Cliff Jumping

Adrenaline, it’s what allows us to accomplish great feats and achieve natural highs.  It also encourages our bodies to fight or flight in the face of danger.  It makes us feel alive!  Some people are adrenaline junkies…I am not one of them.  Sure, a little excitement is great.  I like the challenge of a black diamond while skiing or the occasional surge of energy when scared by something silly.  I’ve even sky-dived and cliff jumped just for the experience.  However, I am not one to go out chasing that rush of hormones.

Me cliff jumping in Grand Teton National Park several years ago.  Evan made the cool picture!

Me cliff jumping in Grand Teton National Park several years ago. Evan made the cool picture!

Have you ever gone cliff jumping?  I went once, in Grand Teton National Park.  I would love to do it again!  It was very, very exhilarating.  The experience is one familiar to many, I suppose; and it can be applied to many challenges we face in life.  You go to the edge, ready to jump, to take it all on…but you pause and hesitate.  That hesitation scares us back away from the edge.  We build ourselves back up again, convinced that this will be the right time to act.  We ask a friend who has jumped the cliff before to do it before us, to give us some confidence in its safety and “doableness.”   They jump as if they’ve jumped in their sleep (maybe they have!).  We are ready, again.  We step to the edge and are about to take off, we wind up, feel the spring in our step and the wind on our face and we!…step back and freak out a little bit more.  This might happen many times before the jump is completed, if it is completed at all.  There is this little nagging voice that implores: “Wait! Wait!  Do you really want to do this? What if you can’t come back from what happens when it’s done?”

harvesting brussels sprouts in the snow for our last CSA.

harvesting brussels sprouts in the snow for our last CSA.

The last two weeks have been a bit stressful for this farm girl…We finished up our market season at the farm, we’ve been packing up and moving, and I totaled our “good” car in a fairly traumatic accident (not a collision, and not with Ava, thank goodness).  Long story short: I got lost on my way to a friend’s house (in rural Alaska) and ended up driving through a giant puddle on a small dirt road.  My car died in the middle of it, and I got out into knee deep water which I slipped in getting drenched up to my chest.  I was out (seemingly lost) in the middle of nowhere, my car was dead, there was no cell reception, it was cold, I was soaking wet and pregnant, and I was really scared.  Luckily, I was closer to my friend’s house than I thought and I finally got a signal after running on the road from the direction I had come from. She rescued me within twenty minutes of the incident. The car is toast, but I’m alright and we have insurance to cover our monetary losses.  It was one of those events that made me ask myself many “what if?” questions.

I felt sick after the adrenaline rush that came with that event.  I almost felt like I was going to have an asthma attack!  This was not the good type of adrenaline, this was the survival kind.  Even writing about it now makes me buzz a little bit.  Ick!

Okay, so that happened, and I’m getting over it.  I will be fine and my family will be fine.  All of that occurred because I was supposed to help my friend butcher the 35 meat chickens she had raised for her family and mine.  However, the day was really rainy and cruddy and everyone was fighting off colds.  So, we postponed for a week.  I had a whole free day!  And then I spent the day wet and scared and out in the boonies. 


A banner the kids made for the last day of the farm stand.

A banner the kids made for the last day of the farm stand.

An escaped pig!  a lot of the animals have been escaping with the impending winter!

An escaped pig! a lot of the animals have been escaping with the impending winter!

We rescheduled chickens for this week and we started yesterday.  My friend, Melisse, is also a farmer and has a son who is two weeks younger than Ava.  They are so cute together!!  Evan has been watching the kids while Melisse and I do the dirty work.  It’s quite the production for two people to butcher 35 chickens!  We have a pretty good little assembly line going on.  Melisse catches the chickens, holds them upside down to subdue them and puts them upside down in the kill cone.  She has done most of the actual killing of the chickens.  We then move them into the hot water bath to loosen feathers, then into the plucker for de-feathering.  I then take over with evisceration, cleaning and bagging.

Ava and Porter play on a digger.  Cuties!

Ava and Porter play on a digger. Cuties!

A chicken ready to be cleaned.

A cleaned chicken ready to be bagged.

I’m coming back full circle to the cliff jumping thing.  Up until yesterday I have never intentionally killed anything (well, maybe just a few million mosquitos).  Honestly, I didn’t think I could do it.  I really do feel like I should be able to, though, if I’m going to eat meat.  I was vegetarian for awhile, but have been eating meat for the last several years.  Ideally, I eat meat that I’ve known in some way or another, although I don’t always stick to this.  Anyhow, I feel like we should be able to kill the meat we are willing to eat, and it was the one thing I hadn’t been able to do until yesterday.

Melisse calming a chicken down by gently swinging upside down.  They seemed to like Jerry Garcia and David Grisman singing, as well.

Melisse calming a chicken down by gently swinging upside down. They seemed to like Jerry Garcia and David Grisman singing, as well.

