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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Deer Heart Pie

When we get a deer, we are as careful as possible to use each bit. As our knowledge grows and we gain experience, each of us has to confront the same questions, perhaps not about deer and how to use them, but with whatever resources we find ourselves blessed with. What is the best and highest use for the things that present themselves to us? How can we go about maximizing the good that can come from our activities and how will we finish the masterpiece of our own lives?

 I have had many deer lay down their lives for me and without them my whole being would be changed. This story is about some of the things that have come about because of my relationship with the deer and perhaps one of the deepest connections that I share with not only the individual animals that I have consumed, but of their species. I do not begrudge a deer the tasty bud-lets of the hickories that I have planted, nor those of the oaks. I feed the deer these treats and starvation rations because they have allowed me to provide great feasts for my own people and through their grace have survived many a winter. Of course, I protect the trees that I plant as much as possible, but for some of them, feeding deer is their highest purpose and I do not  get upset b their loss.

One very warm deer season, a few years back, we got several deer from a friend and had to make a hasty project of cutting, packing and chilling the meat. One of the creatures was barely weaned and still had a coating of yellowish milk fat around the haunches and backside. Bit by bit, we carved away the fat, as we do on any animal we are lucky enough to be blessed with. This was noteworthy because of the thickness and abundance of the fat. We rendered the fat down to make the best lard we have ever eaten. Some of this fat helped us to create the flakiest pie crust I have ever eaten. The heart pie that we made was not only a symbol of life for those who eventually ate it, but a continuation of life for the animals who laid their lives down for us.

I firmly believe that the same phenomenon that science describes as bioaccumulation (when it takes place with toxic compounds) takes place on a spiritual level with the critters we consume. If you feast routinely on feedlot beef, or factory farmed chickens, the spirit that comes through your diet is one of standing stock still, and waiting for your food to pass by in front of you, attending to nothing, dehumanized and demure. When you eat wild creatures, not only a portion of the wild instincts of the creature can be available, and brought into your being, but the full expression of their individualism and "intelligence" of their species can come through if you are open, aware and let it. The dozen or so people who feasted on this one particular deer heart pie were so impressed that a giant cast iron skillet full was plenty for us all. We brought the creation to a wilderness campsite and slowly cooked it for several hours. The scent of wild rice, the lard, the root crops and herbs all combined to fill us with a quickening of spirit that is hard to express.

We were wide-eyed with anticipation, like a doe at sunrise, surrounded with billions of droplets of sparkling dew. We stalked the perimeter of the site, hoping to find just the right local leaves or berries to add to the wonderful feast and several among us braved the circumnavigation of the lake we were camped near to avoid having to smell the delectable aroma of the pie. The smoke from our very low fire swirled and worked heavenward, like sacramental incense. There were some sputtering and other sounds that came from the pan as it cooked and by the time it was ready, a dozen hungry mouths were watering as we waited for it to cool a little after baking. We enjoyed it with such appreciation that after returning to "civilization" it was hard to match. There was plenty for everyone, but none went to waste either. We became full, but pleasantly so, not stuffed, but sated. It felt as if each molecule of our own being not only assimilated the food, but reveled in it. Even those who had proclaimed to "not like organ meat", were surprised and amazed at how sweet and delectable the heart turned out.

Even as I write this, many years later, I give thanks for the spirit of that animal, the precious heart that it brought into my life, the friendship of those who were willing to share that time with me and the animal itself, without which I would not have this story to tell and for the lush greenery of spice and the watery fields of wild rice which also bent low with in the waning sun of mid-august, humbly nodding their heads in ascent to Father Sky and Grandmother Moon. I give thanks for the sublime strength of the carrot friends who found their way into the pie that night, their onion brothers and the trembling hands that sliced off thick layers of fat the fall before to begin the process of making the pie. I am just as thankful for the bones roasted and cracked for their marrow, boiled down for the stock which made the gravy, and the fiddle heads of ferns that both nourished the animal and ourselves as well. We are one this pie and I. The part I took in the creation and the feast were but a tiny part, but they will be with me for a lifetime. So too, as we share ourselves with the world, the world transforms itself and gives back much more than we can ever imagine. Let us make decisions today that will sustain our people and the planet that sustains us, forever.

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