Battle: A story of butchery

“She thought she could, so she did.”

This is on the header of a blog I followed for a long time, and I’ve always loved it. It’s similar in feeling to my own header, and it’s resonated with me for a long time.

Back when I was still in new girl training, right before I got into the league, I had a moment where I realized that derby had shown me I am able, able to do the things I thought were impossible before. If only I am willing to work hard & put the effort in over the long haul, I can accomplish pretty much anything. Things aren’t unavailable to me just because of who I am–they are free for the taking, if you can climb high enough.

This recognition usually reappears in moments where I build something that works, when I master a recipe, when I learn to like someone I had not previously. Generally smaller things; emotionally, anyway.

And then they are times when my mettle is tested, when battle is upon me. Times when I don’t feel like I CAN do something, but I MUST. There is no one else to do the thing that must be done.

Monday night was one of those times.

I came home, exhausted from an emotionally draining day, only to be happily greeted by…

dogs….on the other side of the (closed) garden fence.

behind them, a rabbit caravan…dog-sized holes ripped out of the fencing.

And a rabbit, stretched out & motionless, underneath his hutch.

I felt myself shut down. The last time Hero killed my livestock, it was my fault, I had been neglectful of their safety. This time? It was 100% on him and his monster instincts. How could he do this to me again? Doesn’t he love me? Doesn’t he know how stressed I am already, and that he just compounded it by 400%?! I was SO frustrated by the animal kingdom in that moment–it is never FAIR, it just IS. It cannot be controlled, regulated, or predicted. It is violence without malice, instinct without consideration. And I forget that about my dogs sometimes.

After I calmed down, I put the living rabbit in a dog kennel, and grabbed gloves & an empty feed sack. I prepared myself to handle a body (the stiffness always freaks me out). But then I touched it, and it moved. I almost pissed myself.

Moving slowly, I stroked his back, looked for signs of injury. None, but he wasn’t moving, he was definitely in shock. I wrapped him in a towel & heating pad, brought him inside, and held him for about half an hour in the sewing room, getting for the first time a chance to really look at him up close. And he was just as cute as you’d expect a bun to be. I could feel the wall I’d built between food & pet begin to crack a bit–I wanted him to pull through for his sake.

However, when I went to check on him an hour later, his breathing had gone from rapid & heavy to nonexistent–the shock had done him in. Rabbits are pretty fragile that way. And he was still limp–newly dead. Reminding myself I had touched him only a short while ago, I picked him up and debated what to do.

I didn’t want to put him in the compost–my pile is not hot enough to decompose an entire body. The trash can wasn’t an option–I had an entire week before the next pickup. And I couldn’t put him in the greenbelt outside my property–I don’t want predators to start associating this place with a free meal.

Then the thought flashed into my mind–i was going to raise him to be the father of meat rabbits…why couldn’t I try butchering him? He wasn’t ill or broken. Hero never broke the skin. Providence had given me the chance to try butchering before needing to kill another living thing (which I’ve never done). I could see if I wanted to even bother rebuilding my meat rabbitry.

But it felt impossible, so I placed him in the box Jon built me for my back patio–outside it was colder than any fridge. I went to bed, so ready for the day to be over. But I couldn’t sleep. I laid there, wondering how long you could wait after they’re dead to clean them, wondering if there was a shop in town that would take care of it for me in morning. So I started googling. And then started watching slaughter videos on youtube. And as I watched them, I knew I had to do it. It wasn’t anyone else’s responsibility. It had fallen to me, at this time, with no one to call to beg for help. Alone on an island of time and circumstance. Either I did it now, or it couldn’t be done.

As I got dressed, I started to think through the process–what would the reality look like? What did I need to do? Was I actually going to be able to go through with it? Could I do that to another creature?

I sharpened the knives & kitchen shears, grabbing the meat cutting board. It had been about forty minutes since death, and I knew rigor mortis would start to set in. I searched for the best way to hang him–no rope was available. I ended up using curtain ties, tied to a bar on the side of my porch.

When I retrieved the rabbit from the box, I could tell it was already stiffening. I grabbed him by the back legs, like the guys in the video did, which helped with the whole “stiff-body” thing. My heart had already started to pound a little, and as I positioned his head over the side of the board, over the bucket, I felt more than a twinge of doubt & nausea. Was this right? Was this who I wanted to be?

Definitely stiff now, I rewatched the same bit of video a few times, but it took a bit to figure out where to put my super sharp knife. And even then, I couldn’t bring myself to push down. I set down the knife, and walked to the back fence, breathing hard, pulse racing. I begged the stars to do it for me. I willed my neighbor to walk out his back door, but it was 3am at this point–no one would rescue me. It was me or nobody, and i would lose my chance to learn if I should continue with this endeavor or not. I fervently wished there was someone to guide me. How on earth was I supposed to get this right, with no one to coach me!? I was sure to mess it up.

