For the first time in a year there is no Substack post due on a Monday morning. I have been cooking venison in many different ways all weekend for a group of 15 while my friend teaches her ‘using the whole animal’ course. Around me as I type, people nibble jerky, carve gorge-hooks for fishing from leg bones and paint designs on buckskin using a surprisingly excellent paint made from ochres and vitreous humour, aka deer eyeball juice. I have spent 10 days teaching or assisting with ancestral arts and crafts such as deer skin tanning and though my body is tired, and I am looking forward to going home, I am also inspired for my own work for the year ahead, both physical and written.
Before my first planned post on the new fortnightly rhythm, here is a poetry interlude. Included are two from 2018 that feel appropriate to my life right now, amongst skilful friends. I feel deep gratitude for the natural materials, animals, earths, trees and plants who have provided my livelihood this week. Earth skills are essential life skills. I am glad to earn part of my living from working with my body.
Warm greetings from chilly Holland. I’ll record the audio for these poems as soon as I get home to England. See you with an essay next week.
Gralloched and chilled, hooves, head and antlers left with the dealer
an eviscerated carcass hangs, now that I have pierced holes
with the tip of my knife between hamstrings and femur
pushed the stick through and hoisted it up into the tree on para.
I start with the skin, cutting a circle at the knees and a slice
down the inner thighs, then the forelegs to meet the belly cut
following the line where pale pelt changes to a darker colour
to create the best skin for tanning, bucking or parchment.
Then I get my fingernails under the hide and begin to pull downwards
using my body-weight to help me separate it from the adhering fascia
it is not like taking off a jumper, or skinning a rabbit,
this beast clings to its hide even in death.
There are tiny marks where ticks gnawed at it and the skin healed over
long striations where the fallow deer bolted under a barbed wire fence
there is the clean entry hole of the bullet ringed with black blood
I read life and death written on this body and appreciate the telling.
Skin fur-side down on the forest floor onto which I place the fillets,
tenderloin and shoulders, belly, back, finally the haunches,
which remain hanging side by side still joined at the pelvis, I divide them
with a cleaver on the log then place them in plastic bags in the cool box.
Knives, stick, cord put away, hands washed of blood, a cup of tea.
Now I turn back to the hazel, knife at my belt, holding my metal mug,
and hang our love up in the branches
wondering where to make the first cut.
Hidden twisted depths
Don't I bloody know it
Like a holy fool I waded in
So far -
Equal parts gnarled trees and treasure
Which, to me, is all treasure
This week’s photos:
1. My work gloves drying out after a day helping folk scrape deer hides in readiness for tanning.
2: Incredible ink work by my friend Beke Olbers on vintage gloves I brought from the UK, using ink we made on my ‘Painting on buckskin and leather’ day course this week.
3: Huge orange peel fungus, as seen in Denmark last week.
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