that consistently doing it thoughtlessly and carelessly is dangerous. That’s not a path I want to walk.

— ∞ —

Killing that possum echos and resonates. Those first chickens and ducks—I think I’ll remember that forever. And I don’t imagine I’ll ever lose the image of that ewe being shot in the head—the slight jerk, the settling limpness, the topple. But I feel worse about that ewe I accidentally shoved over into the muck. It doesn’t seem to make much objective sense, except that the transition to object is the sense. If they die a thou, and the death is sensical, then I can be okay with it. If it matters, if the context fits, I can be okay with it. It’s when they die an it, when they’ve been stripped of their creatureliness, that I can hardly abide it. That sort of death I have a hard time seeing as anything other than a betrayal, and that’s the path I want to avoid taking.

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18 responses to “Killing Animals

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  1. Nice work.

  2. Beautiful essay. I think I’ve come to a similar place as you on my personal attitudes toward meat and death. I look at the occasional deer (that has to be dissuaded from visiting the garden) and I see a beautiful creature whose features (alert brown eyes, nervous ears, lithe powerful limbs) have been crafted by a million billion deaths by predation. Yes it’s built to evade death, but there is no deer without the predator. Maybe a helpless lump of protoplasm browsing the shrubs? I’m sure that would be beautiful in its way, but it wouldn’t be a deer. And I like deer. And I like the taste of deer as well it turns out. Yet some of my earliest childhood memories are about the traumatic death of animals. I saw a horse shot at the scene of an accident between a car and an Amish buggy. And it may be my earliest memory altogether to remember in a campground, playing with a pair of efts (bright orange salamanders) that I’d found under a rock. In my childish way, I wanted to put them back home, so I returned them to where I found them and toppled the rock on top of them. When I peeked later to see how they were, I found I had smashed them. Or that’s they context I’ve built for the memory in any case. The actual memory-fragment is looking under that rock and feeling horror that I’d tried to return them to their place and had killed them instead. As you say, this is powerful stuff, and it is probably best not to forget that.

    • Thanks, Anubis. I hadn’t thought of the role of death in evolution the way you write it out here with regard to the structure of a deer. I really do find that a beautiful idea.

      As for the salamanders, I feel like I’ve had similar experiences with animals of some kind, though none apparently vivid enough to jump immediately to mind in a detailed manner. However, I do remember killing a plant once as a child while conducting an experiment, and I felt terrible about it. I ended up in my mother’s lap, crying. I suspected the outcome of the experiment in advance, but once I actually had to face the responsibility of having killed the plant, it really clawed at me.

      But then, I prefer it that way, at least within reason. Those vivid memories help guide future caution and consideration. Far better than losing the pain but having no guide at all.

  3. I appreciate your well considered discussion of the matter of killing for food, but then too, killing for necessity. Like you, I was a vegetarian for many years. I was also a cook and when my clients went out fishing and brought me fresh trout from the stream I cooked them without remorse. However, I did wake wake up one night with the distinct sensation that I had been hooked in the mouth by trickery and was being yanked out of my world.

    It takes genuine courage to maintain the I-thou relationship when eating meat, and when killing. But it does force us to be aware of what we are doing and why, and who is giving life to this cause!

    My big dilemma today concerns an Asian hornet that has landed on European soil by boat from China. She is reproducing with an exponential fury that is staggering. Her primary food source is honey bees, while our bees (Apis mellifera mellifera) have not evolved the means to defend themselves from this predator. They invade the apiary en masse and ravage entire hives. As I watch them catch a homecoming forager, slice of her head with their formidable mandibles and fly away, I feel something akin to how you felt looking at the possum latched on to your dogs lip. A hundred, two hundred, three hundred times a day until I flee the apiary at once frenzied and exhausted. The only means of protecting the bees is killing Vespa velutina instead, by the hundreds, daily. It is a very challenging situation. I have lost a lot of sleep contemplating the matter, and seeking out alternative solutions.
    So I thank you for your thoughtful essay which is very useful for me in its honesty.
    Amanda Dowd

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Amanda. The situation with the Asian hornet sounds somewhat dreadful. There was a time I felt more conflicted about killing slugs and pulling weeds for the garden; now, I don’t worry too much about it. I’ve made my peace. It’s done with intention, in pursuit of what I feel is a fair and worthy goal, and as one way of interacting with and living within this world that I feel is legitimate and natural. (That’s always a tricky word, isn’t it?)

