Naturally Graphic Story about Sustainable Living on the Blue Ridge Mountain
By René Locklear White (Feather)
Lt. Col. USAF (Retired)
Lumbee Native American Indian
President Sanctuary on the Trail™ non-profit
Everything this week was going as planned, until bow season started. I had other things planned for this day and tomorrow, certainly no plans to be standing in front of a dead deer.
Even though we have no TV, I have three mindless movie rentals scheduled today along with a bag of medicinal dark chocolates. Then, I plan to mourn the loss of someone dear to me.
But, by the sound of my husband’s boots as he enters the house I know my life’s direction is about to change.''
I hit pause on the DVD-player. I hear my husband Chris say in a tender voice, “Hey honey! I’m gonna need some stiches, you want to go with me?”
I am a 52-year old grandma with 22-years military training preparing for most anything; even how to emotionally compartmentalize.
Today I will learn that gutting a deer is easier than embracing grief.
Until this deer, I realize after losing my mother recently, I have been dropping and running ever since.
My mother and father are Lumbee Indians. My husband Chris is Cherokee. We both grew up on farms, he in Northern Virginia and me on Lumbee farmland in North Carolina.
We both have raised chickens, hogs and cattle. We have planted, picked, canned, frozen and dried fruit & vegetables. We have seen life and death and held it in our hands.
With my husband and me, life is never dull.
Once, Chris walked in with a wounded hummingbird and barred owl. Another time he caught, scolded and released a chicken-hawk attacking our chickens. Last year he rescued a woodpecker, two hummingbirds and a screech owl.
Today it is a doe, a female deer; this is not that song from “The Sound of Music” nor a story about Bambi.
Yes deer are cute and many people “do not” like to eat “cute.” They would rather eat “ugly.” But for us simple country folk, eating deer is as natural as drinking our natural mountain spring-water.
In Native American Indian culture some believe when the deer is your totem or spirit animal you are a highly sensitive person with strong intuition to get out of a tricky situation with power and grace.
Chris had two dear in his sights. But he did not take the shot.
On his way home, he saw the same two deer in our drive way. They stared at my husband standing there in front of them. Chris crouched down. One deer walked over towards my husband.
Now past twilight, with the silhouette of that doe between our house and my husband, Chris could see her clearly and he took the shot with one arrow, a complete pass through the heart.
The deer ran 70 yards ironically just steps away from where the eagle dropped the catfish a while back and then the deer lied down under a tree near our house and collapsed.
My neighbor June Krupsaw and I believe it could be possible for our ancestors’ Spirit to persistently try to communicate with us through nature. If she can, my mom would say, “live your life now Shug, don’t worry about me.”
In Virginia, bow season or archery season for deer, started Oct. 1 and runs through Nov. 18. According to my husband, if he waits, it is almost impossible to stalk a deer after the open seasons for gun-powder muzzleloaders or firearms.
For mama, what day was it? I can’t remember. The dreaded blue bag from the funeral home is sitting next to me. Let me see, it says Sept. 8, 2016. So much time has passed already. I refuse to look at the photograph yet. But I know it is my mama. She had Dementia.
We depend on each other – my husband and me. We took wedding vows; to be there for each other for better and worse, richer or poor, sickness and health.
It occurs to me now, we do not take an oath with our parents, nor do our parents take oaths for us. But, I loved, cherished and honored my mother till she parted this life. What is it like to lose someone that close? I still do not know fully.
My husband and I depend on at least one deer to get us through the winter. When the fall weather cools like this, you can almost taste the first harvest especially with a little teriyaki on it.
We prefer to use the word “harvest” to describe the “kill.” We also try to use as many parts of the animal as we can, not as trophies, but as sacred ceremonial objects or practical resources. Is it not more humanely to kill game as a food source than corporately-raised and factory-processed livestock?
For deer hunters, especially bow hunters like my husband, reading blood trails and field dressing are essential responsibilities to bleeding the animal and processing safe meat for us to eat.
Before field dressing, and to make sure the deer is dead my husband was using a new, very sharp field knife. His head lamp was pointing in one direction and his two hands in the other direction unexpectedly met in the dark as he turned the deer over. Then suddenly the knife in his left hand gashed across and into his right hand between his thumb and wrist.
Sometimes things happen in life even to the most experienced people. And things in life do not always go according to the planned script. Scars remind us we made it through!
Now I am sitting in the driveway with the motor running wondering what happened to my husband who just dropped red positive-A up my basement stairs all the way through my kitchen to the utility sink in the laundry room.
With lacerated hand wrapped with one of my old favorite brown kitchen towels, my husband is lifting the deer onto our utility vehicle to bring her to the house. Fortunately we do not have far to take her since she wound up here on her own.
For situations like this, our guests do not know we have a hoisting winch hidden under our basement porch. Hanging the deer up there by its hind legs allows blood to drain out of the body while I drive my husband to the ER.
The INOVA medical center is closer to us than Winchester Hospital, so we dash off to get stiches and a splint because of this unscripted inconvenience.
Is death an unscripted inconvenience? Why do we have to “embrace” all these feelings? Gutting a deer sounds more appealing to me right now.
A few hours later, a few stitches for him and a couple of glasses of red wine for me, I am ready to dress my first deer.
I have never harvested an animal for food, not even a chicken. I have cut up many animals. But I have never killed a fish, a chicken, a deer, a cow, nor a hog. That is what husbands, big brothers and older sisters are for.
