A few nights ago, some critter got our chickens. The coop latches had been chewed off, the door pulled down.
Bobcats are neat and artistic in their massacres. Coyotes: they take everything. But here, two Buff Orpingtons lay dead in an area of matted grass and strewn feathers. A third bird was gone entirely. So probably a raccoon which kills for the killing sake.
I grabbed the two dead hens and carried them into the kitchen. Years ago, a neighbor had killed an orphaned raven that I’d been raising. I was away at the time and the house sitter had buried the bird carcass in the desert. A dear friend – an omnivore woodsman from rural Maine – lamented that “it was a terrible waste of perfectly good protein.”
So, that evening I go about the dirty business. I set a pot of water on the stove on a medium heat. I dunk the birds in the water. Again and again. And again until the feather’s slip from the flesh as if from butter.
I strip all the down from the body, revealing the teeth marks and contusions. The birds had been savaged until their necks had snapped.
I severed the heads with a cleaver and then incised the rumps and reached in and removed the gray feces filled intestines, the ruby heart and livers wedded in deep yellow orbs of fat. It smelled distasteful and putrid.
The gathered fat, an unearthly gold, was a different matter. I would render it slowly at low temperature into that delicacy which generations of itinerant and dispossessed would call “schmaltz” — the ignominious word for that crucial ingredient in chicken soup that may perhaps make you well, and that thing that lends the crisp to latkes. It’s that thing that can only be extracted from a bird that has known a real life; that thing which at the very least gives meaning to death.
These sentient creatures loved to explore our home and sit on our porch. What more can I do than to ensure that their being will in some way become a part of me and that it will matter?