      Personally, I think you’re well within your rights to protect your honey bees. I think Vespa velutina is well within her right to attempt to eat your honey bees, just as the slugs here are within their right to try to eat my greens. The key, in my mind, is recognizing the legitimacy on both sides—recognizing that all these creatures, you and me and bees and slugs and everything else, are within their rights to try to eat and survive—and to see that these conflicts are all just part of the dance, part of the joy and beauty and agony that is being here on this planet. And then just act accordingly. Protect your honey bees. Try not to hate Vespa velutina. Always be willing to consider your actions and whether or not you believe they’re right and appropriate, but don’t let that consideration paralyze you. It’s a tough balance, but that’s just part of what’s so incredible about being here, right?

      Anyway, thanks again. I really enjoyed your thoughts.

  4. Very well said, and reflects some of my thoughts and experiences regarding death and meat. I was a vegetarian for several years, until realizing that I wanted to live in a way that repaired and regenerated ecologies, and that animals raised for meat, could be a missing link in that process.

    I’ve since been part of and conducted slaughters with sheep, chickens, and turkeys. Each time I’ve looked into the animals eyes as it died, and in those moments, felt the most indescribable realizations—of release and tension, of being at peace with the processes of the Cosmos, from birth to death. Sometimes I wonder if I’m in some way imagining the animal as myself, facing death and finding peace, that life goes on. It’s interesting. And impossible to convey. I always pay the highest respect to the animal as possible, reassuring it that everything will be okay, and thanking he/she for the sacrifice. But I always make sure I look into their eyes. It just feels right for me.

    I especially appreciate your reference to JMG’s article and the idea of I/It I/Thou relationships. I have a lot of friends that are of the animal rights, vegan/vegetarian, animals-shouldn’t-die-for-food slant, and one of my greatest challenges in relating to them seems to lie in that philosophical distinction. Their view is that all meat eaters place animals into an I/It relationship, and that that is inhumane (they don’t say that exactly, but in less words). I totally agree with that. But I then begin to wonder/question, what about the other life forms that must die to keep us alive, as humans? The plants, microbes, invertabrates, worms, so on…? Are they not placed into an I/It relationship? So fascinating. It’s my aim to see all sacrifice in the I/Thou relationship. Because in the end, all things will be of us or in us at some point.

    • Beautiful, Mark. I’ve come to a similar point of not being able to distinguish philosophically between the slug and the sheep, the microbe and the chicken, the carrot and the cow. I can distinguish between them emotionally, certainly, but not so much philosophically. They’re all alive, as are us humans. I don’t know of a way to eat without other creatures dying. I don’t know of a way to live without other creatures dying.

      I know when I was vegetarian, it mostly boiled down to the idea of animals dying. It felt unnecessary, so I thought I shouldn’t eat meat. But there’s no way to leave death behind; we can’t extract ourselves from it. And at the end of the day, we’ll die, too. And when that day comes for me, I want the slugs—and so much more—to eat. I want to return that.

      “All sacrifice in the I/Thou relationship.” I like that. Thank you. I want to internalize that.

  5. A very well thought out blog post. Well, possums. When I moved out here, an old dog came with the place. The first spring I was here, it killed 7 possums. I think they’re nasty. I tried leaving the carcass out for the coyotes or crows, and they wouldn’t touch them. So, I ended up with a little possum cemetery. The first couple really gave me the “ickes”, even handling them with a long handled shovel. Now, it’s pretty old hat. This year, only 3 …

    My childhood traumas? Well, my father raised pigeons, for awhile. One day, he was at work and one got injured. My mother insisted I dispatch it. A nasty business. Even earlier, there was the two ducks I got for Easter. Soon they grew too big for “in-town” and we took them out to my uncle’s farm. Every time we’d visit, I’d play with “my” ducks. One time, they were gone! I was told they had run away. The true story was revealed … during dinner. All way around, the thing could have been handled better. But, after years of intensive psycho therapy, I’m right as rain. :-).

