Animals’ sacrifice

A friend of mine from church (let’s just call him “Shawn”), mentioned that he would like to buy a goat and slaughter it himself one day.  He mentioned this on the first day that I met him.  I requested that if he does this, that he would invite me to it.  I’ve always been slightly concerned that I was too detached from the meat that I eat.  They come in nice packages at the super market or wrapped neatly in a big mac wrapper.  If I’m going to eat meat, at least I should make the connection at some point between the flesh I’m eating and the source it came from.  I should warn the reader that this entry does have graphic elements, and if you’re sensitive to those kinds of things, this is a good place to stop reading.

The day finally came. A few days ago, Shawn told me that he had purchased the goat, and that he’d be picking it up Saturday morning.   Now that the credit card had been swiped, it seemed much more real…. and much more like a bad idea…  For a few days, there was an image that kept playing in my mind….  That disturbing moment between life and death.  A vision of holding a large mammal while life slipped away from it.  I told Shawn that the idea is making me sad.  But, he insisted that I show up and help him.  Inside, I felt an obligation not only to Shawn, but to animals. 

There’s an immediate gut reaction that killing an animal ourselves is wrong.  But, the fact is that every time we buy a meat product, we are essentially killing animals.  We’re just making other people do the dirty work.  The killing is done behind a veil so that we can eat our steaks and McNuggets guilt free.  I owe it to the animals that make up my diet to witness the ugly side of my habits.  I should appreciate their sacrifice.  Shawn shares this concern, and we’ve agreed that this is what is driving both of us to go through this ordeal.

In preparation, I watched several YouTube videos on goat slaughter.  They were not fun to watch, but I dreaded the worst case scenario even more.  The worst case scenario was that due to our amateurish bumbling, we make the animal suffer needlessly for 10-15 minutes… for hours because we either lose our nerve, or because we lack the skills.  The worst case scenario would be watching the goat run around half-crazed in between life and death due to the inadequate injuries we’ve inflicted upon it.  The videos all seemed to be fairly consistent in their methods.  Several men held down the animal.  One man held the head, then cut the throat with the sharp knife.  The blood drained, and the animal went from alive to dead.

After a family lunch at the local teriyaki joint, I showed up at Shawn’s house in my work jeans.   Two others were already there.  I went into the backyard and saw the goat.  He was smaller than I thought.  He was cute.  He was friendly.  I went up to him, and scratched his head as he nibbled on Shawn’s garden.  He seemed to like it.  I was sad.  One of the guys that was there showed up behind me and said, “His name is Farkus.”  The other guys chimed in and said, “You shouldn’t name things that you’re going to eat.”

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Things happened very quickly from there.  Apparently, Shawn was waiting for me to get going.  He brought out a tarp, bucket, and several sharp knives and laid it down in a corner of his backyard.  We brought the goat out to the tarp.  I told Shawn, that he’s quite friendly.  Shawn seemed ambivalent.  I told Shawn, that I was sad about this.  He said, “Me, too.”  It seemed like there was a moment where Farkus could have just become Shawn’s family pet.  But, that moment faded as one of the guys urged us to continue.

We laid the goat down on the tarp.  This was perhaps when Farkus was the most vocal.  I think we all became quite self-conscious at this point, and we all started looking around for neighbors…. Shawn quieted him like a child, and the Farkus soon stopped struggling.  Farkus’s front legs were tied together with shoestrings, then his back legs were tied together.  I was asked to hold his back legs which were very strong.  It took all my strength to keep him subdued.  Another guy held his front legs.  Shawn kneeled next to me and held his head.  He had his knife in his other hand.  As he felt up and down Farkus’s neck, I saw that his hands were trembling.  This was the moment.  Everyone’s heart rate was very elevated.  Shawn’s was probably beating out of his chest.  He held a fold of skin on the neck and took a deep breath as he looked around at everyone, as if asking, “OK, I’m going to do it now.  But, if there’s any reason I shouldn’t you should stop me now.”  You could tell that he was torn between feeling obligated to do it, and not wanting to take this poor goat’s life.

