Friday, April 27, 2012

Homestead Wins

With so many homestead fails in the last week, it's good to have a win or two.

Those of you who know us personally know that we love learning to forage for our own food. In particular, we (primarily Mr. Bee) love hunting gourmet mushrooms. We've found chanterelles, porcini (and a host of other boletes), lobster, chicken-of-the-woods, oyster, inky caps, shaggy parasol, prince, matsutake, hedgehog, shrimp russula, slippery jack, blewit, candy cap, witch's butter, edible puff balls, and fairy ring to name a few. But in our two years of hunting, we had never found the famed Morel.

That all changed this week. We don't have good phone reception at our house, so on our way home from work we pulled over to make a few calls. On our way back onto the road, Mr. Bee found his prize. In fact, within an hour we had loaded the paper bag we keep in the car for just such opportune "sightings" with more than 300 morels. (I can't describe to you how many that is. Think like, uh, if you reached down to pick up what you thought was a dollar bill and it turned out it was two 100 dollar bills. That kind of crazy!) Most are black morels, which are the most common kind in the PNW. We also have yellow morels and even a few of the West Coast-native red morel (NOT the red false morels, mind you). It was a mushroom hunter's paradise and I'm proud to say that my morel spotting skills are almost as good as my legendary chanterelle locating skills. With more practice, I'm certain they could be refined.

How many morels can you find?
Hint: there are at least four that are visible in this picture!
You can see the answer below the jump.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Slaughter Day--Rescheduled (part two)

I have no [adequate] words.

And for your sake, I will post no pictures.

Farming, as I suppose you could call our little venture if we stretch the word, is by no means glamorous. As farmer, you embody the role of pseudo-life-giver as well as life-ender. "This one will go," you say. "This one, I like this one. He will stay," you casually decide. Then nature takes its course and you realize once again, plans are just plans and your capacity to take a life doesn't translate into the capacity to save a life.

It is heart-wrenching and sweaty. It is terrifying and an unnatural way of life when you've been raised in the city. And yet, it is a good life for me. Perhaps the best I could have right now.

I had no idea how our new life in the country would turn out. Revision: I still have no idea. Everyday I just keep flipping the pages of my life. I'm usually a pretty fast reader, but I can't control the pace on this one. I rarely know what's coming up. I can't even pick up on the foreshadowing until after the events have taken place, which ends up being more ironic than anything else.

I haven't eaten any meat since Tuesday evening's slaughter. At one point in my life, having a single animal-based meal once each week was the norm. Now, it is rare that I go even a meal without meat. The change was gradual and mostly driven by our health--mine and Mr. Bee's. I feel weak and I physically crave the nourishment of flesh.

All the while there is a carcass in my fridge, waiting to be consumed. We plucked her little body void of the duck-distinguishing feathers and removed her entrails. She's waiting like a small chicken body reminiscent of that very first carcass I ever put knife to.

Before we plucked that mix of fine baby down and those emerging adult feathers, we buried her head at the edge of the garden. It seemed like the right thing to do. And hopefully, the neighbors out walking didn't worry too much over our sniffling selves or the fact that we were burying something with flashlights and shovels at 10pm.

Until Tuesday evening, I had never been implicit in taking the life of another living being (except occasional spiders). Since arrival day, I've focused on preparing myself for the eventual slaughter of our male ducks. We've been reading books like this and this one and even this one to help prepare. In this case, Jerome (the injured duck) was a girl and one we planned on keeping around for many years. But in the end, death is death.

I went to "the slaughter" because I knew if I sent Mr. Bee away to take care of it alone, he'd come back a murderer in my eyes. And while I am a firm believer in marriage therapy, the good stuff is expensive and not covered by insurance, and I didn't think we'd have enough cash reserves to work through the trauma. I carried Jerome half-way back into our property and prepared to place her in the makeshift cone. We held her close and vowed to make good use of her body after she passed. I had planned to watch and be fully present but I couldn't. Instead, I took a few steps away, turned my back, plugged my ears and sobbed. The deer that share our backyard, stood by and munched on our flowers and tall grasses.

Then it was over.

Over for me and over for Mr. Bee. Over for her short little life. We held her body again and we cried more. I cried for losing this precious duck that I never meant to lose at all. Then I cried because we chose to end her life and for the overwhelming feeling of responsibility that comes with that knowledge.

The smell of blood and wet feathers washed over me. I cried all over again for all the meat I've ever eaten unconsciously, which if I am honest with myself, is every piece of meat I've ever consumed. I've never allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to know the true cost of meat.

That brings us back to the carcass in my fridge, waiting, waiting, waiting to be honored by its consumption.We plan to have her for dinner tomorrow night. I feel like I owe it to Jerome to feast on her flesh and nourish my body if she can no longer live in hers. I don't know if I can do it, and I am going to try anyhow.