    I also helped some friends process chickens. I was quit proud of myself. I didn’t hurl, faint and kept my eyes open. Becoming familiar with the whole process will come in handy, later. Eventually, my small flock of chickens (6) will have to be culled. When new layers are acquired and any extra roosters that show up. I’m trying to get to a place where I’m setting up cycles. A chicken cycle and a chicken manure cycle. I don’t think processing my own chickens will be too bad. The Barnevelders are just this gaggle of chickens with not much distinct personality. And, I keep it that way. But Mama Brahma, the queen of the roost, will probably die of old age.

    I had one of those chickens I helped process for Thanksgiving. I was very thoughtful and aware that I had helped process it, for my meal. And that I had snagged it out of it’s pen. Tucked it under my arm and stroked it’s back to keep it calm on it’s way to the killing floor. The owners of the chickens mentioned, on the side, that they wouldn’t be using one of their helpers again. He was good, fast … but they thought he was too rough on the chickens. Not enough respect for the birds.

    Something I’d like to try in the future. Well, there’s plenty of rabbits around. Also, deer. THE day after Thanksgiving, a very large (10-15 pounds) wild turnkey hen went strutting across the back pasture. She must have a calendar. I’d like to try my hand at catching, killing, butchering and eating these animals. At least once. Just so I have the skills if times get really bad.

    • I have to say, I don’t like possums all that much, either. Give me a good raccoon. Sure, they’ll kill my chickens and ducks, but I still find them enjoyable to watch—and cute as hell. Possums never worked for me, though, and I say that as someone who loves rodents and had pet rats as a kid. Of course, possums aren’t rodents. Maybe that’s the problem.

      Interesting to hear your friends’ consideration of their helpers. I like that, the thoughtfulness. Every rare once in a while, I find myself working with someone who doesn’t seem to respect the animals, and I can hardly bear it. Drives me nuts. I can understand killing them for proper reasons; I can’t understand disrespecting or harming them for fun. It’s a bizarre mentality to me and always destroys my respect for a person. Luckily, all the people I work for are good to their animals and I consistently find myself working alongside people who mostly care and are kind. I don’t imagine I could do this work otherwise.

      Love the thought of that wild turkey checking the calendar and then striding outside, confident as can be. I’d be quite curious to try a wild turkey myself. Not sure how it would be, but I’m sure it’d make a hell of a stew, if nothing else. I’d feel a bit sad killing one, though—I like wild turkeys, and turkeys in general. They’re quite the intriguing bird.

  6. Interesting essay, Joel.

    It brings to mind my own experiences with killing animals, which began when I was probably somewhere around five to seven years old. As I related in earlier posts, I was born at the height of the ‘Great Depression’ and spent a big chunk of my childhood during the rest of that era and across WWII. We raised most of our own food during that time, including chickens and rabbits, which, of course, were periodically dispatched for the table or to trade for other food items we didn’t produce ourselves.

    Early on I didn’t do any of the dispatching myself, but I was involved in the process in other ways and so was a close up witness to the goings-on, which my Dad was very careful to describe thoroughly to me so I would be able to carry out the process as I grew older.

    And I did – grow older and carry on the process – even though I found it to be difficult to stomach at first, causing me to make a few mistakes, but with time and practice I became a pretty proficient and humane executioner.

    Later, during my teen years, we moved from Salem, Oregon to Roseburg, which is in southern Oregon, where we had woods full of deer and nearby fields full of pheasants and quail practically right outside the back door. So I took up hunting, learning the basics, etc. from my high-school fellows who were born local and were raised to the job (my Dad didn’t hunt, preferring the quietude of fishing, which he also taught me how to do).