Then he looked down, and he plunged the knife into the goat’s neck.  At this point, it was kicking hard, and I struggled to keep hold of its legs.  Consumed in my efforts to keep the animal in place, I missed most of Shawn’s work on the goat.  In less than 10 seconds, the goat stopped kicking.  There were just minor involuntary jerks.  Some of the blood was caught in the bucket laid next to the animal’s neck, but most of it just pooled on the tarp.  Within 30 seconds, Shawn had completely taken the head off of the animal.  We all stood up and looked down at the carcass.  The moment was over.  At this point, it was now just a carcass of meat, and there laid ahead the tedious work of butchering it.  It was perhaps about as quick as I could have possibly imagined it, for which I give Shawn a lot of credit. 

Shawn went quickly to work.  We brought the animal over to a tree and hung it up with more shoelaces by its hind legs.  Shawn did most of the work of taking the skin off of the animal.  Then he split open its chest and removed the GI tract, as well as other internal organs.  After that, the animal was quartered, and within an hour, what remained looked like something you’d pick up at a supermarket.

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A few observations:

1.  I was surprised at how little blood there was in the animal.  Shawn mentioned that there was about 6-10 pints in a human, so this animal probably had about half of that.  It’s amazing to think how little blood there is, and how quickly it can all drain.  It’s amazing what this little amount of magic liquid does in our body to keep it alive.

2.  I was probably most disturbed at how similar the goat anatomy was to what I expect inside a human.  The disembowelment became a dissection project.  We removed the lungs and felt its spongy texture.  We saw the liver and the gall bladder attached to it.  We find the heart wrapped in a layer of fat.  We saw sacks filled with poop pellets and urine.  The disturbing part was how similar we are to this goat.  And how easily the lines could become blurred between the sacred human and this animal that I just helped kill.

3.  This evening, I went back over to Shawn’s house with my son, Caleb, to eat the goat.  I ate some.  Caleb ate some and said he liked it.  Throughout the goat slaughtering process, there was a smell.  A smell that I now associate with goat.  A smell that I could not get off of my hands even after multiple washings.  And, as I ate the goat, I was overwhelmed by this same goat smell. 

Finally, the ultimate question – do I feel guilty?  This is the question I’ve wanted to answer since this ordeal began.  Either I should feel guilty and stop eating meat… or I should feel at peace about eating meat.  After a day of reflection, I don’t think eating meat is wrong.  I don’t feel guilty.  But, I do feel an appreciation for the sacrifice an animal endures for my sake.  The sacrifice is not trivial.  And every time I choose meat, I know that an animal somewhere had to endure this sacrifice that I witnessed this morning.  For this reason, I feel like a strong urge is developing within me to refrain or at least reduce my meat consumption.  We’ll see if this is a lasting affect of the experience.

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Yellowstone

We woke up at 5am, packed our zombie kids in the van hoping they don’t wake up, and started our 12+ hour journey to Yellowstone.  The idea was that they would sleep through half of the trip.  The plan half way worked.  It worked on the Andrew half, but Caleb was excited and it was hard for him to fall back asleep.  This was the start of about 40 hours of driving over 5 days.  During the drive, we probably watched “Cars” about 4 times in its entirety.  We listened to a radio dramatization of the Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (which was fantastic).  We started listening to the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn until Tenille deemed that it was of no redeeming value. (Sorry Mr. Clemens.)  I finished my book on tape, “Into the Wild” by John Krakauer.  We live in comfortable times, where keeping ourselves entertained over such a long trip is not too difficult.   It’s hard to imagine what my sister and I did for this long ride 27 years ago, when we were on this same stretch of road to Yellowstone.  Back then, entertainment was pretty much limited to harassing each other (by which I mean me harassing her).

