Life-for-Life Ceremony (chicken harvest) Singer Report October 20, 2013
This year, several people expressed interest in the ceremony but no one actually signed up. Four women sent emails expression appreciation and gratitude that this ceremony was being offered. There may have been some gender confusion about who could attend the ceremony as previously, it was offered as a “men’s ceremony”. However this year the invite went out to everyone – both men and women were invited.
Since this ceremony is part of my personal medicine, the ceremony continued regardless of attendance. As Grandfather RainbowHawk has said, “It only takes one committed person to hold ceremony.” On Friday evening, I drove to the chicken farmer’s home to pick up 4 chickens. He put them in an empty feed sack to keep them calm during the drive back to the land near Red Wing. I put them in a large dog kennel for their overnight stay.
On Saturday morning, I gathered my ceremony supplies and readied the needed equipment. First, I put on my cotton-soft chicken harvesting apron. Next the propane turkey fryer was filled with water and fired up. The hot water is needed for scalding. This loosens the feathers for easy plucking. A butchering table was created using 2 sawhorses, a piece of plywood covered with construction plastic. A 5-gallon plastic pail was readied to receive all blood, feathers and innards. Upon completion, these remains would be place in the compost pile as future food for the plants of Mother Earth. One of the laws of the law of cycles is: There is no waste in the cycles of our Mother.
The time spent with each chicken varied depending on our (her and mine) mutual state of readiness. I am seated in a chair. Following the teachings on animal compassion of the autistic genius Temple Grandin, the hen is wrapped snugly in the cotton apron. The complete surround of gentle pressure comforts and calms her. Her head and neck is extended over the 5 gallon bucket on the floor in front of us.
Using a utility knife with a fresh razor blade, I make a small incision in the skin of the neck behind her ear. Peering inside, I can see her carotid artery. With a quick motion, this vein is severed. Some chickens will bleed out quickly, others more slowly. In either case, the hen simply loses consciousness due to lack of oxygen to the brain.
Once deceased, the chicken is dipped in and out of the scalding water 3-4 times to loosen her feathers. She is then plucked and her innards are eviscerated. I keep the heart and the gizzard. It is an art to open the gizzard muscle and remove the “stomach” lining without spilling the stomach contents. I am pretty good at it and have always enjoy the challenge.
Once all the cleaning work is done, the chicken’s body is given a final fresh water rinse and packaged in a sealable plastic freezer bag and placed in a cooler.
When I came home, I immediately placed one of the chickens into a cast iron roasting pan and popped her into the oven at 375 degrees. After an hour the aroma of roasting chicken fills my home. I notice this time the smell has a notable “fresh” quality. It reminds me that I “know” the hen who is now in the roasting pot. Only a few hours earlier, I held her, talked to her, looked into her eyes, and watched them slowly close as she passed away.
It is amid the fresh memory of all these experiences, that I removed the roasting pot from the oven and pulled on her leg, testing her doneness. Predictably her leg and thigh easily separated from her body. Putting these parts on a white dinner plate, I sat down at the table and stared at the leg and thigh before me. As I take my first bite, I notice I am feeling strangely weird – the distance between me and the chicken I am eating feels very, very narrow! It feels like I am way too close to the Life of the food on my plate. Bingo! More fully connecting with the Life of my food was the purpose of this Life-for-Life ceremony. I guess that makes it a success – although it is a success different than the usual feeling of success.
I am beginning to think that true compassion is the learned-capacity to simultaneously hold the terrible and the beautiful of Life. Because in truth, it really doesn’t matter what we eat or what “food plan” we follow: vegetarian, vegan, cave-man or WeightWatchers – the food exchange for all forms of Life is always: Life for Life – one form of Life supports another form of Life. I think when we move closer to the Life in our food, we can better access more of its energy – and more of its wisdom. This ceremony has stretched me. My heart feels bigger now.
Next Year Life-for-Life chicken ceremony: October 10-12, 2014