    It didn’t take. I could easily kill a bird – though I mostly missed – but deer were another matter. Couldn’t do it. Then there was the fact that the ‘hunting grounds’ typically were more like a casual war zone with pick-up loads of drunk loggers tearing around the back roads shooting at anything that moved. During the two seasons I went deer hunting, I spent a fair amount of time flat on the ground hoping none of the aforesaid drunkies could see me.

    Needless to say, I gave up hunting, but I fished until just a few years ago. Gave that up too – it just got too crowded out there.

    As for chickens and rabbits; nowadays I live in a place where they aren’t allowed. But if they were….

    Biggest regret in this regard? One fine day after a fruitless and frustrating bird-hunting expedition, I let loose at a sparrow on a branch with both barrels of a 20-gauge. Caught him dead-on, or so I surmise, as there was nothing whatever left of either the bird or the branch he was perched on. I felt really, really bad and stupid about that for quite awhile after.

    • Hi Martin,

      I can’t think of anything quite analogous to your sparrow regret, but I’ve had similar sorts of gnawing regret about some mistreatment of an animal stemming from frustration. I remember just last year accidentally kicking at a chicken—that is, kicking out at a chicken trying to leave its coop in an effort to block it, not hit it—leading to the chicken getting a head injury. I still don’t know if I actually made contact with her or if she just jumped back in surprise, but she hit her head on a low-hanging perch and then couldn’t walk straight afterward, kept falling down. I had been frustrated at the time trying to get the chickens in and felt terrible. I wasn’t trying to kick her, just block her from getting out, but I knew the whole series of events happened because of my frustration. No “I-Thou” at that moment, that’s for sure. Thankfully, she made a recovery and I eventually felt less awful. (Sadly, she was taken out by a raccoon a few months later.)

      As for hunting, I have yet to feel any strong desire to do that. I have great respect for hunting done with respect—seems like pretty sustainable eating to me—but it doesn’t really appeal to me. Frankly, I’d rather raise and kill the animal. The idea of killing a wild animal seems worse to me, even though objectively I can’t help but think it’s a better way for it all to go down than actually raising an animal for slaughter. I don’t know. But I support hunting—it’s just not for me, so far as I can tell. Certainly, if that changes at some point, I won’t be able to do the whole “go camping getting trashed being manly hunting men” thing. Not my scene. Just some quiet time in the woods and, with luck, a straightforward kill and a hearty thanks.

      Maybe it’ll happen some day. I do enjoy elk and venison, that’s for sure.

      • Re: kicking chickens. Not to worry, they’re really pretty indestructible.

        As I noted somewhen back, when I was a kid my chores included feeding, watering and generally taking care of the ‘livestock’ – i.e., the chickens and rabbits and for awhile we had this magnificent and gigantic rooster; the master of the flock.

        His job, besides fertilizing eggs, was to guard the hens from all and sundry – including me – and he’d come at you all a-flurry, beak outstretched and/or spurs up in full attack just about anytime anyone entered the birdyard.

        I soon learned to carry a big stick and used it to cold-cock him more than a few times. Usually he’d fall over and twitch for awhile and, thinking I’d killed him (at last), I’d fill with joy and dread. But then he’d jump up and totter off until next time.

        He never did learn to not attack and eventually ended up in the stew pot, but only after he’d mercilessly raked my sister’s arm or leg a couple of times.

        As I recall, he ran around the yard for quite awhile after my Dad took his head off. He was a really tough, macho old bird – a true descendent of dinosaurs.

  7. Hi Joel,

    Well said. You have a knack for writing about the feelings behind the story. It is a tough thing to kill another creature and you displayed both concern and respect for them. Plus you were honest enough to mention the slightly unsettled feeling that you get after doing the deed, especially when it felt easier than it should have been.

    What do they say, “there but for the grace of god, go I”? Mind you, I’m still a mostly vegetarian too! hehe! Away from the farm, I eat whatever is before me out of respect for the life that once was.

    I use a ghurka knife (from Nepal) for chicken duties. It is a bit hands on, but has never yet failed me as it is quick and final.

    Glad to see you back here too! I really enjoy your writing.

