Germ Freaks & Ice Cream
This was my line of thinking yesterday as I used a heavy ash walking stick to break open the rib cage of a dead fawn half buried in frozen snow. Blood spattered and got on my lips and eye glasses. I wiped it off with my sleeve and didn't think about it until now. I was too busy trying to help Aya get to the rest of the liver she had started on. Hey, a gal's gotta eat.
We were at Common Sense Farm hunting. After two dives for rabbits (one dive so gorgeous and perfect it will be remembered the rest of my life the way some dancers never forget the first time they saw Swan Lake) Aya had found this treasure. It was fresh. I knew it was fresh because not only did the corpse look good, the liver smelled and looked exactly like fresh liver. A smell and thing I knew intimately from helping out with many livestock slaughters on this farm. Even though I hire people to shoot, gut, skin, and halve my hogs - I am there to collect pieces I want in bowls. I have been handed countless livers, tongues, and hearts and set them in pretty vintage Pyrex in my fridge, awaiting vacuum sealing later. Sometimes I forget about these treasures, and when new company wants to grab a beer they are surprised to see the heart and tongue bowl. Their level of discomfort is a litmus test for how long they might stick around my life.
Aya Cash had scored big and the hunter in me wanted to snatch her off the carrion and hunt somewhere else. Once a hawk is fed the hunt is over, just like in nature. Release her on a full stomach and the best you can hope for is she'll sleep in some close pine trees and you can bribe her back with breakfast the next morning. Worst case - you never see them again. But that seemed like a horrible lesson to teach a bird I would eventually release. If a wild red-tailed hawk found a stash of protein gifted to them this way OF COURSE they would eat their crop full. This was fine for me. That dive I witnessed was better than 100% of the sloppier game scrambles that ended in meat in the freezer. So I watched her eat what she could and then then she looked up at me. "Oh, you want help?" I smashed into the picked ribs so she could get more. Thrilled, she dove in. Her beak was covered in bright blood and her neck filled up with organs. She was happy. So was I.
Apparently this is not a good week to be a small deer.
I took her off the deer when she was full and hopping around aimlessly. I slid her hood over her head and walking back to the car. She let out a hawky burp/mouth stretch. Hawk breath always stinks but cold deer liver breath might be the worst. We headed home in the truck. I had chores and fires to start.
Once home, I got Aya settled in her mews and handed her a defrosted rat. She was due to be gorged and full. Some falconers keep their hawks thin all winter and I will not. I secretly love the heavy days when all we can do is watch movies together inside. Hunting and flying is great but a fat bird is a great reason to spend a night Binge watching Netflix. The rat meant skin and bones and fur and other goodies needed to create and eject a pellet - important digestive help after a meal of just offal. She happily started eating the rat's face. She was happy. So was I.
I went around the farm and did the usual chores. This means things like clearing frozen mud and pig poop by hand away from electric wires. It means carrying hay and realizing one bale was all dust and mold and throwing it aside for mulch. I never think about the poop or the mold. I just keep going. If humans were so fragile we'd all have died thousands of generations ago - is my thinking.
After these hours of hunting, chores, dead things, poop, and mold I went inside and made a cup of afternoon tea and didn't wash my hands or worry about residual deer blood on my lips. I was grateful for no longer moving. Later that night I would invite my working dogs in my bed —under the covers if they liked — and fall asleep breathing in black silky fur and feeling toenails rake past my naked body. I will not have showered first.
If this all sounds gross, that's fine. I'm not everyone's ideal partner, for sure. But I can assure you there are five sets of clean sheets in this house, which are changed every single time I shower (twice or thrice a week) and I never get sick! Okay, I rarely get sick. Which seems to be very different from my Facebook feed, which is littered with sick parents of kids or urban friends dealing with the actual germ festival that is a city. People are either often ill or use feeling imperfect one day as an excuse to take off work and lie down. I get it.
Out here things are usually just gross - not dangerous. You get over it.
Part of all this is the mental and physical training a farm grants you. You can't get shit done when you're done every time you get shit on you. I have lost any and all disgust about the insides, fluids, and excrement of animals. So far this winter I got one cold (from other people) this past week, and I still farmed and slept and did all the same stuff. The training comes in here. You can't call in sick to five hogs, eight sheep, two goats, a hawk, a horse, and random bitchy poultry. The dogs and cats still want to eat and be entertained, too. So you just do the same thing slower.
All of this is why I think people who constantly worry about infection or disease from other animals should shadow me for a day. Not to do what I do, but to understand how tough the human system is. How much of that fear is in your head. Face your fears! I'm still alive!
I have limits. I don't roll around in dead animals like Friday will, but I also don't freak out if I have to clean her up afterwards. But I wasn't always this way. I remember listening to Joel Salatin talk at my first ever Mother Earth News Fair about every time they finish butchering chickens they handed out ice cream sandwiches as a treat to the crew. Everyone just dug in. No one ran off to simonize themselves first or rinse their hands. As someone who got Campylobacter from chicken harvesting I cringed hearing this. But I was inexperienced and doing it wrong. (I broke open intestinal fluid and a gall bladder.) Today I would eat the ice cream (as long as my hands didn't have intestinal fluid on them) and be glad the work was done. It took nearly a decade to get there.
Being aware of germs is good. But not living your life because of them is silly. I am proof positive the human species isn't a fragile little dove of certain decay amongst grossness. It's actually pretty cool - hunting with hocks and knowing your bacon's first name. And if all this really grossed you out, you're probably just new to livestock, parenthood, or hunting. Give it some time and you'll also enjoy the ice cream with dirty hands.