I was prepared for it to be traumatizing.  I expected some kind of internal struggle with taking the life/lives of some living beings while nourishing the growing life inside of me.  I kind of wanted some epiphany or life altering thing to happen in the process of making this fairly drastic jump in my life.  Melisse reminded me that I would not need to kill any of the birds if I didn’t want to, but I did want to somewhere in me.

Thank you, chicken, for our future delicious meals.

Thank you, chicken, for our future delicious meals.

It took me a few tries to do it–to make the jump into killing another warm blooded creature.  At first I couldn’t even watch, then I progressed to watching, and then hearing the description of how to do it.  Then I caught a chicken and calmed it down into the cone.  I had the knife in my hand.  I had the chicken’s neck in my other hand.  The rooster looked me in the eye with his pretty brown eye, and I swear he looked at the knife; I couldn’t do it, I chickened out (this is where that phrase should come from).  I was buzzing with adrenaline again.  It took another few chickens before I could do it.

Hot water bath.

Hot water bath.

The electric plucker saves a lot of time.

The electric plucker saves a lot of time.

I did it when Melisse had gone inside to check on Porter so I was alone.  I caught a chicken and started crying.  I told him that everything was going to be alright soon.  I thanked him for giving his life to keep my family healthy and strong.  I told him to relax, and I rocked him back and forth until his eyes started to close. I put him in the cone.  It was all over fairly quickly.  Worry that I hadn’t done it correctly rushed over me.  But it was all over soon.  The rooster was no longer in there, it was not just a hunk of meat that needed cleaning. It’s amazing how, once the birds are dead, I am totally okay with handling the body.  However, I didn’t really get a wave of anything mind altering or poetic…which was mind altering in its own way.  It kind of felt like when someone asks you if you feel older on your birthday…did I feel different?  Not really.  Just another tick on my list of farm girl accomplishments.

I felt a sense of calm and acceptance with it all:  With the cycles of life and death, with our purposes on this planet, with the struggles we all face in different ways.  I was happy with myself for accomplishing this feat (jumping off of the metaphorical cliff) at the end of a stressful couple of weeks, but I was sad it had to come at the loss of another being.  It wasn’t easy by any means. I ended up only doing two out of all 35. The most satisfying part of it all is that I know I’m going to eat chicken regardless of where it comes from; but I know that these chickens were happy, well fed, free to be chickens for the short ten weeks that they existed, and they were treated with respect when it came to the end.  This is  much MUCH better than most of the chickens we eat get, and I think we should all strive to source meat that is grown and butchered like this.

I know many of you will not be able to understand how I could take the life of another being.  I’ve written of harvesting chickens before with some backlash, but this is the reality of eating meat!  It is often the reality of eating produce, as well (if it is grown on an animal integrated farm).  Someone has to do it, and I’m proud to say that I am among those someones, now.

We are eating chicken dinner tonight, chicken that we have known and treated with as much respect as a meat animal can experience.

A very festive snow bride and groom.  I love the kale dress on the bride!

A very festive snow bride and groom. I love the kale dress on the bride!

This was a rather sobering post, but seems fitting for this autumnal transition into fall and winter.  Time to make peace with things that must be lost to help us all make it through the winter.

Until next time, sending you peace and love from AK,

Alex, the Rural Famrgirl

  1. Diane Van Horn says:

    I agree with you whole heartedly. If we eat meat, we should raise it humanely and butcher it ourselves. It used to be part of everyday life.

  2. Susabelle says:

    Consciousness is important, and understanding that there is a circle of life, and that when we eat meat (I am an omnivore), that was once a living creature, is important. Respect is important. I hope the backlash from your post isn’t too awful, because you don’t deserve that. Kudos to you for sharing your story.

  3. This was a very timely and intetesting post for me, as tou are just a few steps further along the path I am walking.

    I agree that anyone who eats meat should be willing and able… but not sure I can bring myself…

  4. Jeri-Lyn Walsh says:

    Although I had to skip over some parts of the story, (I’m a chicken), the parts I did read convinced me that I could never do this. I am thankful for the organic meats at my grocery store, and know I’d be a vegetarian if I had to do the butchering. I appreciate your story and give you a lot of credit.

  5. Joan Hendrix says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I have tried to imagine myself processing a chicken, especially since I now have 4 pullets for the purpose of getting fresh eggs! I don’t think I could do it myself but I applaud your efforts and conquering this challenge. You are a strong woman! I fully agree with your philosophy about raising animals for meat and I am thankful for those who raise and process them humanely. It’s the least we can do for these creatures.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks, Joan! I miss my laying hens, I hope you enjoy them! I don’t know if I’ll be raising meat birds in the future, but I think this experience gives me an extra bit of gratitude for the animal proteins I enjoy. I am so thankful for those that do this so we can eat, too!