Once we made it over the pass, we made a quick stop at the Horse Statues right after we crossed the Columbia River.

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Our next stop was in Spokane where we stopped at a Boy Scout store.  A few months ago, we inherited a Pine Wood Derby Track.  Last month, I made a car with Caleb, but soon found that it wasn’t a lot of fun to race one car by yourself.  So, we are now enlisting other father/son (or daughter) teams to make Pine Wood Derby cars and race with us on our track.  I bought a bunch of car kits, so if you’re interested, give me a ping. 

While at the Scout store, I asked the guy there if there was a place I could buy some fishing tackle.  I had bought a “Ready to Fish” fishing pole for Caleb the night before.  Apparently, “Ready to Fish” does not include hooks or weights.  The Scout guy told me that I should visit the White Elephant.  “Is it a Sporting Goods store?” I asked. 

“No, they have everything.” 

“Oh, it’s kind of like a Walmart?”

“No, they’ve got more stuff.”

More stuff than Walmart?!?  I was intrigued, and coaxed my wife to make the stop at this magical White Elephant store. 

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When we got there, it wasn’t that they had “more” stuff than Walmart.  But, they did have more of the interesting stuff than walmart.  It’s a store dedicated to fishing, hunting, camping, and toys.  My mom got in a generous mood (which she often does at Toy stores), and asked the kids to pick out something.  Caleb wanted a humongous Lego set (which I don’t think was what my mom had in mind.)  After a little more looking around, I was able to talk him down to a solar cell science kit which ended up being much more practical in the van (not to mention my mom’s wallet).  Andrew got a Lightning McQueen car.  (a movie that we probably watched 4 times in its entirety during our drive.)  The clerk at the White Elephant was very nice and gave us a few dimes to let the kids ride the White Elephant ride that sat outside their front door.  Andrew, who is usually the daredevil of the family, got scared and didn’t want much to do with it after a few seconds.

Next, we stopped in Couer D’alene for lunch.  This is the kind of city I wish I could live in, if there was an industry there that I qualified for.  We grabbed some burgers at Zip’s and headed for the waterfront park in downtown.  Lunch was supplemented by some Korean traditional picnic food that mom had prepared.  She made Gim-Bap which is a Korean Sushi Roll with rice, beef, egg, spinach, carrot, and pickled radish wrapped in seaweed.  She also made Jang-Joh-Lim, which is Beef Shank stewed in soy sauce.  The saltiness of the soy sauce works as a preservative for the beef.  The Gim-Bap had no such preservative attributes, and it was pretty much gone by the end of day 1.  The Jang-Joh-Lim lasted the entire trip, and we had some for lunch almost every day of the trip.

After lunch, Caleb and I practiced casting his new fishing rod at the edge of the park.  He was pretty good.  He got the line stuck in a tree a few times, but we were able to tease it back out without too much trouble. 

One of the main reasons that we left so early in the morning, was so that we could stop at Splash Montana in Missoula, Montana.  Best $20 I spent on my drive to Yellowstone.   Splash Montana is a small water park with a couple pool, lazy river, water slides, etc.  After a long drive, spending a few hours in a water park was welcome relief.  As we were showering to leave, an attendant came in the bathroom and told us all to get out of the shower and out of the park because there was a lightning storm approaching.  Not something we experience much in the Seattle area.  Apparently, the dry weather is great conditions for lightning.

Finally, we grabbed some dinner at a Mongolian Grill in Missoula, then headed for Butte to bed down for the evening.  A travel tip for fellow road-trippers: We picked up a travel coupon magazine at a rest stop which ended up saving us about $50.  We wanted to stay at the Best Western that offered a 40-item breakfast buffet, but apparently so did every other traveler going through Butte.  They were booked.  We settled for the Comfort Inn.   Unfortunately, the coupons did not work on the way back as we unluckily hit Butte on Evil Knievel Fest Weekend.  We saw the highlight on our free newspaper the next morning where a man jumped a car into a set of 5 cars standing on end like dominoes.  Apparently Evil Knievel fest is a big enough deal in Montana (even though it was being held hours away), that it qualifies as a special event exemption of the coupon.  Tenille was able to still talk down the Motelier 15% and we got a free car wash coupon out of it.  Unfortunately, the car wash coupon was only valid in Montana.

