Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Process of Passing On

                        One of my earliest memories is playing hide and seek with my younger brother in the isles of a gun show in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. Both my dad and grandfather bought and sold antique guns. My brother has worked in various capacities/positions in the field of firearms distribution and manufacturing much of his adult life. Dad, in law enforcement and firearms safety. Our family vacations often involved watching my brother compete in various shooting competitions around the country through the youth division of the NRA. With my dad as a Hunter's Education Instructor I received my license at the earliest age I could enroll. In Missouri at that time, it was age 12.
Shortly after receiving my license I joined dad for our first hunt at our family's 100-yr-old farm in Northern Missouri. Almost as soon as we sat in the stand, a young doe appeared in the clearing. I still remember how stoically beautiful she was. As soon as my eyes caught hers they welled up with tears. All I could think about was how she might have babies waiting for her. Disney's Bambi made an impact. My heart beat anxiously. Dad yelled at me to shoot. I shook my head no. He picked up his gun to aim. I screamed at him to stop. He didn't listen and cocked the gun. Then, feeling powerless, I pushed it away from him. It went off into the air. Understandably he was angry. What I had done was dangerous. That was the last time I held a gun. 
Thanks to older friends and interestingly enough, church camp, I discovered 90s alternative/punk culture. Crass, Fugazi, Bikini Kill and zines became a lifeboat. After reading a few different books I became vegetarian at15 which thoroughly horrified and confused my family. My mom was raised on farm with 9 siblings. Another meat-centric event I attended annually was butchering day at my grandparents. The family would purchase a few animals collectively and process them together. As a kid, I was part of the fat stirring crew to make lard. A staple for many members of my extended family. 
My choice to be vegetarian, now pescatarian (I eat fish/shellfish) has lasted nearly 20 years. As I grow older and more knowledgeable about my own body I'm increasingly concerned about health. I have other allergies that limit my diet. I much prefer naturally occurring nutrients to vitamin pills. At this point in life I respect those who hunt and who process their own meat. In US culture most people don't fully comprehend the origins of their meat (or any food) let alone have a connection to the process- which is in by no means pretty or often ethical. I think I can safely say I will never condone factory farming. Though I do have family members connected to this industry as well. I believe that the food we consume is taken on energetically in both a physical and spiritual sense. Though I'm not there yet, I decided years ago the only way I will consume meat again is if I'm capable of killing it myself and can recycle all of it's parts.
Seems I'm on this journey. A few weeks ago a friend gifted me several hides which I plan to make into leather. During this last Full Moon I began the process of fleshing with my friend Kyle. Later, my dad.  Its a long, smelly and laborious process. Skin to skin. Blood and flesh. Like the process of creating art I found myself lost in the physicality of the task. A dull knife working to scrape, my fingers ripping the muscle and fat from skin. Before long I didn't notice that my fingernails were embedded in flesh nor the pile we created in a bucket nearby. I felt connected to the animal and to the moment. Though perhaps seemingly macabre, we stopped to admire the colors and fleshy landscapes we had created. It really was beautiful. I took pictures because its rare to see this part of an animal. At it non longer breaths, it will also never look this way again with or without my hand. This process reminded me that there are many stages to life and to death. Its the honor and reverence we give these moments and the organisms we consume that are intrinsic to a connection greater than humanity. The cycle of life is incredible in all its stages though how strange it is to choose when something ends its cycle. Human's do this all the time. From destroying mountains for mining to ending a life of a pet that's gotten cancer. 
I'm still unsure if I'll be able to take the life of an animal. Though the honoring of the parts of a magestic creature that would have otherwise been discarded, feels right. As with bones I've used in my creative work for years now, I'm thankful for the experience and opportunity to move it's energy onward. May our culture one day shift to honor all that we consume.