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?



The Host and the Kill


Time to get back with the program.

I found him in the morning while walking Mango. He lay on the side of the road at the other end of the 40 acres, his body fully intact. His chest cavity still had a trace of warmth, though rigor mortis had started to set in. Without any real clear intent, I picked him up, much to the chagrin of a waiting turkey vulture that immediately took flight.

I thought he was beautiful. He was heavy, heavier than one might think. Carrying his dead body, he felt something like a small dog. The pelt was thick, and the tail less pliable than it looks. His teeth and claws are predatory, ready to sink into any small vole – or wounded raven, perhaps – that he might happen across.

It all led to the basic question that ultimately faces everything: how best to send him on?

I could bury him, though that seemed respectful only in our world in which we seek to hide the look and stink of death. A waste of a perfectly good carcass, as Kerry Hardy would put it. I could gut him and do something with the luscious pelt, but I felt his native form was too beautiful to render into ornamentation. I could only screw it up. Kerry suggested eating him. Anna, of course, was worried about hydrophobia.

It took a good day for the answer to present itself.

This morning I drew a knife neatly down the middle of his chest and peeled back the pelt revealing the rose bloom of his chest. Lacking animus, his body now existed nearly exclusively as matter. But not quite. His matter still contains resident within a potency. We call it vitality. Enough that other creatures may seek to take it and draw it into their own.

We call this eating. On one side of the divide: sacrifice. On the other, rendered by consumption, it becomes the sacrament and the eater the sanctified.

Isn’t that ultimately what it meant in the transformation of the Host?

I took the body of that poor coon and splayed it on the roof of the old chicken barn out beyond our house. It’s within clear line of sight of our deck and bedroom windows. In a few days it will begin to stink.

If I’m lucky, the neighboring creatures will be hungry enough to overcome the fear of this place and of us. You all are welcome here I say to them. To the ravens. To the crows and vultures. To all the scavengers. I want them to come to this home and feed.

It really is time for me to get on with it. We have a wonderful home. And I’m back in it.

Here’s the invite. If you’re wild, I’ll feed you raccoon.

For the rest of you, I have a table to build. And things to grow. And kill. And render. It will be beautiful and delicious.

Come. You’re all welcome. It’s time to sate the hunger.