In the morning, we found that the Comfort Inn dining area had a waffle maker which was fun.  We hurriedly ate our breakfast and got back on the road.  Tenille remembered going to the Lewis and Clark caves when she visited Yellowstone as a young girl.  She said that it was one of the only things she remembers and really wanted to go again.  You hike about half a mile from the visitor center to the top of the cave mouth.  The actual cave is a hole in the side of a hill that drops straight down for hundreds of feet.  You end up walking down about 600+ steps from one cavern to another to emerge out of a man made tunnel that connects to the bottom of the cave.  Before you enter the cave, you are asked not to take flash photography and not to talk in the first couple caverns.  The tourists didn’t seem to take the ranger seriously until she mentioned that it’s so we don’t disturb the bats.  The first 10 minutes of the tour was silent.  It was almost as if we were in a holy place.  The next few hours we were crawling, sliding, squatting awkwardly through hundreds of feet of cave.  It was pretty amazing.  I highly recommend seeing it.  However, I don’t recommend going through the tunnel with a toddler in a front pack.

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After the caves, we finally met up with Tenille’s extended family and our kids were swallowed up by their cousins. 

When I mention that we went to Yellowstone, I’m almost always asked, “Did you see Old Faithful?”  Yes, we did.   I’m sure it’s just a polite question that you just ask without thinking, but who goes to Yellowstone, and doesn’t make it to Old Faithful?  Has anyone really said, “No… we just saw a few stinkpots… hit a ranger station, then decided to drive 14 hours back.”  Geysers are a magnificent sight when they are discharging.  Unfortunately, most geysers are very unpredictable.  A sign next to one geyser said that it goes off every 4 hours to 50 years.  I think the signs should be more straightforward and answer the question that the reader is thinking – “No, you are probably not going to see this geyser go off.”  In contrast, this is what makes Old Faithful so special as it goes off every 45 minutes-1hour, and allows every Yellowstone visitor to see at least one geyser.

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A more interesting question for the recent Yellowstone visitor is “Did you see any wildlife?”  I have been a bit tainted by a trip I took to Alaska a few years back.  I expected that Alaska would be crawling with wildlife, and there’d be a Caribou on every street corner.  It turns out that wildlife doesn’t really like to be seen by people.  On that trip, I saw one moose and came home a bit subdued in my expectations of seeing wildlife meandering within sight of humans.  It was perhaps due to this low expectation, that I was blown away by the amount of wildlife we saw at Yellowstone. 

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In the Hayden Valley, it was like the set of Dances with Wolves.  We counted about a hundred bison.  They were crossing the road and the river.  We sat in a long line of cars for about an hour, so there was plenty of time to count. 

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You know we’ve seen a lot of wildlife when the kids continue to play kickball while there’s an elk chewing on a bush across the street.

We also saw a beautiful waterfall spilling into the gorge.

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While most of Tenille’s family hiked down a set of stairs next to the waterfall, our family fell behind and snuck in a little fishing at a picnic area.  Grandpa said it best, when he said, “That’s why they call it fishing… not catching… “  We never even felt a nibble…

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By the end of the trip, Caleb got his National Park Passport stamped, and got a Junior ranger patch as he was initiated as a Junior Ranger in the Mammoth Springs visitor center. 

The drive home seemed much longer than the drive there.  But, Andrew kept us entertained with his thoughts and observations.

 

When I asked Caleb, what was your favorite part of the trip, he replied, “Playing with my cousins.”  This is why I do not like spending too much money on vacations.  The company you travel with makes the trip, not the destination.

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