An Essayby Melanie Viets
The first time I butchered an animal bigger than a chicken, my children knelt by my feet on the grass and read aloud from John Seymour’s The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It. Gesturing with the knife, I asked the kids to show me the diagrams again after each slice. They were an earnest eight and ten and held the book up for me to study. I was a vegetarian for many years before we began raising animals, so I wasn’t sure what cuts I was aiming for. The lamb’s name was Alistair.
This rough hillside farm is no place for preciosity. I came to the farm through death; loss runs through the seasons in stride with the birth and growth of a lamb, and in the sustenance his body then provides. What comes into a life through the land? How does an ethic of place take root on precarious ground?
Each morning the thickness of ice in the water troughs or the intensity of color above the trees tells me more about a rising day than any thermometer or forecast. Hauling water all year round links my feet with each slope and ledge of the pastures. Some days I feel strong carrying buckets up and down hillsides. Other times I curse when the cold water sloshes on my legs and down into my boots. I don’t believe in pastoral romance.
In the earliest days of spring I witness the sheep birth and nurse their lambs without a flick of assistance. I watch the young follow their mother’s choice of leaf or blossom over blade as they grow through the warm months. When the grasses fade and winter presses in, I gather the lambs together and hand them one by one to a man whose skill and care ends their lives in the same place they began. Spring comes around again, and I plant and weed and mulch and hope and am anchored by a tending of the ordinary each day.