Sunday, February 04, 2007

Deerly Departed

In yet another moment of self-realization, I found myself both saddened and ashamed by an event that transpired this past week. As I pulled into the driveway after work one evening, I noticed something new near my mailbox. Sadly, this was not a package and it wasn't some stray trash, it was a dead deer; a doe, to be more precise (although not the one in the image above). I live in the midst of the wild kingdom. I have untold numbers of white-tail deer, turkeys, foxes, coyotes, and other varmints running roughshod over my small speck of land. My neighbors on the same side of the road are all fields. These are used extensively by the wildlife. My yard is often the trail used to move from one set of fields to those across the street. I can't tell you the times I've come home late in the evening to find a small herd moving across the road, just a few yards from my driveway. If I wake up early enough each day, I can enjoy a cup of something warm while looking at a herd of something grazing. I've never been much of a hunter, but I find it easy to eat the flesh of an animal. If I were of the right mindset, my first inclination upon seeing this venison victim of vehicular violence would have been to drag the carcass into my garage. But it seems that any primitive instinct toward survival and provision for my family was long since beaten down by flush toilets, frozen peas, surround sound and pride.

This point really didn't hit home until the next morning when I was cleaning off the driveway. As everyone knows we've had a very warm winter here in the Northeast. The only snow we've had which stayed more than one day fell two days ago. The day in question was only an inch of snow that didn't make it to dinner time the next day. But I was up early to clear off the driveway just in case more came or the temperature dropped to the point it welded itself to the blacktop. After finishing the chore, I looked at the deer and thought of what might happen. Here in New York, they are good about things like putting up guard rails and removing roadkill in a timely manner. For what we pay in taxes, it is the least they can do. With the snow that had fallen and the additional portion plowed onto the doe, I worried that she might not be seen from the road. I was also concerned that the longer she remained on the road the more likely she would begin to be picked over by the scavengers. I didn't want to begrudge them a meal, but I also didn't want to be running a dining room on my front lawn. So, I did what any civilized male would do: I swept off the carcass with a kitchen broom to ensure she was visible to those who deal with such things. I wanted to laugh at myself over this but my self-loathing wouldn't allow it. I thought that I should be using this animal's flesh for food so it wouldn't have died in vain. Not that her life was lived in vain, but this excuse made the running mental monologue less uncomfortable. As I wavered between possible courses of action, I mentally replayed two incidents that would influence my decision...

The first was a time when my dad and his friend had shot a deer and brought it home. I had just moved back to New York from the west and was staying with my parents until we got settled. Dad and his friend were going to butcher the deer in the basement and he was concerned how my daughter would react to the sight. It didn't take long for him to find out how exciting she thought it was. It took a few moments for her to change into a suitable covering and begin helping out. She was in her glory. She came upstairs to show me the deer's heart (hoping it would gross me out... it didn't). She later came up wielding two forelegs like batons. It seems she greatly enjoyed the part where those legs were sawed off. I also recall the term "dancing in the guts" being thrown about, but I don't recall the context. I will admit that I wasn't shocked by her interest in this sort of task. She always had an edge to her. This is still one of the moments I enjoy recalling if only to remind myself how little we know those closest to us.

The second event was only a year or two after the "basement butchering" incident. Here we had a member of our then landlord's family telling us that he hit a deer with his car. He was upset over the damage to his vehicle, but thought he would feel better if he could at least have the meat. But, he lacked the skills to do such a thing and was worried that he'd have to simply throw it away. I told him to hold tight and I called my dad. Before long he was there and we set to work turning a dead deer into a delicious dinner. The deer was hung and bled for the required time and we then moved onto the next phase. After cutting the deer open, dad discovered that the insides had burst during the impact. He was not a happy man. The stream of profanity that flowed from his mouth as the narrative was uncomfortable for even an old military guy like me. Add to that the fact that the person for whom we were cleaning the deer was an elderly minister... well, it just ensured that I'd never forget this incident either. It was a mess and it was eventually cleaned. I don't know what they decided to do after that since the deer was gone when I got home from work the next day. I never asked because I didn't care. I wanted to forget the whole thing. Fast forward fifteen or so years. ..

As I stood there with a broom in my hand I thought how pathetic I had become. This was enough meat for a year and I didn't care. I allowed myself to believe the meat was likely tainted by internal damage during the impact (although there was no evidence of that in my vision). It was just easier to sweep off the carcass and let someone else take care of it. This has been my mantra for most of my life: "Someone else will take care of that; I have more important things to do." I came home that night and the carcass was gone. I should have been happy, but I wasn't. I felt as if something inside of me was hauled off as well. It was just one more opportunity lost due to time pressure, fatigue, age and the curse of civilized living. Another test I have failed. I guess I still imagine myself to be too good to eat roadkill. Hell, if I did that, I guess it wouldn't be a big step to making moonshine, lye soap and laying by the cee-ment pond before vittles.

I am pathetic.


Blogger Melissa said...

It's funny how we're trained to think that somebody else will take care of it. This allows so many of us to do so little, and usually not even think about it. In this instance, with the deer, I would have done the same. I'm a vegetarian though, so that's my excuse.
This weekend I had a friend tell me about a situation where he could have done something and had not. He noticed his neighbor moved out the previous weekend, but all week he'd seen their dog was still chained out in the yard. It's been in the low 20's, snowy, and he didn't think anyone had been there to feed or water the dog.
My first question was, "what are you going to do?" I would have been over there with food and water by now and called the humane society to come pick the dog up. This is a live animal, in plain view, that people had been ignoring all week. Everyone was/is probably thinking the same thing, 'someone else will take care of it.'

February 05, 2007 11:24 AM  
Blogger comrade simba said...

Goddamnit Frank, get the shotgun and blow away the first squirrel or bunny you see prancin' about. Then just skin and eat it. Just do it.

I don't have the skill to do a podecent job butchering a hog yet so I took it to the butcher shop a few days ago. But I brought home the guts, organs, head and hide. Cooked the parts down and fed 'em to the critters and I'm still scraping the hide. I'll make a bunch of really crude gloves but at least pig will have gotten a fair shake.

Letting a dead animal rot is just criminal. You are better than that.

February 06, 2007 9:34 PM  
Blogger Archangel said...

Learned helplessness is so difficult to fight. I'm pretty young, which means that I'm fortunate I recognize it now and have time to work against it. But it also means that I have almost no recollection of a time when specialists of one sort of another didn't take care of just about everything. Plus I grew up in Brooklyn, and people in New York barely do anything for themselves, not even drive (myself included).

I applaud your self-honesty, and urge you to take the subsequent steps against the grain. Good luck!

February 07, 2007 11:24 AM  
Blogger comrade simba said...

Hey, Frank-
Livin in a van down by the river went poof, Free range blog dissapeared, You have gaps in your blog as large as mine...
Am I missing some sort of phenomenon or have I just not been reading blogs long enough to know that the come and go?
It's like when all the regulars at the pub drop away and there isn't anybody in the new crowd that piques the interest.
Just wondering...

February 19, 2007 9:42 PM  
Blogger Frank Black said...

No, I'm still here. A bit distracted by family matters (I'll likely comment on that later) but I am still in the fight (such as it is).

February 20, 2007 6:59 PM  

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