The Feast

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Last night when I took off my shirt I was horrified to find a small black speck on my stomach. It was a tick, a souvenir from Virginia, feasting upon my blood. I had showered many times since returning to the city, but perhaps it had hid in my thick dark head of hair.

I had been feasting on blood myself. The blood of a fallow deer, killed for my hunting class with a perfect shot to the head that preserved her still grace in heavy lidded glassy eyes. 

Many people who have never really dealt with dead animals much assume it is a bloody affair, but the reality is that unless you bungle some blood vessel, it's possible to wear your nicest suede shoes while you butcher. Each cavity is wrapped with convenient lovely translucent membranes that make the job much easier than you would expect.

Hide preservation expert Fergus was there to teach us how to get the hide off in a way that allows you to keep it for tanning without much work scraping. Later he showed us finished hides, which were warm and silky. Apparently you can tan hides quite easily with the animal's brain, which is rich is nourishing fats that led to a soft, if slightly fishy smelling buckskin. We didn't want to eat the brain anyway because of some concerns with chronic wasting disease, a relative of mad cow disease that has never been found in humans, but I suppose it's a risk not worth taking, especially considering that ghee and butter are a tastier replacement for the nutritional qualities of brain.

The next concern is the digestive system, the potential source of meat contamination. If you do it right, you should avoid being assaulted by the fermenting contents of the stomach and intestines. You "unzip" the stomach with a good sharp knife, preferably featuring a rather useful gut hook that prevents puncturing quite well. Then comes the taste of disconnecting this long path that the deer's food had been taking, so different from mine. The deer's magic stomachs have the ability to take what looks like useless leaves and other woody forage and ferment them into food. A deer is a great way to eat your salad, as they can do more with it than you ever can.

The rest is taking out the cuts of meat, neatly skinning to make a blanket for the deer to rest while you cut. From the back we ate small slivers of the ruby red meat raw. It tasted fresh and slightly chewy, like the woods that were now full of small honeysuckle flowers tempting me as a walked past them with the hot musky summers of Georgia where I grew up. At night I could hear mockingbirds sing. It had been many years since I last heard that strangely haunting sound. I could imagine myself back in the South, despite not missing the rude insects that devoured my food or the Southern Baptist churches that devoured my soul. I liked hearing" y'all" from the mouths of smiling people, I liked the humid languishing mornings cooled by lemonade from the surprisingly bustling farmer's market. I liked the idea that the hunting license allows one to take a bear, something a Virginian in my blood named William Gibson once did back in the 1700s according to some old records I once found.

But Virginia is not the South I remember, the Florida panhandle, Louisiana, Mississippi places my family now lives that are ancient swamps. Virginia is more manicured- in between the primeval of the deep South and the dark Northern cities. Perhaps like I am having been so far from the South for nearly a decade now.

We carved the body cavity through and through, leaving bare ribs skinless so the light could shin through. The digestive system we left for the vultures, as it belongs to them. I read recently about one of the earliest religious sites, Göbekli Tepe, a marvel considering that hunter-gatherers had no cities, but they bothered to build this temple carved with vultures, lions, and other predators of humans dead...and alive. Some theorize that the hunter-gatherers left their dead here to be eaten by these fierce flesh eating creatures. The word for this is "excarnate," which is very beautiful to me, the idea of sharing your body with other carnivores. I think of then as a time when none owned another, except in death when it was an honor to be consumed and melded with others. Some place has called it the "garden of Eden," since it was theorized that this was where the transition to agriculture might have happened as people gathered together in more density. It's funny how the true garden of Eden is a place of lions and vultures rather than lions lying down with the lambs. Et in Arcadia...

 

With John Durant, Zev

But that is just myself extrapolating based on my own experience. I would be quite happy to only consume hunted meat only though, perhaps with some cream and butter from my own cattle. Mary Strange's book Woman The Hunter has much about the philosophy of hunter-gatherers towards animals. The lines are more blurred for them- they are animals and each animal perhaps becomes other animals, and each is intelligent and cunning in its own way.

A common criticism of hunting (and, as in Carol Adam's vegetarian feminism, of meat-eating in general) is that the hunter objectifies the prey, enforcing the split between human and nonhuman nature. According to this logic, one can only kill and eat something one perceives as an inferior "other," an entity worthy of use rather than of love or mutual regard. Yet from all we know about hunter-gatherer worldviews, precisely the opposite is the case for people who rely upon hunting for a significant portion (literal or symbolic) of their sustenance. For them, they animals they hunt and the predator species that are hunters like themselves, are kindred souls, powerful and intelligent. All animals, nonhuman and human, participate together in a web of pulsating life: birthing and nurturing, pursuing and fleeing, capturing, and dying.

By contrast ...the conventional view of nature that has developed in American civilization and, arguably, has reached its quintessential expression in such movements as animal liberation and radical ecofeminism, insists upon two assumptions: that humans are not really part of nature, and that our primary way of involving ourselves with the natural world is to destroy it.

Brings to mind C.S. Lewis when he said "Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness."

Speaking of woman the hunter, our teacher Jackson Landers mentioned that women are the fastest growing group of hunters. Our class had three, including myself. I enjoyed the company of everyone on the trip immensely, but was especially heartened to see my fellow females. As I will write in a later post, it's rather unfortunate that so many men see hunting as "reclaiming manliness." I see it as reclaiming our human-ness that has nothing to do with sex. Either way, Woman the Hunter is an excellent book no matter your gender.

The deer itself? The taste was magnificent. Each piece had a different flavor and only a few were gamey. For those who requested the recipe, the heart I prepared the way I prepare every heart- in coconut with red pepper, tamarind, ginger, cilantro, and garlic. Either simmer in coconut milk or fry in coconut oil. A more locavore approach can be found in Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail, where he recommends marinating in vinegar.

I plan to improve my shooting skills and my family has invited me to hunt deer in Wisconsin this fall. Hopefully I can get all the licenses in order...one thing I learned is that it is very hard to have a real hunting rifle in NYC. Unless you are crazy and willing to hunt with a Civil War musket, it can take up to a year and $250 to acquire the right to have a hunting rifle in the city!

 

I never asked for to find my twin, but there you are
And I never asked for the spools to unspin, but there they roll.

I never asked for to carve your ribs, but here I go

and I've never pleaded for a new skin as i do now

Flowers and blood

Build up a new me of flowers and blood

I'll shoot me a gun made of leaf and branch in this here town
and eat me a bowl full of secret and mud, yes, I will
if you build up a new me of flowers and blood -- say you will.