There is rawness to the landscape now that reminds me of November, though the angle of the March sun diminishes much of that autumnal sternness. And yesterday, while boiling sap atop the cookstove, windows open wide to disperse heat, I sat for a time and listened to a trilling birdsong, so different – softer, lighter – than the severe caws of winter crows and ravens.
Our focus has shifted outdoors, and there is much to accomplish, though the pressure of shelter is behind us. What we have now is a piece of land, our animals, some nursery stock, and our intentions, and the task before us is determining how each can best serve the other. It is a puzzle, nothing more, albeit one that demands a working knowledge of the braided connections between each of these facets. There’s no one right way to assemble the puzzle, but there are plenty of wrong ones, and in some ways I suppose this only makes it more confusing. If only there were one right answer. Then we could all be prophets.
Someone asked me this morning what it’s like to kill and eat animals we’ve known and loved, and I realized how long it’d been since I’d even thought about it, despite having killed two pigs just last week, and cut them on the very table I’m sitting at now. There was a point … no, wait, that’s wrong, there wasn’t a point. There was no specific moment. Instead, I guess I’d describe it as an evolution in both my understanding of the interplay between death and life, and also in my awareness of our animals’ role in the aforementioned puzzle. Which is to say, it is not life that begets life, but rather death; it is decay that necessarily precedes the bloom of regeneration.
I know this will sound callous to some, but it is nonetheless true: I do not mind killing animals I’ve known and loved. Actually, I’d prefer to kill animals I’ve known and loved, if only because it means I got to know and love them. To be sure, there is a certain anxiety inherent to the task, but I’ve come to accept it as an anxiety I must grapple with if my relationship to my livestock and my land is to be whole. I’m not saying it needs to be this way for everyone; I’m merely saying it needs to be this way for me.
Now I see clouds building; the forecast calls for a return to winter weather. It’s ok. We’re swimming in sap from a string of strong runs, and we need a break. We need time to boil. We shouldn’t have tapped; we don’t have a proper set-up, we’ve got way too many other balls in the air. But tap we did, and so just before lunch, I carried two overflowing five gallon buckets of sap down the hill from the sugarbush and through the fenced-in pasture, and as I passed, the cows watched me in that skeptical way they always do. The old fool, at it again. My arms ached, and I willed myself another 50 steps before rest.
But I made it 55.