|A map of Floyd County where groundhog is a venerable component of traditional Brunswick stew.|
I made a joke about a week ago about keeping the next groundhog we caught to eat it and skin it. Polly took me seriously, and when one turned up this morning, she asked me if I wanted it. Well, yes, actually, yes I do.
Nii'Anung, Polly's husband who is from Ghana, is the Resident Expert on Slaughtering Things, and he got kind of excited about the whole project when I asked him to show me how it's done. Apparently they have some similar critter in Ghana called a "grass cutter" and they're considered quite tasty. If you have a surplus, you just hang them over the wood fire and let them cure.
So that's how I found myself lugging a wire cage out of the pickup truck, trying not to get bit by an angry member of the squirrel family. I mean, I'd be mad, too.
I had never actually seen anything be shot before today. Ron did the honors with his .22, and after two little bloody explosions, the groundhog was sufficiently dead--though its nerves hadn't got the memo and it kept twitching for a while. Actually it kept twitching even after we cut off the head. (I'm sorry, again, about being graphic. I live on a farm. What do you expect.)
I confess that, like the chickens, the whole experience made me a bit nauseous. It's weird--I have absolutely no problem intellectually with killing and eating animals. None. In fact, for us to eat the groundhog is more reasonable than us just shooting it and dumping its sorry carcass in the woods, which is what we normally do. And yet, I didn't want to look--I didn't want to see it get its little brains shot out as it nosed toward the sky. I didn't want to look as I helped Nii'Anung take its skin off like a little rabbity-smelling shirt. What was I afraid of when we hacked off its hands and feet? I was afraid.
One of my professors in college often talked about the fear of violence--that desire to avert one's eyes, or Gawain's flinch, or the small cry the person next to you in the movie theater makes as the hero almost dies. You know that the act is moral, you know you are safe, you know the actor isn't hurt--and yet somehow in watching that violence, you are implicated in that act and you are afraid. The flinch testifies. For me, it's actually worse watching someone butcher an animal than doing it myself. As if that little act of voyeurism, that being-a-human-being as I participate in death in an animal kind of way, confronts me with the reality of violence even more than committing (morally sanctioned) violence.
The fear of violence: The realization that violence is always serious even when it is not morally wrong, even the death of a groundhog.
When I have kids, I want to teach them how to slaughter animals. When they read about blood in books, I want them to know the smell of fascia and muscle and entrails. Why? Because I think that butchering confronts one, even subconsciously, with the strange paradox of being a human being--an animal and not an animal, "both in and out of the game, watching and wondering at it" to quote Uncle Walt. I don't want them to have a dichotomy of violence in their minds: violence which is morally sanctioned and violence which is evil. I want them to know that violence is always serious.
So I'll thank God for this little extinction of being as I dig into dinner on Friday (I have to let it sit in brine to mellow out the gamey flavor). I hope it's tasty.