One time when I was a little girl my brother Ernie said, “Watch this!” Then he started grabbing up chickens two at a time a wringing their necks. I ran into the house screaming, “Mama Mama, Ernie is killing all the chickens!”
She laughed and said, I told him to get a couple of chickens for dinner. Ernie loved our mother. All of six us children did. It was hard at the end because mama had dementia. I think we just got a little closer to understanding what other families with dementia must feel.
Since we did not get to field dress the deer before we left for the ER, now I have to gut it while it is hanging up in front of me.
My husband entrusts me with his sharp study knife. He shows me where to make a shallow slit in the skin and peel the muscle layer back to keep the hair and organs away from the meat.
After one careful slit, from top to bottom almost done. Then I admit my husband cut a hole around the deer’s private areas; there are some things I am just not ready for today.
Chris tells me, “Good job dear, you didn’t break open the stomach or intestines. And you didn’t penetrate the urine bag so it didn’t spray in your face.”
Well that’s encouraging, I try to smile back at him. He looks so proud and pleased standing there with his arm in a sling as his wife field dresses his deer.
I am thinking, he is thinking, this probably counts as one of those dates we promised each other?
After cutting the connective tissue along the backbone the entrails fall right into a five-gallon bucket. Our ancestors would have been kept that bladder for a thermos to carry water.
(Most people do not know hot-dogs and sausages are packaged in pigs’ intestines.The most interesting thing about the deer to me? The windpipe on a deer is an amazing piece of engineering by its Creator.)
Now with the entrails out, my husband gives me verbal directions on how to remove the hide and meat. Can you imagine anyone’s wife driving the car, while her husband gives her driving directions while she’s holding a sharp knife?
Needless to say, what could have taken him five minutes – yes my husband can field dress a deer in five minutes – this is taking me hours.
With the deer hide now off, we are ready to quarter and hang the major portions.
Did you know our ancestors processed deer tendon to make sewing thread? If you pound a tendon with a rock it begins to separate into a bundle of strong sewing thread you can twist into sinew cord.
I realize, this whole time I was so busy rushing to the ER and handling a sharp knife, I successfully put off mourning again.
Chris leaves me alone with this now to work on the drive way from all the rain we have been having.
As I cut, I imagine how wonderful it would be to live in a community village like our Native American Indian ancestors; especially now! Sue and Birgit pull the hide off. Tracy and Mel get the fire ready. Glenda, Chris and Toby scrap the hide. Then Kim tans the hide for her granddaughter Amelia.
I would be in a lodge or by the creek, surrounded by my sisters Bea and Janice and all my other lady friends, nieces and aunts currently scattered in the four directions - mourning together and telling stories about our mothers.
Usually this time of season, I am in the kitchen waiting with meat grinder, jerky gun, freezer bags, food sealer and jerky recipe. Waiting for various parts of the deer to seal wrap including: two fish, two back straps or tenderloins, two shoulders and two hams.
But, now I’m standing here alone in wet boots, with a sharp knife, fresh meat and my thoughts. In my right hand along with the knife I wear my mother’s wedding rings.
Dr. Tom Cloyd in an article about grief, PTSD and your brain, summarizes grief as “a variety of a feeling called distress, which is the brain’s automatic response to loss;” from minor loss (say, of your car keys) to major loss (like losing a child). Put into words, Dr. Cloyd’s continuum might look like this: distress → sadness → sorrow → grief → anguish.
That is what I feel, anguish! And anger. Dr. Cloyd left out anger!
My husband’s hand surgeon Dr. Martin Morse in Great Falls, Va. said my husband is a “lucky mountain man.” He added that my husband can expect 30 days to a year and a half before the nerves in his hand start talking again.
Dr. Morse is a “Top Doctor” in plastic and reconstructive surgery, and explains why there is no pain in my husband’s hand. The knife cut the nerves sending the hand into shock causing the hand to go numb.
Is that what happened in my heart? I just feel numb.
I wanted to ask Dr. Morse, “Examine my heart scars too. I am sure losing a loved one is deeper than a skin laceration. When can I expect my healing to come?”
Dr. Morse said my husband is okay. I know I will be okay. Everyone goes through this right?
Life comes quickly. We cannot hit pause on loss for long. I think sharing stories helps. Taking moments to share good and bad we get closer to being in real community together.
If you have lost a loved one, perhaps they too would not want you to live with scars brought on by their being in your life. Rather, “celebrate their life.” I have heard that before, now I better understand what “celebrate” means.
My mother’s name was Frances. I am reading that little book marker now for the first time, the one the funeral home gives you. She was 86. She had 14 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren. The book marker calls her “kind, humble and caring, a rock solid provider, a highly respected person of strong faith.”
Many times mama told us she dreamed about working in heaven. God gave her a job in heaven sewing angels’ wings.
Right now, her job sounds a lot better than mine.
This is my new oath. I choose to participate in nature and life. I accept that sometimes things happen in life even to the most experienced people. Things in life do not always go according to our planned scripts. And I accept that wounded hearts really hurt and it is okay to cry about it.
Through sharing this story, I now have hope where I did not before. Every time I see my husband’s hand healing or my mom’s rings twinkling, these remind my heart to celebrate. And next year at our Native American Indian harvest festival (The Gathering 2017) when you see me wearing this “healing hide” may it remind us of something my mother would say, “live your life now Shug, don’t worry.”
Today is a new day. My heart will probably still hurt tomorrow. But at this moment, sharing this, I feel a little better.
The jerky is done and the steaks are in the freezer.