And then I thought about all the women before me, in all times & places, to whom butchering a rabbit was a necessity of life. All the people who had made-do with a rough situation, who had done what they needed to for survival. This was nowhere near that level of commitment. This wasn’t impossible! This wasn’t establishing peace in a war-torn country, or standing up for civil rights! I wasn’t making a life-or-death decision, I had no money to lose or gain by this. It was only a rabbit, not even a pet. I could do this, and it didn’t have to be so agonizing. I couldn’t think of the rabbit as a victim of Hero’s crime. He wasn’t an innocent bystander–animals are, by their very nature, free of both innocence AND evil–they have no intentions, only instincts. I had bought this rabbit to help feed me, and so he would.

WARNING: THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET GRAPHIC FOR A BIT.

I picked up the knife, and instead of pushing down, started to “saw” a bit. When I felt give, and saw the blood & fur on the knife, that’s when I knew it was real. There was no pretending it wasn’t dead. That wasn’t jelly. It was blood, and I drew it.

I could not get through the vertebrae, until I remembered Jon had just repaired my hatchet this very weekend. Sharp and shiny, it hung off the firewood rack. I cried aloud as I used it to chop through his neck bones–that was the very hardest, the very worst part of the whole bit. I had to use the knife to get through the other side, and then! It was done. The head was off.

I used the ties to hang it up, and slowly started the process of turning the rabbit into meat. I had watched many videos, but ended up using one as a reference, going back again and again, for each step. Until about halfway through (literally), when I figured out how much of the goal was to get his insides on the outside. And once the skin came off, once the rabbit was recognizable as meat, things got a lot easier–it wasn’t a bunny, it was a project in sustainability. In being part of the cycle.

As I started cutting the skin, and opening the body, I felt more doubt creep in–this was not who I am! I am the most squeamish of all my siblings, the non-hunter, the one who will not touch a toad or stomp on a roach. But I sternly told myself that if I was not willing to do this, I was not allowed to eat meat ever again. I will not allow myself to be removed from the process anymore–it’s not fair, it denies the animal the recognition of their sacrifice to feed me, if I just pretend death is not a part of the gift. It is the ultimate superiority complex. So if I wanted to continue as an omnivore, I had to participate, at least once. I could become this woman, who took things in stride as they came, who could thank the rabbit for his gift & accept her place in the cycle.

The skin wasn’t very easy to pull off (too cold at this point), and I had some squeamishness at sliding my fingers between the skin and his strong muscles, but that was nothing compared to slitting open the belly. I was extremely careful–you don’t want to open up intestines or the whole thing is ruined. And then I thought “Ok no, THIS is the worst part” when the innards began to slide outward over the slit, when they hung there over the bucket while I searched for the attachment point. And the smell! Warm shit, encased in blood. I started to wonder if I could eat something that smelled like that, if perhaps it would be better to feed the hawks & coyotes. But once it was out and bucketed, the potency started to fade and I pressed on, ready to be done, ready for a shower & bed.

The rest of it went fairly easily, if slowly. Pulling the skin down, cutting off paws. Taking it down, cleaning all the random bits off. Tying up the bag of innards & fur for freezing (until trash day). Washing all the knives & cutting board. Rinsing it off, washing my bloody hands. Spraying down the patio & bucket. Then, unsure what do with a whole animal, I started to cut it up. And figured, hey! It’s 5 am. I might as well start cooking this in stew, low & slow. Ready for lunch when I wake up again. So I chopped potatoes, carrots, onions…and made rabbit stew.

It was delicious, but difficult to eat. It’s not that I was attached to that rabbit particularly. There’s just a disconnect, a “desynch” really, between the knowledge that I had held that rabbit in my arms, had seen his life force slowly drain, and then eventually had pulled the cooked meat from the backbone. It was a long road but a short hop, and I’m still staggering a bit from the reality that animals really do transform into  hamburgers, chicken fried steak, pork chops, BBQ, steak….there is no escaping it. It has always been more abstract, but the bloody concrete truth is there now, cemented in my mind.

I have not really been hungry for meat since then. I only ate one bowl of stew–I’m sure I’ll eat more, later. Just, not right now. I’ll get used to the idea, I’ll absorb the power of it, and I’ll probably continue trying to keep rabbits for meat. I know I can do it. That’s the important thing.

It was not easy, but it was possible.

 

 

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One comment

  1. Alissa · January 9, 2015

    I came here from a comment you made on a Rough Draft Farmstead post. I just wanted to tell you that your writing is lovely. I, too, struggled with my first butchering job and I know exactly the feelings you describe. Thank you for sharing, and for doing it so beautifully.

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