I was up earlier than usual this morning, a cross between the full moon I suppose and the difficulty I had breathing throughout the night. A couple of days ago while we were slaughtering and dressing turkeys I slipped on an icy step coming out of the sugar house and face-planted into the frozen woodchips. I never got a chance to put out my hands, just a sudden loss of balance and the ground rising up to meet me with a solid crack. I knew my nose was broken the second it happened and almost as soon as I could gather my thoughts I ran my tongue across my teeth to make sure they were all there. Check, at least no dentist in my near future. The blood was everywhere, a misty spray of it every time I exhaled and when I was able to get to my feet again I felt my face to make sure I hadn’t done any other more serious damage than I had to my nose. There was a flap of skin hanging loose from the tip and as I made my way to the hydrant to wash off with ice cold water, the shock allowed me to keep my focus against the pain. I staunched the flow of blood with paper towels and headed back to the house to get a better look at the damage and after a couple of bandages and trying my best to clean up the ruin I’d left in the sink, I headed back out to finish plucking turkeys.
Some days you just have to suck it up and drive on — bad weather, a minor injury, head cold whatever — there are obligations and expectations and the only way to accomplish them is to focus on the task at hand. I had people who were counting on their turkey for Thanksgiving and they weren’t going to pluck themselves so I put the mishap behind me and kept at it. The birds were extremely big this year, a mixture of factors I suppose. Autumn was warmer than usual, and with it a heavy crop of fruit and grass for them to graze on. They were a good set of birds to begin with and by the time the job was done we had not one under 15 pounds and two massive toms that finished at over forty pounds a piece. The rest were in the 20’s to 30’s and a few of the customers looked shocked when they came to pick them up. Raising animals is not an exact science and it’s hard to tell what a bird will finish up at when they’re covered in feathers, but like my daughter is so fond of saying, you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Only one customer backed out so I gave that bird to a couple of college students that were trying to run a small vegetable operation in the village. They didn’t seem at all bothered by the size and thanked us profusely.
I came downstairs in the darkness and could hear the labored panting of the Aussie in the mudroom. We’d set up a whelping box for her and kept a close check the night before. She was in labor before we went to bed, but it was her first litter so we couldn’t be sure when they’d arrive. I let her out of the house and the other dogs approached her in the cold air and she trotted off to the side of the barn to do her business. I ground up my coffee beans and put on the water to boil. When I checked on the dogs they were nowhere to be seen, so I took a lantern and slipped on a pair of muck boots and went out into the dooryard still in my pajamas. It was a bracing kind of cold and the moon, even behind the veil of clouds cast a pale glow over the fields. I could see the dogs on the edge of the slope headed back my way and I let them in for a couple of biscuits. The Aussie went straight back to her spot and curled up, panting hard and shivering and on the stove you could hear the sound of the water coming to a boil.
There is something deeply comforting to being awake in a house while your loved ones sleep. I went out again and got the steel pot from the side porch where I’d been brining the turkey and brought it back into the kitchen. I part the bird up into breasts and hind quarters. The tom we’d chosen was a big one and each breast weighed a little over eight pounds a piece. I dried off the pieces and placed them in glass baking dishes, salted them liberally and covered the tops with foil. The dark meat went into the lower oven at 200 degrees where it would slowly cook for the next seven hours. The breasts I planned on roasting at a higher heat a couple of hours before dinner so I set them back outdoors, up high enough that the dogs wouldn’t be tempted. By the time I took my first sip of coffee the panting in the mudroom had dropped off and I could hear the soft whine of a new puppy emanating from the dark. Looking in the mother had rolled over and was licking her firstborn clean. A male, he was the spitting image of his sire a two year old Border Collie a natural with herds and a loving guardian of the family. I called him in so he could get a glimpse and he stood at the dutch door with his cocked liked the RCA mascot at the sound inside. I opened the door just a little and he touched noses with the mother, then looked with curiosity at the newest addition, sniffing the air. I pulled the door back close and let him back outside once more, then sat back down to enjoy my coffee in the dark.
Yesterday I emailed an old friend of mine. He is a minister in upstate New York and while we haven’t seen each other in a long time we stay in touch to share stories about our families and our lives because we have gone through a lot together over the years. He had been a stock broker before he got his calling and resigned to attend the seminary, and I had been a businessman before my own awakening and deciding to become a farmer. Our wives were very close, all of our children spaced equally apart in age, and we had attended the same church for years before heading off to new lives. We had those things in common, but there was something else besides, a kind of like mindedness in the way we went about our lives, each of us trying to follow where we felt we had been called even though it meant a decline in our standard of living — at least in economic terms. For both of us those changes gave us richer, more fulfilling lives and more time with our families so the trade off was a trade up and we made sure to remind each other whenever we spoke or wrote that those changes were worth it. I gave him a few details about the Fall, about the family, about life in general, but mostly I just wanted to give him thanks for being there even though it was so far away because it’s important to remember just how fortunate we are for the people in our lives who care about us and be grateful for it.
And I am grateful, for everything that life has brought me; for the healthy litter of new puppies and how happy the children will be when they wake up and see them, for not knocking out any of my teeth the other day even if my nose is a wreck, for the nutritious and well-earned meal that we’ll share with our family and friends today in a safe place far removed from the troubles that seem to plague the world these days and for having the sense to recognize just how blessed, how truly fortunate we are to have this time even when it seems to be so trying and oppressive. When I look back over the past year it unfolds like a tapestry of beautiful memories and proud accomplishments and all of the failures and disappointments, the fears and pains of a thousand minor cuts and bruises that attend every life are nothing more than a hum in the distance. I can hear the cock crowing outside, and as I write this the Sun is filling the room with an early morning glow that gives the moonlight a run for its money and I realize how truly thankful I am.