  6. Meredith Williams says:

    Hi Alex! I appreciate your post. I purchased 12 chickens raised and processed by one of our 4H kids and I know they were raised and cared for humanely. I have been surprised at how I feel proud of what is in my freezer , both for the terrific accomplishment of our 4H friend in doing such a good job from start to finish, and for the high quality product I will be able to use to feed my family this winter. I will try to always buy chicken this way in the future! Thank you for your honesty in sharing your feelings, I don’t think I could do it myself but sure do appreciate those who can, and I certainly appreciate the chickens for their gift. I hope you are feeling better overall and are able to get moved in your new home quickly so that you can enjoy this beautiful time of year!

  7. Kathy Butler-Bebout says:

    Thank you for this post. It helps me understand how folks struggle with life and death. It also helps me (as Alexandra said) to appreciate the folks who help to get it done for me. Processing meat was and is a family affair in our household. The people who have to do the killing (usually my husband and sons, me sometimes) have a sense of duty and also of the blessing they provide for the rest of the family. Our well being was preserved by the death of a chicken or a rabbit or a pig or a lamb countless times. It has given everyone a deep respect and a humane consideration for the animal itself, and a thankfulness for God’s provision (which is established on sacrifice).

  8. Kathy Butler-Bebout says:

    Oh, and a big woo-hooo!!! for the cliff-jumping experience! I’m sooo not an adrenaline junkie myself, but that still looks fun!! Looks like a nice time-out from the adrenaline draining rural farmgirl routine! 🙂

  9. Absolutely beautiful post, Alex.

    So glad you are okay – especially glad you didn’t have Ava to worry about while you were worrying about yourself.

    Things happen in the blink of a second don’t they? So very scary.

    Big hugs…

    – Dori –

    P.S. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that cliff jumping picture!!!

  10. Deb Bosworth says:

    You are a brave girl, Alex. From one farmgirl sister to another, I’m proud of you! I agree that there is nothing wrong with killing the meat we eat and that eating meat that has been raised with healthy ingredients and treated kindly is a good path to be on. I had the opportunity to eat two of our roo’s after my husband took them to a local processing place to meet their maker. He brought them home and they stayed in the freezer for two years before I finally tossed them out. I was CHICKEN! Then I thought, well maybe I will get some birds just for meat, but that hasn’t happened yet either. I don’t judge, I just haven’t put myself in a position to tick that box, just yet! I’m so relieved you weren’t hurt in the accident but still it’s an adrenaline rush to lose your car that way. Leaves ya feeling a bit wonky for a few days afterwards. Congrats on the upcoming move too. I’ve so enjoyed your sharing your yurt life experiences but I know you will make an adventure out of any place you live. Adrenaline or not. Farmgirl Hugs,
    Deb ( Beach Farmgirl )
    You go girl…!

  11. susan brant says:

    I am always involved in some way during our fall butchers. To just think “thank-you” for the meal you will provide for our family helps mentally. Sounds like you did what you needed to do. To know the source of your food is a wonderful thing you provide for your family. We raise our own beef, pork, & poultry, & a milk cow for our family in a small hobby farmer’s 5 acre plot. I enjoy your blog a lot, Mary Jane’s are the only one’s I read, to busy enjoying the farm- life. It is very real & satisfying, and when the animals are alive i enjoy them on a personal level. Even organic & free-range farms don’t always raise in the most humane ways. Keep up the good writing.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks for taking the time from farm life to write, Susan! I appreciate it. I hope one day to have a farm like yours–with meat and milk and eggs that we know and love. You are right–a lot of the organic and free range from the grocery store isn’t all that great, and we can’t really know what’s going on on those big farms. Hope you are well on your five acres of making it happen the right way!!

  12. Candy C. says:

    Very good post! As a society, we have become too far removed from where our food comes from. I would like to have a friend like Melisse to teach me how to humanely process chickens. That is the only meat I can’t source from local farmers. Kudos to you for “jumping off the cliff!”
    Glad the car accident wasn’t any worse and that you are okay!

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks, Candy! Melisse was a very patient and understanding teacher. I’m so happy she could be there to hold my hand through the process.

  13. Joy Pascarella says:

    I loved your post. It was real life and you told us how you felt. I can not kill either, but was so glad you showed us how you feel and deal with it the best you can. I know homesteading is not all perfect veggies and meat in the freezer without the tragic and hard work that go into it.I cried inside knowing how you felt with your first killed chicken. I tried like that once too. I just could not do it. Once my grandpa did the dirty work, I plucked, dressed and canned. But taking life was just too hard. Thank you for such a good read.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thank you, Joy. It is a difficult thing to accomplish, but I’m happy with myself for doing it. Glad you enjoyed the read!

  14. Kim says:

    Thank you for sharing Alex. I’m striving to accomplish raising and butchering my own chickens someday. I’ve often doubted myself as to completing the butchering task. You are inspiring. It’s gratifying to have accomplished something you didn’t think you could do. All the best to you.

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