Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Perfect Farm Holiday

It's late in the year, late in November, and late in the day. A weak sun made a cameo appearance this morning before ducking behind the rolling banks of grey and leaden clouds that have been brooding over Missouri most of the month. Temperatures are in the 40s and should slide below freezing tonight. Most days it drizzles a little; some days it actually rains; tonight snow flurries are predicted. It's been a hard season for deer hunters. Yet for all that, it's one of my most anticipated times of the year and nothing can dampen my spirits: it's Thanksgiving week.

The larder is full, we have wood enough stockpiled to heat ourselves into 2011, and both of my children are coming home for the first time in three years. The agricultural year is over and the gardens have been put to bed. It's time to gather, cook, relax, drink, laugh, eat, and tell stories with loved ones. If you live on a farm, Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday to have others come to you. What better place to celebrate the harvest than where the harvest happens?

Late Monday night I got home from a week in Virginia. After a cup of coffee and some trip accounting Tuesday morning, Emily and I got to work butchering poultry—eight older chickens
culled from the flock, as well as the featured guest for Thursday's dinner: our biggest tom turkey. We spent most of the day on this ritual, carefully taking the life of each one, plucking, dissecting, and canning all the chickens. The tom, of course, was left whole (sans viscera), ready for the oven first thing tomorrow morning.

Thursday we'll be celebrating with a joint meal at the neighbors, Dancing Rabbit. I'll go over early to help my wife, Mai'kwe, make tamales, one of her specialties gleaned from five years of living in Albuquerque. My daughter Jo & her partner Peter will be timing their drive in from Toledo to arrive just as we sit down at 2 pm. After a blow-out meal, we'll repair to Sandhill for the remainder of the day, which translates to more laughter, game playing, and drinking, roughly in that order.

Sometime after dark, Trish, Joe, and their one-and-a-half year old son Emory will arrive from St Louis for the start of a five-day visit. We've been courting each other for most of the year, and Sandhill is hoping they'll move up as early as February, when the Earth quickens for the new growing season. Their last visit was Labor Day Weekend (a quarter turn of the calendar back, at the advent of harvest), and I'm pleased to welcome them into the circle on this occasion of wood heat and camaraderie; the days of toasting and being toasty.

Friday, my son Ceilee arrives with his wife Tosca and my granddaughter Taivyn—now a curious and highly mobile 19 months old, and a match for Emory. As Friday will be the only evening my family is all together (Ceilee has a flight back to Nevada Sunday morning to be on the job Monday), I asked to be assigned to cook that day. Cooking and eating together is one of my family's favorite recreational cum spiritual activities, and orchestrating an opportunity to do that during Thanksgiving weekend renders Friday
something akin to a high holy day.

Both of my kids grew up at Sandhill, so their coming this weekend is more than seeing Dad. It's coming home.

Cutting Up in the Kitchen
The last time both Jo & Ceilee were at Sandhill was three years ago, also at Thanksgiving. It was right before Ceilee moved from Columbia MO to Las Vegas NV, and he was happy to spend most of the pre-Thanksgiving rifle season on the farm hunting deer. Jo had spent the summer of '06 at Sandhill while she sorted out what she wanted to do after culinary school. Among other responsibilities she shouldered that summer, she raised two pigs, with an eye toward butchering them at the same time as we tackled Ceilee's deer.

All of this came together in the days before Thanksgiving, when the three of us spent three solid days butchering two pigs and eight deer. There are many choices to be made in how meat can be used and we love the art of catering to people's culinary preferences while making the fullest use possible of all that the animals have provided us. It is simultaneously joyous work and sacred work, as we have a bond with our food to honor it, just as it nourishes us.

This year, though the poultry butchering necessarily took pace before my kids arrived, there are still six deer hanging in our walk-in cooler and it's probable that part of the precious time I'll have together with my kids will be spent in the kitchen with meat and knives—where we'll be strengthening familial ties
even as cut up roasts and grind sausage.

On the farm, my children learned about the rhythms of seasonal cycles, about finding pleasure in work well done, and about taking time to savor fresh food, the smell of wood smoke, and the campanionship of others. In the coming hours we'll have together, we'll retouch all of these themes, weaving an ever-finer tapestry of connection and contribution—all of which is why I've found Thanksgiving to be the perfect farm holiday.

No comments: