A Day in the Country
We talked deer and the season so far. We are strangers, but both belong to the Whitetail Tribe and found conversation easy. He told me his father had taken a four pointer in the woods above my land, but he had no luck so far. He did find a five-point buck, long dead on its side, probably a bad bit of bow hunting by someone in early October. He asked if I had heard the ravens talking about it, and I had. He said he preferred the sound of my roosters to the bragging birds, which made me smile. (Probably because they were enjoying more venison than he was this season.) We chatted for about five minutes before his father walked down the road in his camp, trusty rifle in hand, and I waved to him as well. Introductions and stories commenced. You know the drill. Nothing like sharing a deer with good friends...
After they left I dry-plucked the bird’s breast, back, legs, and underrump. I let the tail feathers, feet, and wings in tact and placed the heavy carcass into a plastic feed bag in the back of my truck. Not the prettiest casket but this was no funeral, not today. This bird was a celebration. A bird raised from a poult by my good friend Joanna, then finished here as a free range gobbler. After morning chores I killed him, removed the head, and was now proud at a site that would have made the girl I was ten years ago throw up. Things change.
I wasn't rushing with the bird. When I started homesteading I felt I needed to turn a dead animal into a member of Freezer Camp as soon as possible. Now I enjoy the flavor of meat hung a while in cool weather. I could finish him off later that day, as I was heading to a friend's farm to do more of the same. Patty needed help butchering four roosters and offered to let me use her big scalding pot to loosen the tough feathers on the tom. I would head over there in the late afternoon.
But before I headed off to help with the rooster harvest at Livingston Brook Farm, I had a very special goodbye to take care of. Jasper was picked up by the wonderful folks of Crabapple Farm in their new-to-them trailer. It was bittersweet, to say the least. He was a great little pony, and now is going to a home that will use him as the main star of their show. He’ll plow and pull, be ridden and loved. We have a mutual good friend, Kathy Harrison, and I hope to get updates and photos of his new digs soon.
Earlier that day (pre-turkey chop) I had sat with him in the field and had a short talk with him. He was laying down, enjoying the warm day and the sun on his back. He looked so scruffy in his winter coat. I told him I was proud of him, and that he would do well in Massachusetts. I don't know if he cared or understood but it was something I needed to say. He closed his eyes and took in the rays. I scratched his head, told him I loved him, and wished him well. So, for the now, Cold Antler is a one pony farm. If Merlin cares, he hasn’t shown it. I hope to find a haflinger or second small draft in the spring or summer. Maybe sooner if the right gelding comes along and I'm holding a heavier purse.
After Jasper left and the farm was settled in for a few hours (this means checking that everyone has ample food, water, bedding, fencing and such) I headed over to Patty and Marks' farm. I arrived around 2PM and we worked into the dusk and after dark getting those five birds ready for the freezer. Patty and I got some Jackson Pollock splatters on our clothes, but all the birds had a good and quick death. They hung by their feet from a small tree near her woodshed, like the worlds' oddest Christmas tree. One at a time they were dealt with, turned from the feathers and blood to the comical rubber-chickenesque broilers. We used pliers to pull out the tough wing feathers on the big tom, each of us working opposite wings. It was a true test of teamwork! Then Patty dealt with soaking and plucking the next bird while I gutted and sorted through the organs - keeping nice pieces for Italics for his training sessions this week. We laughed and talked, enjoying each other’s company, stories, and catching up in our little work party of two. When an invitation for dinner slid my way I accepted with gusto, because I had not had a bite to eat all day and was so looking forward to the meal.
What was on the menu? Rooster, of course!
Patty took one of the fat birds we harvested and cleaned it inside in her giant kitchen sink. Within moments it was on the rotisserie, basting in its own fats and juices. Talk about a fresh meal?! He spun his slow dance while we finished up. Target the cat circled and pestered us until we caved and threw him a bit of offal. He accepted it with gusto, too. And I understood his hunger because as I carried a cleaned bird inside to be rinsed in the sink and bagged, the kitchen smelled of the Sunday roast and root vegetables (with the garden dirt still on them) were set out to be the Roo's dancing partner for dinner. If there are luckier women in NY, I don't know them.
And that is how my day in the country ended; with good friends in a warm house enjoying a farm-to-table meal of chicken, mashed potatoes, beats, and turnips - all from the soil and chicks of Mark and Patty’s farm. It was a day in the country for sure, and here I was at the grand finale with a glass of bourbon on ice, a full stomach, and blood on my kilt. A winning trio if there ever was one to behold. And now at 9PM I am ready to grab the lantern and do the night rounds, and then head to a warm bed early. The fire is roaring in the wood stove, the dogs are asleep beside me as I type, and tomorrow morning I’ll be back in that blind before dawn watching the sunrise with hope in my heart and cartridges in my gun.
Here's to many more ahead, and I will fall asleep dreaming of my antlers.