The middle of October is upon us, the nights are getting colder and my goodness is it nice to get the fire lit and roaring in the stove of a morning! As I age I feel these nippy autumnal mornings make that scalding hot first cup of tea all the more appreciated! So in eager anticipation I am waiting for the kettle to come to a boil. This past week has been an eye opening one for me, in a good way I should quickly assure you, but in a way that once again has me contemplating “Life”. I guess I need to start out by giving you a Mr. Stumpy update.
It is hard to believe it has been a mere six months since I lost the last joint of my left middle finger, thus began the life of Stumpy… or as he is often known… Mr. Stumpy. I still have not come to a conclusion as to why he should be referred to as a “he” over a “she”, but that is just the way it is. Anyway, this has been quite a journey and I know it is not over as yet. Along the way I have come to discover a myriad of things that said middle finger is important for, things one might never have given thought to had one not lost a goodly chunk of one’s finger. Yes, a whole new appreciation blossoms. This journey has been both humbling and enlightening.
As you all know, the dispatching of animals followed by the subsequent butchering, wrapping and storing away of the little white packages in the freezer is very much a part of my life here on the farm. To the dismay of my autumn customers who faithfully count on me processing their deer and elk from carcass to cuts for the table, due to my not knowing how Stumpy would behave when a sharp knife was in close proximity, I made the decision to forego any custom game cutting this season. I did not want to be under the pressure of having a number of carcasses in our cooler, awaiting my administrations, to discover I could now only get through one deer a day when in the past three had been a breeze! Also, there was the fear that since Stumpy still has that urge to stick straight up in the air, he would do so at an inappropriate time which would cause him a major wound. Do you know how hard it has been to say “no” to so many loyal customers from all over the country? But it was the right decision and I stick by it.
So I am sure you can imagine the trepidation I had when Darrell harvested his buck deer. Now I could have let him skin it and dress it out, but the butcher in me would have none of that so out came my knives and to work I went. Slowly at first I started the process of disrobing the deer, keeping a very watchful eye on Stumpy. I had to remind him a few times to tuck himself out the way and found by making a few slits here and there in the deer’s hide I could make handy holes which allowed his neighbours to more easily pull the hide away from the flashing knife and thus keep Stumpy out of harms way. It was a challenge to change my skinning style, but I managed with nary a nick or a stick. What a triumph that was! It made that night’s dinner of liver and onions so much sweeter! Of course when I am processing an animal I have an internal time clock ticking away in my brain, I find I try to equal or beat previous “processing” times and this was no different. Being awfully careful, as I did not want to inadvertently slash Stumpy, the process felt terribly slow. Darrell, who had popped to the house to make me a nice cup of tea, assured me I was maybe at most about 10 minutes slower than normal and for goodness sake stop worrying as I was not in a competition! How right he was! It was an accomplishment and a relief to know with a bit of training, Stumpy could behave and allow me to get the full dispatching job done.
So, was I ready to tackle something larger than a deer? Maybe. I would think about it a bit. Since my accident I have found it takes no time at all to lose a great deal of one’s strength and despite trying to not compensate too much with my right arm, I have indeed lost a great deal of strength and dexterity in my left hand and arm. Whereas I used to be able to grasp the top of a gallon jar full of milk and carry it with ease with either hand, I am only just at the point of being able to handle a half-gallon with my left hand. Since Stumpy still cannot fully bend downwards like his partners, grasping with any strength is still a challenge (thus all the little holes in the deer hide!) His predilection for sticking up in the air is a habit that is awfully hard to break! So, how would my left hand fare while skinning out a fully-grown steer? I guess there was only one way to find out!
Last Monday dawned bight and fair, a good day for dispatching. After milking was accomplished and feeding chores done, Darrell and I headed to the paddock where Steer and his sister Heifer resided. A big pan of grain was set down in front of Steer and he died a happy chap. My goodness but he was big! His sister munched away on her hay while Darrell with the tractor, removed Steer from the paddock to my customary spot where the skinning and processing would take place. Normally we start such a deed about 8:30 or 9:00 o’clock in the morning. Today we were “late”, it was closer to 10:30 a.m. when we began. Propping the carcass up on it’s back with blocks strategically placed, I began skinning away. Now a steer hide is way thicker and much heavier than a deer hide! Normally I pride myself in removing a hide with little in the way of holes or nicks in it, but that was not the case here! To help Stumpy and my slightly weakened left hand, I once again reverted to making numerous “hand holes” here there and everywhere in the hide! Not pretty, but it worked. All in all the skinning was accomplished in near normal time, Stumpy was hanging in there like a trooper. The evisceration process, which for those readers of a sensitive nature I shall not go into detail at this time, was should we say, challenging. I decided to try a new method, which I thought might be easier on Stumpy. Alas, it was a nightmare… I have never been so inclined to stamp my feet and have a temper tantrum as I was at that moment! I should have stuck to our “regular” method! But no worries, the deed was finally done, the carcass taken to the butcher shop where it was subsequently quartered and lodged in the cooler. Despite taking nearly three and a half hours, the deed was done! Stumpy was tired and a tad stiff and sore, but he had survived the test! Another big step forward!
Yesterday, I was over in Bend, where a lovely lady I met during the eclipse event had invited me to come to her house to showcase my wares for her friend’s shopping pleasure. Her big, round dining room table was the perfect spot to display soaps and lotions, bath bombs, books and all the other odds and ends I make and sell. While the ladies chatted and shopped the thought really came home to me… what a wonderful life I live. Driving home that evening I thought once again I would not change one thing about the life I have. Stumpy has again reminded me that life can change in the blink of an eye, we can accept and adapt and keep right on moving forward or give up. Things you thought you might never do again can be done… maybe with a little more time involved… but can be done, and what a wonderful thought that is at the end of the day. Home, warmth of a fire, kettle singing on the hob, a new day before us, my dearest beside me… what more could one want?