Today, When I woke up, I moved my sheep and goats and then I walked to the edge of the woods.
I walked to the edge of the woods, despite having a million things to do elsewhere. When I arrived there, all those other things I could be doing disappeared and I experienced something new with an animal that I thought had left me.
With me to these woods, I took a body. The body was one I sometimes called Sahara.
Sahara, with her name, was gifted to me with some other alpines, and now she was the lead goat. From the moment I brought her home she seemed to respect and resent me, seemingly all in the same breath. I knew she respected me because she never pressured me, always kept her distance and moved away from me when I walked towards her. I knew she resented me because while she did so, she maintained steady eye contact. Looking me right in the face as if to say, “I am not yours.”
Sahara became a part of my herd and not a single goat hesitated to make way for her. She was not a bully, maybe just confident; or maybe so wise that no one questioned her.
When we would go on walks she was the last to catch up to me. Always staying behind for an extra moment to look at a view or eat one more pull of something. Sometimes half the herd would hesitate and turn back to follow her instead, but then she would decide to catch up as if she had proved her point.
If the herd was spooked she was typically the last to turn and run, preferring to stay and ponder the possibility of fighting back. I would think, Stupid goat, that is how you end up eaten, all the while growing fond of her fearlessness.
The herd would get out sometimes. When they arrived back home and I greeted them with hay, everyone typically seemed happy to be safe again. She seemed as though she was just making sure I was still where she left me.
When I brought home my buck with horns more than two feet tall, the goats ran from him. Sahara walked right up to him, horns less than half the size of his and nailed him in the shoulder. What a flirt.
I won’t get into details about why she died, but I knew three days ago that I should have killed her. I recognized the feeling, I knew it was time, and yet, I pushed her to stay alive.
The last time I made the mistake of making an animal die “naturally” (which by the way can be excruciatingly painful) I cried in my sleep for several days. That’s a blog post for another day.
This time, I did not shed a tear; that would have meant nothing to her.
I knew I had done her wrong, and I needed to make up for it.
When we got to woods, I removed her coat. Then I broke her neck and removed her head. I knew this goat would be disappointed in me for letting her death be less than purposeful. What I did not know, was how deeply I could heal from seeing it through.
It took me 3 hours. Typically I would hang the animal and use the body as leverage so you don’t have to get the hide dirty or push against the flesh with your hands. I did it with her on the bare soil. I could feel her muscles tug against me as I pulled the skin back. I swear I could smell the earth below us come to life as it prepared to thank her for what she would give it.
A very primitive mentor of mine has told me that to make use of an animals death this way, brings it back to life. This morning I felt the truth in this. I had the realization… or maybe it was a whisper in the woods, maybe the last bit of energy leaving her physical body: To her, she was not my goat, but now it was true that I was her shepherd.
I did not waste time apologizing, wishing for a different reality, or pretending she would forgive me even if she could. I thanked her; I learned from her; I sent her off in a way I hope someone sends me one day.
So many people eat meat assuming the animals meant nothing. The question of who was this? is often never asked, maybe because… well, that would be weird to talk about at dinner. But when you buy from shepherds, cattlemen and women, hunters… that animal that you decided to eat, did not take their last breaths without being thought of (in our case, these animals don’t take any breath without being thought of). That animal did not die a death full of fear or suffering and it lived a real life as a part of this world. If you can’t handle the idea of partaking in the flesh of an animal who died with a loving shepherd by their side, than by all means, become a vegetarian. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for that movement. But if your body needs meat as much as mine, and you understand the lands’ craving for hooves and manure (and the shepherds struggle to be paid for providing this impact appropriately), then at least eat meat that doesn’t have anything stored in its fibers other than happy memories.
*I appreciate you taking the time to hear me. I know death is not easy to discuss, but I have made it a long term goal to better understand how to handle it and make it more meaningful. If you have taken efforts to do the same, I would LOVE to hear about them.
**Sahara will be appreciated by me for the rest of my days as a human. If you are interested in learning more about the process of tanning a hide, PLEASE reach out to me! I will be hosting a two day workshop sometime in fall.