October 31, 2005 – Graveside at Halloween

Note: Today’s post deals somewhat graphically with death and burial of animal remains. If that makes you uncomfortable, you may want to skip reading this post.

Today didn’t go as planned. I didn’t envision I’d be outside after dark on a chilly Halloween evening beside a shallow grave, watching the steam rise up from the intestines and assorted other organs of the sheep.

I knew I’d be burying sheep offal, just never thought it would be after the 10 o’clock news. I asked the locker to call call me after the sheep were slaughtered so I could retrieve the lambskins to start the first part of the tanning process. They promised they would. The renderer does not take sheep offal, so the farmer has to take the remains and dispose of them.

So I kept checking the phone every 15 minutes or so. I’m told if a hide isn’t quickly salted down, the hair will fall off later in the tanning process. Nine am passes, 10 am, 11 am, noon. One pm, finally I can’t stand it any longer and decide to drive in before I pick the girls up from school to either pick up the skins because they forgot to call me or see when they would be done.

The “Critter Ridder” does the slaughtering. His truck advertises he will get rid of problem bats, raccoons, skunks, moles, feral cats. etc. His side job is slaughtering the animals for the locker. I wonder if the guidance counselor in high school was disturbed when the results of his career interest survey came back.

Critter Ridder tells me he is way behind as there were a couple of emergency cows that came in and that the lambs should be ready around 6:00-6:30. I return then (missing trick-or-treating) to find nothing at the slaughter house. The lambs are not in the outside pen where I left them, nor are the lambskins and offal outside, nor is anybody there. I wait around for a half hour or so, hoping he had just run to get some smokes or a bite to eat.

I resign myself to thinking I’ve missed the boat on these skins. Around 9:30 he calls and says they are ready to pick up. I run to town to pick them up and when I return home, start rubbing the salt into the hides. There is something satisfying about this step. I don’t know if it is reminiscent of earlier times when hide tanning was an important skill for survival, whether I’m feeling good about using the a part of the animal most people throw away, but at any rate, rubbing the salt into the hides is satisfying.

After the hides are all salted down, it’s time to drag the offal into the pasture to the hole that Martin and I dug earlier in the day. As the darkness and chilly air surround me, I hear more than one strange sound as the offal falls into the shallow grave. In the darkness, I fill the hole with dirt, happy that this part of the day is finally over.