Baryshnikov is one confused water buffalo. On Tuesday he watched his "brother" SnowStar be taken down by a single shot, then hung up from the strong arm of a big blue tractor to bleed and be skinned and cut apart. He snuggled up to 5 kids and me, pushing his hard head and horns affectionately and powerfully into our small bodies as we dug a big hole to bury SnowStar's inedibles. And he moaned and bleated louder than any time since he was weaned when we all left and he found himself alone in the big pasture for the first time in his entire life.
Two days later those bleats were curious and excited as he smelled then saw his new baby brother entering the pasture. Baryshnikov has quickly become used to affectionate full-tongue kissing, constant following and leaning against, and attempts to suckle by this two-week-old buffalo newcomer.
We've all been as excited, or more, by this new flow of life on our farm. SnowStar will become months worth of meals for 7 families. 25 chicks were 2-weeks into their journey to the freezer of another couple-dozen families, and the 25 big chickens were supplying 4 families with all the eggnog we can conjure. WildSide Farm felt alive, even with the death of a cow we'd raised from 4-days-old.
Then this morning, one blood-thirsty mink reminded us that death is as much a part of the farm as life. One mink, one night, 49 dead chickens. We spent the day in shock, in mourning, in anger at a creature doing what - for some unknown reason - comes as naturally for him as killing a big cow does for us.
So it was that I entered our land partner's birthday party with a wheelbarrow full of beheaded carcasses (minks are as vicious as they are deadly efficient). His urban friends from Victoria all helped build a 10-foot funeral pyre with the last of my year's burn pile, reverently placing dead chickens and chicks on higher and higher levels. A bit of gas, straw and a blow-torch later, the huge hot blaze was a beautiful cremation and a Burning-Man-style purging of our sorrow.
A big reason we moved to the country was so that our children, as well as us, could understand where food comes from, where life comes from. And where death comes from, how it follows and precedes life. In this week our 8-year-old came home from school to witness the cow slaughter ("His soul will just go back into the herd, so it's OK"), and 5 boys helped with the burial. Eleven children so far have helped bottle-feed a new born buffalo, and console Baryshnikov in his grieving. Seven boys and five little ones helped with the chickens' funeral pyre, watching "their souls going up into the sky and heaven." And in the single most redeeming, beautiful moment of this hard day, we came home from morning soccer to find a note from our 9-year-old neighbour taped to our door (in reference to the one chicken who miraculously survived the carnage):
I brang your last chicken to my house becose I thot it was lonly. I hope you donte mind. :)
The children get it, and teach it, and just live it naturally. Life, and death, and life again - it's all one. You can't embrace one without embracing the other.
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