Friday, November 27, 2015

The Real Thanksgiving

Yesterday, on Thanksgiving Day, our neighbor up on House Mountain left a message that he's got a deer for us.  Since we eat only local meat as close to organic as possible, whether game or domesticated, this means once again our freezer will be full of protein unadulterated by antibiotics and other USDA-approved additives, and for that - especially as non-hunters - we are most grateful.

I am grateful particularly to Calvin, our closest neighbor up on the mountain. He is our age, mid to late 50's, but he looks 20 years older.  Maybe it's his thick silver beard and weathered skin.  Maybe it's working flat-out all of his life to support a family on very little actual cash but lots of ingenuity and smarts (I knew many men and women like this, growing up poor in rural Western Washington).  This man's family has lived on House Mountain for six generations.  They have always lived primarily off what they can raise and hunt.  Calvin remembers when his family used to raise goats because the deer population had been decimated (along with turkeys and pheasants) - a combination of over-hunting, cattle-grazing, and reduced grazing/food resources for these animals.  All of these creatures have since rebounded, and the deer, in particular, now require careful culling to maintain an even environmental keel (the turkey are plentiful, too, but it takes a lot more turkeys to overeat a mountain than it does deer).

So we have always given Calvin and his son permission to hunt on our 68 acres in the saddle of House Mountain - the 68 acres we are blessed to steward - in exchange for some of the venison.  It's been a deal that works out for both of us, as he augments his hunting area, and we don't have to buy expensive, organic meat.  Over the years, I can't count the times Margo and I have stood out under a starry winter sky talking with Calvin when he came to deliver our share - sipping his peach moonshine (no, we don't know where he gets it and we know not to ask), exchanging local gossip, catching up on the movement of deer, the number of eggs his hens are producing, the howling of coyotes all around us, a cooler of venison at our feet.

We moved away from the mountain into town two years ago, reluctantly, but motivated by a need to be closer to medical facilities and eliminate the 20 minute drive both ways in order to get to frequent appointments with massage therapists, acupuncture, neurologists, and all the other specialists required for someone with a rare degenerative disorder such as Margo's.  But Calvin keeps us in his deer deliveries.  When we head up today we'll take a homemade apple pie as our ritual thanks to him.  A bartering system as old as human beings.  

I'm thankful for this good ol' boy who treats his Jewish/Lesbian/Native American neighbors with respect and affection.  True, Margo's butchering skills, her ability to sip moonshine and smoke cigarettes, talk local politics and swear like a ... well, a mountain man, doesn't hurt.  And I can sip that smooth, smooth moonshine with the best of them, swear reasonably well, and make good enough conversation.  

But that's not what earned us Calvin's respect.  I think it is the fact that he knows that Margo and I love that mountain and everything on it in a way he recognizes deep in his bones.  For him, that says it all.  For him, that's the litmus test of a good person.

Maybe ... maybe that love of place, of creatures, of the way this planet is home, is the common ground we've all been seeking.  A place to meet and agree, be thankful, appreciate what we've been given - maybe that's the only thing that is going to save us from our more destructive selves.  Out of all the ideologies human beings have come up with, home is the simplest and most complex one of all.  The one we must agree on, if we are going to make it through the inferno of hatred and fear we've created for ourselves.

In that spirit, I offer this poem, written a few years ago after another one of Calvin's deliveries.  It appears in my collection, Raised By Humans, from Tia Chucha Press.  Here you go; the real Thanksgiving.

Eating a Mountain

You stand in the kitchen, cut
up a buck that a friend
shot for us.  I watch you trim,
slice, decide: this is stir fry,
this is steak, this is stew.
These are treats for long-suffering
dogs on the porch, panting.  Oh,

we are rich!  I rinse, pack,
mark the cuts, this beautiful
deep red velvety offering. 
Eating this deer means
eating this mountain:
acorns, ash, beech, dogwood,
maple, oak, willow, autumn olive;

means devouring witch hazel, pine,
lichens, mushrooms, wild grape,
fiddleheads, honeysuckle,
poison ivy, crown vetch,
clover; means nibbling wild onion,
ragweed, beggar’s lice, Junegrass,
raspberry cane, paw-paws,

crispy green chickweed,
and so you give the meat
your most honest attention,
dedicate your sharpest blade –
carve up that deer with gratitude,
artistry, prayer, render a wild, sacred animal
into wild, sacred sustenance. 

How we eat this deer is a debt
that comes due on the day
we let this mountain
eat us.

Deborah A. Miranda

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