Saturday, October 17, 2009

Heads and Hides

They are beautiful, these animals we have chosen to raise and live with and to respectfully harvest and appreciate as a source of food.

The harvest went well. Now the Bunchgrass Beef from Magpie Ranch is carefully aging, soon to be skillfully cut and packaged for each family who is waiting, freezer at the ready, to receive this year's bounty. I am thankful.

I am also thankful for all the work that Mike has put into preparing the heads and hides of these amazing animals. He skins and cleans each head and puts it away to dry. In a year or so, each stark skull with its impressive horns, will be ready for sale to provide another source of income to sustain the ranch.

There is something about taxidermy that creeps me out, but I don't feel that way about skulls. Perhaps this is because out on the prairie and in the canyons, bones are part of the landscape. Sun-bleached and porous, each holds testament to an individual life. The skulls of deer, cattle, and elk are more common, but an unusual skull is something to ponder. I cradle it in my hands, How tiny the skull of a mouse! How interesting the teeth of a badger!

Each skull from the Bunchgrass Beef herd is unique. Some have long swooping white horns delicately tipped in black. Some have powerful short horns that arc inward. Some have horns that jut forward, like tines on a pitchfork. I admire them all.

For the hides, Mike painstakingly cleans the flesh side and generously rubs fine salt into each hide. Then the hides are folded and put away to dry. After cleaning and salting, they can be safely stored until we are ready to have them tanned, either as regular leather, or with the hair on for rugs or upholstery. Each one is unique and a pleasure to look at.

I'm glad that today, when I look at a skull or a hide from an animal out of the Bunchgrass Beef herd, I can feel a sense of peace. I am thankful that each animal had a life well lived as part of the herd in a wild and beautiful place.

From Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Third of October

Snow. Closing in like a flour sack being cinched around our valley.Where were the mountains? Where was the neighbor’s house at the far side of the field? I could barely see the barn through the frigid wet clouds that had settled onto us like a hen on top of her nest.

We were building corrals as the snow fell ceaselessly, heaping up on surfaces like some kind of water-saturated frosting. Jarred loose by our hammer blows it splatted in little glops on our hats, shoulders, hands.

As we pounded and sawed and measured, wrapped in our slickers and wearing our winter boots, we kept saying, “Wasn’t it ninety-one degrees a week ago? We were out in the yard in shorts and t-shirts, barbecuing up Bunchgrass Beef burgers!”

I escaped the wet and the hammering and headed to the kitchen to start lunch: a huge pot of minestrone soup, batches of yeasted rolls and apple pies. Zeke and three friends from Portland, a couple more friends from Enterprise, and Bryan and Tanyia were here helping and before long, the wet and hungry hordes would need a warm and tasty refuge.

There is nothing quite like coming into a savory kitchen, dumping your sodden muddy layers in the porch, and being enveloped in the smell of soup simmering, bread baking, and bubbly cinnamon-apple pies resting on the sideboard. A hot beverage is pressed into your hand, and you wedge into the circle at the table, elbow to elbow, stories and laughter swirling around you as your weary muscles relax and good food fills your belly.

Saturday showed me more of the ‘neighborly economy’ that goes into the raising of Bunchgrass Beef. The untimely snow may have dampened our labors, but the spirit of camaraderie kept us going. Night began to fall and with it snow-laden trees that collapsed onto power lines taking out the power at farmsteads all along Prairie Creek. We lit lanterns and candles and pulled out extra blankets, grateful for the warmth of friendship and the old upright piano, as the timeless music of familiar hymns filled the living room.

From Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef