Priapus, Pimps, and Petronian Afternoons . . .

One of my favorite works of antiquity is also one of the strangest, the Satyricon, a risqué novel written by Nero’s courtier, Gaius Petronius, Arbiter, an aficionado of all things fashionable (for which he earned the Latin appellation arbiter elegantiae – which I would roughly translate ‘the judge of style’.) It is strange because it is so disjointed, in part because it comes down to us in fragments, which makes it all the more tantalizing and irresistible for us Classical scholars to reconstruct and about which to conjecture as to its missing portions. Its content is, to put it euphemistically, earthy: scenes in baths, scenes in brothels, descriptions of sexual peccadillos, sexual deviancy, scenes that focus on eating and food, low conversation and gossip, scenes that are akin to modern bathroom humor. Think South Park a la AD 65, complete with wonderful social, literary, and historical satire. As I used to tell my students, the novel is important in its more general cultural terms if for no other reason than it contains our quintessential depiction of, 1. a Roman orgy, and 2. a Roman banquet. It’s great stuff.

The orgy scene merits some discussion and background. It appears that the anti-hero of the tale, Encolpius, at one point violated the sacred mystery rites of the god Priapus, a deity whose most prominent quality was an enormous phallus whose function was what we call “apotropaic” (from the Greek meaning “to turn away”); the deity’s prominent organ was intended to shock, hence ward off any evil spirits from one’s house, one’s business, and most particularly, one’s garden. He is fairly common in the literary and archaeological record. In the novel, in his anger at having his rites violated, he renders Encolpius impotent. The orgy is intended to expiate the deity so that Encolpius is no longer impotent, and the priestess of Priapus, whose name is Quartilla, goes to great lengths to help him get back his virility. The evening of debauchery concludes with the mock marriage of a young virgin girl named Panuchis (a name playfully chosen by Petronius which means “All-nighter”) to Encolpius’ “boy-toy”, the young Giton, and in the final culmination of debauchery Quartilla and Encolpius peer through a key-hole as Giton deflowers the young girl.

And you thought Roman literature was all just Caesar’s legions, flowery Ciceronian oratory, and grand Vergilian epic! In fact, I’d venture to say most of it is suitable for mature audiences only, and I’ve often wondered how it could have ever been taught in more repressed societies, but I digress.

Summit mounted Leah three times in about as many minutes as Kristina Harlow and I attempt to play matchmakers for the couple.

The word Earthy is certainly the best way to describe the novel, and it was brought to my mind today, particularly that last scene, as I took our most glamorous and in many respects dainty goat, Miss Leah, for her date with our diabolic and Priapic little buddy Mr. Summit. For our past two visits I had taken the pics while Lori held the leash and the goats mated. But this time Lori insisted I hold on to the goat while she photographed the event. Leah, however, didn’t really want to stand for Summit, so she had to be held while Summit mounted, mated and dismounted. He does this (as does any buck) faster than you can read those words.

Summit chats up Leah before he starts in once more. Some courting goes on, but boy not much!

Does do not appear to really like to be mated. They “stand” for the buck if you are lucky, but in general we always had to hold our girls in place each time they were bred. They do not look lovingly into the eyes of their would-be assailant as this piece of fantasy from an ancient Roman villa in Pompeii would have you believe.

A piece of erotic art from one of Pompey’s elegant houses. Boy, what were they thinking?!?!? Clearly a piece of work by some city slicker who never saw goats in action!

Two out of the three times this happened in the rain, which seems to intensify the smell of the buck on the doe. The need for restraint of the animal means one is very close to the act, indeed, uncomfortably so. In fact, I must confess, it made me feel as though I were doing something vaguely illegal, especially once the money swapped hands. When you go to get your does bred there is a stud fee. That’s right, Mr. Summit is just a gigolo, and Leah was his Jane – we pay for his pleasure. But because we ultimately get something out of the deal, milk, and hopefully profit, I guess that still makes us guilty of what the Romans would call lenocinium, pandering, or its more modern term, pimping.

“I’m not a pimp!” – “Oh, okay, maybe I am!”

In Seinfeld at least the hapless Kramer could deny he was a pimp. My Petronian afternoon with the Priapic Mr. Summit and our little Miss Leah concluded with the praetor’s stern hand on my shoulder, hauling me off to the Forum on a charge under the lex Julia de caprorum lenocinio (“the Julian law concerning the pimping of goats”).



When Paul visited Athens he noted that the Athenians had an altar to the unknown god. He was deeply impressed by the piety and religiosity of the Athenians, and intended the observation as a compliment. The Athenians were concerned lest, among the numerous gods and goddesses they worshipped, they had left one out. Saint Augustine was less generous. In his City of God he derided the Romans for the worship of so many deities (Augustine, we should note, did not deny the existence of these deities, which he felt to be daimones or lesser spirits; he believed that they were unworthy of worship and even active forces for deception from the true faith, but for him and for the early Christian community in general, the great array of divine forces worshipped in Classical antiquity were very real and present).

In one particularly noteworthy passage he cited as an example of the absurd lengths to which Romans took their polytheism the ceremony of marriage, in which a vast array of deities were invoked to bless the marriage, including the goddess Pertunda.

Ah Pertunda. Her function? She was the deity the Romans invoked to ease, to put it politely, the physical deflowering of the virgin bride. In Latin her name comes from the verb pertundere, to burst through or to perforate. You can guess the rest.

So we said a little prayer to her as our most vocal, nervous, high strung doe went for her first liaison du chevre yesterday with this little curly haired devil.

We loved Summit’s look with his head of curly hair, his beautiful shiny beard, his great wattles, and his lovely long hair. Such a dude!

His name is Summit (he is a Toggenburg born this past spring), and I for one am tempted to make all sorts of bad jokes about mounting and climbing, but I won’t. At any rate, the couple surrendered to an afternoon of unbridled caprine passion on the gravel driveway at Harlow Hills farm.

The little fellow was able to do his business with our doe about three times in five minutes and we were done (and so, I think, was Marguerite – but she stood for him better than Janet stood for Talker).

The ride with Marguerite to and from the farm was much more of a hoot this time around because it was done on a bright sunny day between 2:30 and 4:30, so plenty of light, and plenty of people laughing and doing double takes as we drove with our goat in the back of the Mini through downtown McMinnville. The best moment came when a little old couple pulled up next to us in another Mini with a big bull dog in the back, The dog gave our goat a good long curious stare, as did the little old couple (though they were as amused as the dog was puzzled).

The down side? Marguerite was nervous and urinated no less than four times in the course of the trip. Our Cooper’s back is now a lake of goat urine and nanny berries. We’ll be dipping it in Febreeze tomorrow. On the up side she was a much cooler customer than Janet, who trembled and panted during the ride in the car, as opposed to Marguerite who eventually sat down and chewed her cud.

Summit: “Ooh baby! I just love it when they play hard to get!”

Summit “Birth control? Why no, I thought you brought the birth control! I didn’t bring the birth control!”

Marguerite: “Sigh! Well, if you must!”

Leah’s turn will come next. We are rather daunted now, because we are realizing that since the heat of these three is so close, if they all settle we will be having an absolutely harried week of birthing possibly as many as nine kids come late April, with Anna and Obie to follow in May or June. We will, in short, have herd explosion, and go from five to three times as many come summer. Next year, though, we will also be purchasing a buck to breed with our gals, so they’ll have some added company and we won’t be needing to coax our gals into a compact car.

In some other brief notes, we are now up to 25 gallons of cider, we continue to put the finishing touches on the greenhouse, are starting to be inundated with eggs despite decreasing light (we currently have two dozen sitting on our counter), and are gearing up to build infrastructure to ramp up so that we can handle about 20 rabbits, 75 laying hens, 50 turkeys, and 100 broilers on pasture at any one time. That means lots of construction with lumber, wire, and pvc. It’s bustling around here right now – first the wine harvest, and now the Christmas trees – truckloads of them roaring down the road at least once every three minutes. We are surrounded by Christmas tree farms, and I’m sure our neighbors will do well with them this year given the decimation of the crop in the Midwest due to drought.

In the next few days, we will again call on Pertunda to ease the passage for Leah, and come April we will ask Eileithyia, goddess who eases birth, to be present for all of our girls as they give birth to their kids.

We Gathered Together. Urrp!

So, how were the pasture-raised turkeys for Thanksgiving? Glad you asked. The short answer is, stupendous! We tried the first one on Wednesday, because Lori and I were set to go for a larger Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s on Thursday, and we wanted to have our own Thanksgiving leftovers, so we decided to cook our own the day before.

To that end, I brined one of our 25 pound birds in a five-gallon bucket, using two gallons of water and one cup each of kosher salt and brown sugar. I let it sit in the bucket in our fridge for about 16-18 hours, then air-drying in in the fridge on a rack for another 24 hours.

The next day I chopped up a mess of onions, celery, and carrots. I threw some of these in the bird with some sprigs of thyme, parsley, and some butter, but about 2/3 went on the bottom of the roasting pan (sans butter). I put a cup or two of water in the bottom of the pan, along with about 2/3 of a bottle of white wine, put in my roasting rack, put the bird on the rack, sprinkled it with pepper (a brined bird doesn’t need more salt) and then roasted the bird at 500 for 30 minutes.

I then turned the bird down to 325 (actually I set it at 350 because our oven runs a bit cold), and then roasted it for about four and a half hours.


Big mistake because I was following the rules. What do I mean by that? Short story long: normally I would cook only a 12 pound bird, and because it’s so small, I would cook it for only an hour and a half at a high temp, turning it (yes, turning it using my handy fire proof rubber gloves!) two or three times. Now, I could have done the same with our bird, but I’ll be damned if I am going to try to turn a 25 lb. bird that’s 400 degrees. Adventure has its limits, and giving up tenure and managing a small farm has tested mine enough this year, thank you. (Well, that and riding with a goat in a Mini covered with semen and Perfume du Buck!) So I followed the standard cooking time for the bird based on a FoodDay article in the Oregonian for cooking times and temps for a 20-25 lb. unstuffed bird which they gave at over five hours. The bird went in at 20 minutes before noon and I gave it its first temp test at 4, figuring that since it was on the high end of the scale it would probably need another hour or so, but no. ZOOOOM! went the thermometer up up up past the perfect 165 mark and up to over 180 at the deepest point of the bird and down down down sank my heart as I feared I had for a second time massacred the bird!

Oh well, at least we had gravy and cranberry sauce. I took the bird out immediately and set it on the counter to finish cooking and to draw what little juice I thought would be left in it out, and proceeded to make the gravy. Now most people do not realize this, but making gravy is truly an art and a craft. It started well before the bird came out of the oven. I took the giblets and sautéed them slowly in oil, adding a couple of onions (skin on) coarsely chopped. I then added two cups water and four cups of my homemade duck stock and a couple of sprigs of parsley and some thyme and slowly simmered the whole thing until it was reduced to about five cups of a nicely concentrated, intense broth. The giblets I set aside, allowed to cool, then chopped up for later use in the gravy. All of this while the turkey is in the oven.

I then made a roux of about 4 T. butter and 4 T. flour, slowly cooking it until it was the color of deep brown sugar, and then slowly added in my stock and cooked it about ten minutes slowly as it thickened. Meanwhile, I took the roasting rack out of the pan, put the pan on the stove, and simmered the contents of the pan – drippings, vegetables, and juice, on a low heat, deglazing with a cup of white wine. I then strained the contents of the pan through a sieve into a bowl and added the liquid back into the pan. I added in the stock mixture in with the strained juices and slowly cooked it until it was thick and aromatic, and then added in the chopped giblets that I had reserved from the stock. The only mistake I made was in now skimming the fat off of the pan juices that made the gravy a bit greasy, but by the next day all the fat had risen to the surface of the gravy and was easily removed.

While all of this was going on we nibbled on the bird, and much to our delight, despite the high temperature, the bird was not in the least bit dry, but juicy and succulent, even on the exterior of its breast, and the skin was fabulous. It was easily one of the best birds we have ever had, and the exquisite gravy was, as always, set as an ornamental lake in the center of our mashed potatoes. Was it the nature of how the bird was raised that saved it? The brining? Who knows – maybe a bit of both! But since it was an all natural raised bird, I’m guessing that it requires a bit less time to cook, and next time will shot for three and a half hours.

As for the rest of the dinner: since it was just Lori and myself, we simply had turkey, mashed potatoes, buttered green beans, and pumpkin pie. But I am happy to say that it was our first Thanksgiving in which almost all the main ingredients came from our farm – the turkey, the beans, the potatoes, the pumpkin, the eggs in the pumpkin, the duck stock used for the gravy, the seasonings, almost everything, including the hard cider we had with dinner.

As a side note, for the pie I used an Alton Brown recipe, with a variation. I made a standard crust which I cooked for ten minutes, then filled it with a simple custard filling of 2 c. pumpkin puree, 3 eggs, 1 c. half and half, ½ t. nutmeg, ½ t. salt, and ¾ c. brown sugar, cooked at 400 for 40 minutes. Great recipe!

Finally, as a final addendum, at the Thanksgiving dinner Thursday my cider was a hit, to the point where I had offers for purchase. It has now clarified and has a lovely effervescence. Yesterday (Saturday) we put up our 25th gallon, this time in a glass carboy instead of a plastic bucket, and using Champagne yeast instead of Cote de Blanc.

Black Friday

Yes, today is Black Friday, and we all know what this means. It’s the day people line up at Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Apple Stores, and other assorted retail outlets with their goats to get them bred, and Lori and I are no exception to this frenzied and frenetic time of year as millions of Americans line up to get their goaty girls studly dates!

So we spent our holiday weekend, in part, playing match-makers. We packed up one of our ladies into the back of a tiny compact car, and drove her off to a date with a caprine stud-muffin.

“Is this some kind of joke? I thought you said we were going to get bread!”

I am not kidding (though hopefully Janet will be in the spring – bwah-ha-ha-ha!). That is actually how we spent our Thanksgiving weekend, apart from having a wonderful dinner on Thanksgiving! At 7:00 AM Friday we were off and running with our girl. We knew that Janet was on her 21st day and so due for heat this morning. I couldn’t wait.

I went out in the dark to the barn with a flashlight and lo and behold, one of nature’s clock work miracles. Janet’s tail was flagging, her butt was dripping, and she was trying to hump everything in sight. I was elated. So Lori and I finished our chores, scarfed down some eggs, and got moving.

The first step in breeding for us was to see if we could in fact pack a 90 pound doeling into the back of a Mini Cooper, a big question mark. Fortunately she went in without too much of a hitch, though I did have to lift her into the back hatch. Once in she was pretty staid and cool the whole time and weathered the trip well. It was about 45 minutes to Harlow Hills Farm in Gaston where we were to have her bred.

 “Get him off my butt and open this tin can up so we can go home!”

We arrived at almost exactly 9:00 AM, and there Kristina Harlow introduced us to a shaggy moose of a Toggenburg (at least relative to Janet’s size) named Dubl-Squeeze Glib Talker. We may have been a little early on in her heat, because Janet was not as keen as she should have been otherwise, but it was also her first mating. Talker was as much of a gentleman as I imagine and eight year old buck will be: he pounded his hooves a great deal and gave Janet a few knocks on the side as he brushed her with them. He proceeded to plant lots of wet sloppy kisses on her face (or the goat equivalent thereof), and then did a great deal of snurffling around our little doe’s crotch. All the while Lori held Janet on one leash while Kristina held Talker on the other.

“Oh great! Here we go again. Isn’t he a Toggenburg. I thought the Swiss were neuter!”

When he finally made his move it was very fast – blink and you’d have missed it. Then we waited ten minutes and he courted her some more using the same techniques. Janet did not always seem to appreciate it, but in the end stood for him a second time (and he didn’t even have to buy her dinner or chat her up!). By the time all of this was done she was a mess and reeked of buck, but it was a smell I did not find nearly as offensive as I had been warned about – the smell reminded me of alfalfa and goat’s milk.

So we now have what we hope is a pregnant goat, and we are set to visit the same buck a couple of times over the next week to see if we can get Leah and Marguerite settled as well.

We paid our fee (yes, in the goat world the gals pay for it!), got papers on the sire, and packed Janet back into the car. I gave her a couple of handfuls of oats by hand on the way home, and when we finally got her in the corral back home all the other goats wanted to sniff her to see what was up. They will find out soon enough.

In the meantime we hope that as of today Janet has a kid or two in the hopper. We will know soon enough. If she is in heat three weeks from now it will be time for another trip in the Mini. We shall see. But for today Lori and I could not help but think, as we drove home our Mini with our pretty little Saanen Miss Janet in the back reeking of buck, windows rolled down to take off some of the stench despite the torrent of rain, that this was about as far away from our previous lives as financial advisor and professor than we had ever journeyed before.

A special thanks to Kristina Harlow for her more than generous help every step of the way in helping us with all things goat related, especially the breeding process, and, if they are reading this, to Andrea Bollman and Karen Hoyt for all of their help and support with our girls this summer. You are all part of the reason we are especially thankful this Thanksgiving!

Flood and Field.

The t-post to the left in this picture was several feet away from the water this past Friday.

We awoke to a deluge on Monday morning. It has rained all weekend, but took a decidedly ominous turn Monday, and continues to rain as I write. Fortunately the only damage we have sustained is a single drip leak in the red studio barn in the shop area. All of our animal shelters – the barn, the coop, the duck house, remained safe and dry, as did we, small miracle. We may need a kayak, though, before we can work in the garden again, since we now have minor streams between our raised beds.

We had pummeling rains and high winds for a couple of days. In the midst of this I had to go to town to buy hay for the goats. I took the Mini because I wanted to keep the hay dry; a pickup truck was following me down our long gravel road, which makes a dip at a creek before climbing again to the main paved road leading to town. However before I reached the creek I was forced to pull over.

Water was cascading in a torrent over the road. The creek had flooded and formed not a pond but a lake. I let the pickup go around me to watch how it negotiated the water. It made it, but barely; I headed back to get the truck – not the best option, but the other choice was a fifteen minute detour through a back road, so I went back to get the truck, which negotiated the water but still barely cleared it. The Mini would have certainly stalled out, possibly even have been floated.

I threw three bales of hay in the back seat of the truck on a tarp once in town and then headed home. Our gauge for how much rain we’ve had is the pond. This summer it slowly evaporated into a puddle. At it’s lowest it came halfway up Puck’s legs; I set a T-post in as a measure of the water and its depth over the winter. The last time I was down there this past weekend the water level was still nowhere near touching the post – the water was still between 5-8 feet away from it.

The pond sits at a low point, at the bottom of our pasture. When I walked down there in the midst of the storm in my muck boots, I followed a steady flow of water about three inches deep, streaming down the pasture, until it reached a spill point near the pond where the waters converged into a minor cascade. The water was already one third up the height of the post. There was water everywhere. The dry banks of dirt and water grass exposed all fall and summer were gone.

And Puck stood confused, as if in a foreign land. His puddle had now turned into a pond, and verged on becoming a minor lake. For my part, as I thought about our water bills and dry well this past summer, I could only think of portable tanks and water pumps.

UPDATE: The day after this photo was taken the t-post was underwater.


As the dust of September and October have yielded to the rains of November, I have begun to wonder whether green lands are green with envy of themselves, that they are so verdant with a jealously of their own beauty. A simple drive to our feed store, a mere three miles away, takes one through absolutely stunning patches of velvety green. . .

and I sometimes wonder if our unmistakably bright red truck is not about to be digested in the land’s vast maws of rain, of fog, of grey, of vast swathes of emerald, velvet, shimmering grass.

As a person of letters and who is well-traveled, I have encountered so many types of green: the green eyed monster of Othello’s jealousy; the greener than grass color of Sappho jealous of her lover; the proverbial Emerald Isle of Hibernia; the giant green bottles of Heiniken beer in Greek ouzerias that are requested in Greek simply with “Ena Prassino, parakalo” – “A Green One please”; in Shakespeare the “green world” was a place for love and fantasy, though in Henry V he has Falstaff on his death bed “babble of green fields”.

So many shades of green. But this rich succulent green – it makes one wish one were as a lamb or kid, that one might consume its freshness, and devour its rain and goodness, not merely with the eyes, but with taste, and smell, and touch. The Greeks and the Romans knew no god or goddess of grass. That was left for Islam to create, for the symbol of God’s Paradise in Islam is that of the green of the grass. Perhaps this was Falstaff’s dying vision.


The Sixth Labor

(A follow up to the post below, the Zen of Fog).

Herakles’ sixth labor was to slay the Stymphalian Birds; the birds had been a plague that had been the bane of Stymphalus in central Greece. The myth is one I always think about around Thanksgiving ever since I visited there as a graduate student on Thanksgiving Day 1994. It was the last day of a trip I was making throughout the area of Corinth and the Argolid, the fourth and last trip I made that fall in Greece. I was stunned by how beautiful Stymphalus was – it was snowy and had a beautiful Alpine landscape.

A view of the ancient lake and mountains around Stymphalus, Greece.

We were there to visit the ancient Mycenaean city that was once surrounded in part by a lake, and more recently was the site of a Medieval church. As we left the valley we went past a turkey farm and I remember on the bus I shouted to my fellow students, “Look, the Stymphalian turkeys!”

We then returned to Athens where we enjoyed, as much as possible, an American Thanksgiving dinner. Stymphalus, Heracles’ sixth labor, the turkey farm, Thanksgiving, now all have created an odd nexus of associations.

A Greek vase depicting Heracles slaying the Stymphalian Birds.

So it is appropriate that we ourselves had our own labor with our own birds as we prepare in a couple of weeks for the holiday. Yesterday we had herded the birds into a single large cage carrier. Big mistake. But we had no idea how large our turkeys were – 10 lbs.? 12? We guessed maybe not much more. When we tried to lift the cage onto the bed of the pick up truck this morning, though, it was a no go. The cage was too heavy. We managed to get it next to the truck with the help of the garden cart, but it was just too heavy to get up an additional two feet into the truck.

We finally did our best to position the cage into the bucket of our tractor. Lori had to support it while I slowly raised the bucket and moved it into the bed (hooray for tractors!) We were pretty clearly off in terms of estimating the weight, but we didn’t know just how far until we got the birds to the processor. One of the workers there was immediately impressed by the size of the bird and said they should dress out really nicely.

Ooof! This is what a 30 lb. pasture raised, all natural turkey looks like. It’s going to take a heckuva bucket to brine it.

He was right. The total dressed weight of all five birds was between 25 and 30 lbs., for a grand total of over 132 lbs. In the past fifteen years I’ve never cooked a bird above 12 lbs. and I now have 132 pounds of turkey in my freezer. This is going to be a challenge. A 13th labor anyone?

The Zen of Fog

A stark view of our pasture in the fog, around 8:00 am Friday morning.

We awoke Friday morning to oblivion. A nihilistic landscape resembling nothing if not a Homeric or Vergilian Underworld of mist and shadow, of a vast nothing. The clouds embraced the landscape, a consummation of mother earth and father nimbus producing a monstrous ghostly offspring Fog and its piercing twin Rawchill. It was 5:58 AM; already for two hours we had been up reading, drinking coffee, stoking a fire (since we have lots of wood and try to save on electric heat), and Lori was on her phone with a friend back east when my phone rang.

It was the post office. Our broiler chicks had arrived, on the coldest, dimmest morning we had yet experienced. I was still in my bathrobe and sweats, and so threw on my jeans, sweater, boots and stocking cap, hopped into our Mini Cooper, and headed three miles through the fog and the gloom to town. It was a short but tough drive due to the fog, and while the temperature was well into the thirties, the saturated air penetrated into one’s very marrow. Moreover I was a bit disconcerted. My understanding had been that our local post office gets poultry deliveries at around eleven in the morning, but apparently, as I found out yesterday, they can come any time. I had planned to set up for the chicks yesterday morning – there’s not too much to it – scatter some pine shavings in a galvanized container, put in water and food, set up the heat lamps, and then put screening on top to protect them from our cats and other predators.

Because I was taken off guard, Lori and I found ourselves scrambling to do much of this in the dark. Meanwhile we put the box of chicks in the house near to the wood stove to keep them warm. When we got everything in place we grabbed the box and put the baby chicks in the container – one had not survived the trip and had been dead for a while. There were also a couple of weak ones, and one of these died later in the afternoon. We had actually been pretty lucky earlier this year – when we ordered our turkey poults by mail only one out of six had died; all of our chickens and ducks arrived in good condition; this was our first real loss, but still, given the weather and stress they experience, they are pretty hardy little birds.

The oaks under which we spent many a sweltering summer day now paint the lane leading  up to our barn in a yellow hue, adding color to the day’s stark white canvass.

But we still are not – and I hope never will be – hardened to this kind of loss. The death of an animal occasions a good deal of sadness for us and is a solemn moment. That makes a day like yesterday rather difficult, and today will be all the more so – what will we find when we head out to the barn? We hope 24 happy healthy chicks. However as meat birds their lives will not be long regardless. Any chicken one consumes as meat has only lived 8-11 weeks. That is how these creatures are bred and how their genetics have been manipulated – to have a short, fast life before their journey to frying pan or stew pot. Yet it is not the chicks, provided they made it through the night, who are on my mind today. Today it is the turkeys.

After nearly four months of living out on pasture, they are to be processed today. As noted in a previous blog, that is a euphemism for slaughter. We have done this before with ducks; not to sound cruel but the ducks’ obnoxious temperament alleviated our sadness a bit. The turkeys are different. They are actually very sweet curious creatures (albeit pretty dumb); they bonded with us over the course of the summer and fall, and whenever we came out to pasture would run to greet us with their muted gobbles and chirps, then followed us everywhere. They had free range of the pasture until three yesterday afternoon, when I herded them to the fence while Lori threw a blanket over each one and placed it in a large kennel. They will spend the night there with water but no feed and then at 10:00 go to slaughter.

The view from our farm looking east on Friday morning after the fog lifted some; the picture does not begin to capture the emerald green velvet that now blankets the landscape around us as the rains elicit a deep verdant crop of grass seed.

Far from putting me off from eating such a sweet creature, however, I think I will appreciate it all the more on my table. But I feel that way even if the creature is not sweet. How can one waste or poorly prepare creatures that do such great service and are sacrificed so that we in turn might live and eat? Waste should be, and in my view is a crime. It is to poorly use and disrespect the animal. As dearly as I love our goats, I feel the same way about them. When their time is up, how disrespectful would it be simply to throw away their carcass, to waste the life they have given? Whenever that day comes, whether it is next year because one proves sterile, or eight years down the road after doing good service, the girls will go into sausage, stew pots, and food for our pets.

This is the deal. Death nourishes; their flesh is resurrected and comes to life again through that nourishment. Their death is for us, for all. So the turkeys enter the realm of Shadows and Mists today, to dwell with King Pluto forever. But their life force – the life force of anything – is, as the physicists tell us, impossible to kill. It is a solemn day, as Thanksgiving should be as well, a day not devoted to football, but to reflection. If one cannot embrace sadness and loss the agrarian life is probably not your avocation. The next time slaughter takes place will be more intimate still, since we have decided that, when the time comes, we will process our own broiler chickens. It is simply not cost effective to have someone else do them.

I know that some would be appalled by our eating of such animals. I know, equally, that some would think my musings on the turkeys absurd – it is, after all, just a turkey. But this takes us to the question of consciousness and capability. We revere our animals, and are deeply impressed by them, and I think all the more so since our years living on the coast: Could you graze the air? Could you live in the field or stream? Could you swim and dive the waves? Could you sleep in the mud or hay or tree? Bird, fish, beast, do not write their names; but we neither breath water, nor smell the scent of a stream, nor overleap cascades of water, as does the simple salmon.

And to the vegetarian, I would ask, what is consciousness? The sunflower senses the sun and follows it. The lettuce seed maintains itself in the soil during the hot, arid summer but when it senses autumn’s cold and wet, emerges and grows. Is the symbiosis of marigold and tomato not, in a sense, a community? Are these not forms of consciousness? Are they lesser than that of the turkey that follows the farmer? Are they lesser than that of the human who lacks the ability to empathize, to consider the possibility that such consciousness may somehow connect us, and even prove ethically superior in some respects to our own?

So we will go about our work days this week as winter puts the land to bed in its hiemeral blanket of mist and gloom: checking for heat in our goats, giving them their fall boosters, mucking the barn, finishing the new goat feeder, tending our chickens, repairing the poultry netting for our laying hens, finishing our green house and winter beds, chopping wood, making more hard cider – living every moment as a moment of Zen, appreciating the fog’s white oblivion, paying homage to it as a place where our animals still live, and where we one day we will live with them, when we have done our service.



Live-Blogging A Big Day.

Yes, it’s a big day for the country and for all of us, and we all know why . . . because our biggest doeling, Princess Marguerite, finally came into heat! I’ll be live-blogging her heat and progress during the course of the day (the earliest post starts at the bottom of this post, so read from the bottom up).

8:29 – Insult to injury. The election has been called. I only got two votes (myself and my dog, but he’s not really registered).

5:42 – My goat’s in heat, my feet are tired, my chicken is over-cooked. Good night and good luck!

5:04 – It’s okay Puck. Here’s a biscuit; Marguerite didn’t mean it – she’s confused.

5:03 – Time to put Marguerite to bed along with everyone else; she’s still fired up and just tried to make a little golden retriever Saanen with Puck. I don’t think he appreciated it. And oh those horns.

3:37 – Marguerite’s rear continues to swell and drip, and she’s hanging out totally bummed as it slowly dawns on her that she’s going  to stay home, wash her hair and watch television (I looked at the listings, and there’s NOTHING on tonight, oh well!)

1: 13 – At last, a break from Marguerite’s vocal pining for a buck; we’re back in the kitchen making cider.

12:39 – Phew! Rumen burps! Geez those stink!

12:26 – If you would all just shut up for a minute I’ll give you all some more orchard grass.

12:09 PM – Hey, give me back my glove from my back pocket! You thief, you’ll eat anything!

11:58 – A drip fest and swollen vulva! Hooray! She’ll be ready to be bred in her next heat. From Classics to pulling up goat tails to check their butts for heat – What. A. Life.!!! :-)

11:47 – We’re up to three gallons of cider – time to go check the state of Marguerite’s butt!

9:43 – Okay, were going to press apples for cider and put up another batch of hard cider; alcohol is the only way to make it through Marguerite’s heat!

8:37 – Thanks, I think I need to hose off; a shower would be nice.

8:25 – Lori?!?! Lori!?!?!? Get over here!

8:21 – Marguerite, KNOCK IT OFF!

8:19 – Hey! Get the hell off me!

8:15 – JACKPOT! Gooey dripping vulva and braying. Plus she just tried to hump, well, everyone.

8:00 – Can’t I eat my oatmeal and peanut butter in peace? I’m about to head out and check her butt.