    As it cools over in the NW USA, it warms up here.

    As an update, winter here was warm (warmer than I can recall here). I rarely dragged out the sheepskin jacket. It only snowed once and didn’t settle on the ground. Spring was warmer again and then it got cold during November. Plants across the entire area have been thrown into confusion. North of here suffered massive drought and you may even have read about the bushfires in October (yes, early Spring)?

    The one thing that has been a bonus at this site, is that the spring rains have not failed this year – unlike last year.

    It is however, showing up in garlic, which is doing really weird things (I grow about 35 varieties, but talk with people who grow about 85 varieties). I’m part of a larger growing trial, which has been really interesting. We are all learning things, even the experts have no idea what is going on which is scary.

    Still, the warmth has been a bonus for apples, pears, citrus, almonds and apricots. You win on one hand and lose on the other they say.

    The rain is making the farm feel sort of tropical, which is weird because it is largely Mediterranean.

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the kind words. I looked up a ghurka knife and that does indeed look like it would do the job. Do you think, assuming you’re using it properly and without hesitation, that it would serve for a quicker and better death than chopping off the head? (Not that you’ve ever had experience of either sensation—I’m assuming!—so maybe you won’t have an answer for that.)

      Glad to see you back here. I enjoy your comments and responses. I keep toying with the idea of writing you a letter, and keep not getting to it. It may yet happen! I might have a few life updates you’d enjoy.

      I’m also happy to hear that you got your spring rains, though not so happy about all the other weirdness. I heard about the brushfires a bit from some comments of yours over at The Archdruid Report, though I never really read up on them in major details. Interesting to hear about your temperature fluctuations. We just went through a cold snap here that was the worst we’ve had in four years. Almost exactly four years, as a matter of fact—I remember the December 2009 cold snap as I was at a meditation retreat. Our low temperatures were getting close to single digits (Fahrenheit, that is) for a couple nights. Mighty cold for us! We had a dusting of snow, too, but areas not too far south of us had multiple inches. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the winter plays out, if this is an anomaly or a warning of things to come. Last year was extremely mild. Maybe we’re going to make up for that.

      So what sort of weird things are happening with your garlic? I’m very intrigued.

      Good thing you’ve got so much diversity there, or you’d likely be losing on both hands. Monocultures aren’t very resilient, as you quite know. 🙂

  8. Very well considered and expressed as always, Joel. In the end, besides the ecological devastation and bizarre mutations and waste of natural resources and antibiotics and nutritional degradation–it’s really the total abstraction of death that leaves me unable to participate in the industrial meat project. I respect careful hunters who kill for food, and farmers like yourself who take the time to consider the complexities of life and death that enter into what can, if one chooses, be reduced to “sustenance”. I arrive at a different place, obviously–I don’t deny the ultimate “naturalness” of animals eating other animals (in moderation, in a condition of relative scarcity), or of humans participating in that act, but for me I ultimately can’t make the peace you’ve made, given I don’t have the pressing need to do so (a luxury, sure, but one I don’t feel guilty about enjoying). That said, I am also sure my choice is not for everyone, or any sort of moral imperative. All I wish, in the end, is that many more people eating other animals for food gave even half of the sort of thought (and emotional-thought, whatever that should be called) you’ve given to the issue. If they did, I think the sum good–both practical and emotional–would be immense. Recognizing the “thou” in something whose death you caused–directly or indirectly–is surely not easy, but thinking it through would restore the balance and the dignity to the living (and dying) beings involved.

    • Thanks, Ian. Agree completely—I think it’s about thoughtfulness and honest reflection, most importantly. I appreciate that you’re opting out of the industrial meat system, even if it’s in a different way than I do. Ultimately, if people connected more with where there food came from and how it got to them, put some honest consideration into that, and adjusted their eating habits to take that consideration into account, then our food system and society as a whole would likely be in a much better place.

      I’m heartened by the fact that many people are doing exactly that. Hopefully it will continue and more and more will do it. It’ll make a big difference if so.

  9. Pingback: A New Year’s Plan: Looking Inward | Of The Hands

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