It had been a busy and sad summer. The summer was spent in much travel and time by my mother’s side as she lay dying of cancer. Her pain was managed well enough but she still felt a great deal of discomfort and knew a great deal of fear. Near summer’s end we took refuge in the daily work on an organic farm in Canada. I built greenhouses. My wife planted and harvested.
Well into fall the time arrived when the fallow deer were to be slaughtered and prepared for the market. There was much preparation and ritual. We were asked to pray the night before for a successful roundup and to be calm the day of the slaughter so the deer would not be frightened and Hans, the owner of the farm, would be confident and sure in his execution of the task. My only prequalification for taking part in the slaughter was the question, “Are you bothered by the sight of dead animals?” I said no.
The morning for the slaughter came and I arose with the first light. I was told the signal that my help was needed would be the starting of the tractor. I waited in the small farm house. The signal came and I put on an old greased covered jacket that hung on a hook in the mud room and arrived at the tractor as it pulled away down the hill. I followed as the tractor went through the gate and over the field to the pen where the deer now lay, a bullet through their heads, their throats slit. My job was to help Hans load the deer onto the front loader of the tractor. I looked down at the five animals their throats agape with blood still oozing out and their tongues lolling to one side. We put hooks through the tendons on the deer’s legs and hung them from the post protruding out the front of the tractor. I followed the tractor back across the field and helped load the deer into the bed of the pickup truck. They would be taken to a refrigeration facility where they would be inspected before being returned to the farm for butchering.
As I stood on the gravel drive and looked at the truck pulling away down the road dripping blood out the back I thought of my mother’s death. I again saw her withered face with her cracked and pursed lips turned slightly up in that brave smile. I thought about the last weeks of her life and about how she tried so hard to speak her last thoughts and how this always ended in frustration and the sad smile. I thought getting a bullet through the head and having the throat slit didn’t sound so bad. I believe we treat our animals better than we treat our fellow human beings.
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