7:30 – Ok, she hasn’t shut up for a half hour and has moon eyes – we’re used to her dramatic daily crie de couer, but this is too much.

7:00 AM – Marguerite’s tail is flipping like a helicopter. I wonder if this could be it?

Horace and Hootch!

Vides ut alta stet nive candidum

Soracte nec iam sustineant onus

       silvae laborantes geluque

       flumina constiterint acuto?

Dissolve frigus ligna super foco

large reponens atque benignius

       deprome quadrimum Sabina,

       O Thaliarche, merum diota.

Permitte divis cetera, qui simul

stravere ventos aequore fervido

       deproeliantis, nec cupressi

       nec veteres agitantur orni.

Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere, et

quem fors dierum cumque dabit, lucro

       adpone . . .


You see how high Soracte stands white

with snow, how no longer holding their burden

the forest toils and with sharp ice

the rivers now have ground to a halt?

Putting ample wood upon the hearth,

bid the cold farewell and it please you,

bring down, Thaliarchus, some of that

four year old vintage stored up in Sabine jar.

Leave the rest to the gods, who, once they have

laid low the winds battling on the boiling sea,

neither stir up the cypress

nor the aged ash.

Flee the question, What will be tomorrow?,

and what the chance of days will give and when,

count as a gain . . .

Horace, Ode 1.9

Horace has figured in this blog before (see below from earlier this summer on the Country and City Mouse), and here he is again. I was brought to mind of this famous poem since this past Sunday was beautiful, and a perfect day . . .

 for putting up our first batch of hard cider . . .

The poem, for me, is evocative of the coming winter, of a time spent indoors to devote to writing, to playing music, to having an evening drink as the winds battle and shake the trees on our own hill. I look forward to reading Horace, with my own cider in hand this winter.

The most important thing I learned by making my own hard cider is how easy it is – in fact, it is about the easiest home brew one can make, and shame on you if you don’t try this at home some day. You are just missing out.

It is easy to get bogged down in a good many details and caveats when making hard cider. I tried not to, and aimed for simplicity. First, the cider: it can’t have any preservatives in it, but it can be pasteurized. You will need to find a source for this. Second, sanitation: one reads a lot of caveats about pasteurization, but I chose not to do this – I wanted the wild yeast from our land and as much terrroire and character as possible. So we simply picked the apples, including the drops (fairly decent apples that had fallen to the ground), put them in a 32 gallon plastic trash barrel, washed them under cold water, and juiced them in an automatic juicer. It takes about 4 hours to get 5 gallons of juice.

We put the cider directly into an 8 gallon bucket with an airlock. The bucket itself we cleaned by soaking it in bleach for 30 minutes then rinsing it thoroughly. We then drew off about a half gallon of cider and mixed it with two pounds of brown sugar, stirring until it was dissolved. We added it back into the container and then pitched in two packets of wine yeast (Cotes de Blanc), stirred it for a minute or two to activate the yeast, then sealed it and let it sit for three weeks. The airlock gurgled and bubbled away for two weeks, then stopped, during which time the yeast settled. We let it sit for about a week between the time the bubbling stopped and the time we put it up.

Yesterday was bottling day: we ran 36 pint beer bottled with rubber and metal seal stops through the dishwasher to prepare our bottles. We then siphoned (purists say “raked”) the fermented cider into another 8 gallon sanitized bucket and stirred in a syrup that consisted of 1 c. water and ¾ c. brown sugar – this was to get some carbonation from our cider. We could have omitted this step and drunk it “still” instead of carbonated. We then siphoned it into all 36 bottles, capped them, and stored the cases in our barn to age. We will bottle two more batches, so should have well over 100 bottles when all is said and done.

We did have a quart left over, and we drank the new cider last night. It was dry and strong but also lovely and refreshing, and the apples’ red blush was soon resurrected on our faces. I am happy to report that despite our down and dirty lack of concern for pasteurization and sanitation (you’re supposed to use heavy duty acid detergent called star san to sanitize you equipment and many would pasteurize the cider), we had no ill affects from our libation. To judge from its taste and affect, we will probably not worry about carbonation next time – there is some risk of explosion in the bottles and the “still” stuff was good as it was. We can’t wait to taste it as it ages. We can’t sell it of course, but we are still going to give it a brand name just for kicks – DFDDD – Dancing Faun, Down Dirty and Dangerous Cider!

So we will invite Thaliarchus periodically this winter, as the wind besieges our trees and the rain assails our windows, to put more wood on our fire, bring out a Sabine jar, and leave to the gods whatever will be tomorrow.