John, Winn, and I have been talking about the human experience, about writing, and about recording the things that are real, sans fluff. This is a passing attempt. (Warning: this gets gory.)
The straight-run matured into a veritable flock–ten hens and eleven hackled and cocky roosters. Ratios being what they were (one rooster for every hen, with only one hen to spare), and cocks being what they are (territorial and full of the stuff of life) our lady birds were receiving quite a bit of attention (hint, hint; wink, wink; nudge, nudge). One might say the free range at the Haines Homestead had become bawdy, prurient, or lewd.
If you are not well-versed on animal husbandry, and I count myself as no expert, you might know that over-sexed hens tend to skittishness, fits of anxiety, and perhaps self-doubt. What’s more, the over-sexing roosters tend to chest puffing, fight picking, and plucking plugs out of their brothers’ feathers. On a smaller scale (one to one, or some such ratio) this sexing and fighting becomes a quasi-comical metaphor of sorts. At the ratio of ten to eleven, it creates nothing short of a farmyard ruckus.
Last week, the roosters matured to a braise-worthy size. The season of harvest had come. A good-and-proper slaughtering being necessary and appropriate, I sharpened the reaper’s blade and hung the noose from the Cypress tree overlooking the pond.
(This is where things get gruesome. You’ve been warned.)
Experts explain that the most humane way to dispatch a chicken is to hang it by its feet allowing it to relax into a near sleep. This induction of sleep and the ensuing dispatching is often made easier by the use “killing cones,” in which a chicken is placed upside down, head and neck extending through an opening in the bottom, wings compressed against the metal sides, and legs protruding from the top. A gentle kill–so these same experts tell you–involves a deep, quick slice against the jugular, opening the blood spigot. The heart quickens, pulling and pulsing blood from the meat, through the neck, and onto the ground. The pain is minimal–again, per the experts–and the cock-sure soul wakes in the land of eternal morning, of endless cock-a-doodle-doos and capitulating lady birds.
All this said, I had no killing cone for this good-and-proper slaughtering, and I didn’t intend to spend my spare change on such a device for the sake of ten birds. And so, crafty gentleman farmer that I am, I strung the young roos by their feet, allowed them to relax to the point of sleep, turned their necks, and made the cuts. The blood spigot opened, sure enough, and the stream ran red down the side of the cypress, pooling at its base. Within minutes, green-backed flies congregated in the pool, one on top of another, hundreds of living sequins winking at each other in the sunlight. (Hint, hint; wink, wink; nudge nudge.)
Life and death pulse along an infinite loop.
In the last seconds of a chicken’s life, there is a final shudder, the quickening of breath in the breast, the spasmodic and violent flapping of the wings. There is a last lifting of the neck toward the sky, a searching for the sun. It is intimate, primal, perhaps holy. Mindfulness turns the moment to both sorrow and gratitude, toward other juxtapositions I haven’t quite sorted, might not ever sort.
Roos plucked, processed, and packed, the meat now lines my freezer. Meat aside, the killing floor by the old cypress welcomed me into the experience of life, into the fragility of it, into the undulations of nature’s sexing, birthing, and dying. This world is fierce, violent, and sometimes lacking in mercy (such as we define it).
This, I suppose, is the point: if the world were all daisies, roses, and unicorn flatulence, I’m not sure faith would be a necessary thing. A fairytale life, a life celebrating only love, joy, peace and mercy is just that–a fairytale. Sex, birth, violence, killing, provision, death, and the fear of dying–these things beg imperative questions.
What is life and its end?
What is the last gasp, the craning of the neck?
What does it mean to kill and to die?
What does it mean to find provision through death?
How does the heart find gratitude in sacrifice?
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