I don't think eating meat is necessary for our survival as individuals or, perhaps as a species. I'm not even sure that it is morally superior to vegetarianism. I do know, however, that Mr. Bee and I did our best to provide a good life for this duck and that, by consuming her, we can complete the circle to enrich our own lives.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Slaughter Day--Rescheduled (part one)

It looks like our week of unfortunate events hasn't ended yet. Or at least, it hadn't as of last night.

We came home to a trailer load of wood from a family member (woo!) and spent our first hour unloading the firewood instead of practicing our usual routine of duck tending. (Hopefully, we'll receive clearance from the chimney sweep and be able to burn that wood sometime soon.) After the wood was unloaded and we said goodbye, we turned to the ducks. The gate wasn't latched all of the way so I immediately started counting beaks.


That's two short of our total flock. We looked all around the yard without success. Then we checked their house. Two ducks were laying quietly inside, with one duck's neck wrapped around the body of the other, as if in an embrace. At seeing us, they stirred but didn't do much else. Mr. Bee brought his hand into the house and they moved. Or tried to move. The duck that had been embraced by the other dug its beak into the wall and tried to stand up--on one leg--without much success. The other leg hung there, limp and dangling.

It was serious. We tried to pick the duck up, but the other duck stepped up its role as protector and went on guard. It circled the lame duck, wrapped its neck around its poor friend, and cheeped the most kind and soothing cheeps you've ever heard.

We eventually removed the duck with the limp leg and brought it inside for examination. With our favorite duck book in hand, we searched the pages of injuries to look for the proper treatment and double-checked with online sources.

The poor duck's hip was either broken or dislocated. If a break comes below the "knee," it will often heal with a quick popsicle stick splint. Above the "knee," it gets a little trickier. We called 6 vets. We researched for two hours.

Nothing could be done.

We thought it would make our decision easier if the duck was blind/brave duck who continually gets separated from the crowd and primarily walks in circles. We thought it would be easier if maybe it was a boy and already slated for slaughter.

Neither of these was the case.

Our lame duck was an otherwise healthy female with a very bad injury.

And so, last night, we killed our first duck.

UPDATE: One of Mr. Bee's students learned of our situation and offered to name the injured duck, even after her passing. She will now be known as Jerome. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Battling the Elements

As mentioned yesterday, we had a minor fire at our house on Thursday. It was/is stressful, but we are fine. bla bla bla.

No more fires have occurred, but today has now had me contemplating other elements. What's the opposite of fire?


Ah, yes. This afternoon, our washing machine flooded. For the second time in one month.

I feel like I'm part of some bad horoscope prediction or at least some cosmic evening-out that I didn't agree to be part of.

We don't know why it's overflowing. In fact, we can't willingly reproduce it. We even took 1/2 the machine apart and followed more online "how to fix your overflowing washer" tutorials on than I care to admit.

Mr. Bee's solution? We'll just install a rubber barrier outside of the laundry room so that next time it overflows, we'll be prepared and it won't get the rest of the house floating in 1 inch of water.

I said that wasn't sufficient.

So now we own a shop vac...?

The entire video can be found here

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's Not Funny Yet

"Some day, you'll look back on this and laugh."

Apparently, some day has not arrived because I still don't feel like laughing. Until this week, it's been *relatively* uneventful ever since our initial storm-related homestead fails.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Week Four End/Week Five Beginning

Well, the "babies" are 28 days old and heading into their fifth week of life. Which means they are really not babies at all. "Teenagers" would be the more appropriate description.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Week Three

This week has brought lots of visitors for our little flock. We've had friends, coworkers, neighbors and family out to feed and socialize them. Week three is full of changes. Remember when these guys could fit in your hand? Well, not anymore. I barely remember what it was like to have them so small.

The ducks are used to me hand-feeding them. Since I was holding 
the camera, I couldn't but the big Pekin (yellow) is reluctant to 
believe she'll have to eat off the ground!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sweetening the Lemonade

"When life hands you lemons..."

No, it's not the 1990's all over again. And I'm not about to force you to read "All I Ever Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten." Well, you can if you want to.

In general, I hate cliches. (I try not to think about the fact that hating cliches is cliche.) This whole lemon/lemonade saying isn't one that I am particularly fond of either. So when someone who I consider very dear to me and very wise, asked me what I sweetened my life-made lemonade with, I paused.

I knew what she was getting at. I did that mental scan thing where you try to pull up the brain file labeled "sweeteners, life" and nothing came up. There was a whole file for "sweeteners, artificial" and "sweeteners, alternative" but no amount of Splenda or Stevia would answer this one.

I know I am good at working, good at being productive, good at achieving goals. I'm pretty sure I'd have no problem reading through this new book and check off my hidden talents on every page. It's not that I lack the ability to identify my strengths. Or even lack the strengths themselves. Like I said, I'm really good at making lemonade. Out of anything.

The truth is, I am not sure I really know what sweetness is--let alone how to add a few scoops to my life. I wonder if most people do and they seek after it or if other people don't and it just comes naturally. For me, I think seeking out the sweetness is something that will require intentionality and commitment. Now, all I need to do is learn the definition.