In this new column, English Lessons, former urbanite Ashley English writes about life on her Candler farm as a homesteader, blogger, author and mom.
by Ashley English . photo by Naomi Johnson
I live one mile down a dirt road, in a mountainside cove on eleven forested acres, surrounded by hundreds more. The property is teeming with wildlife. Rabbits, deer and seemingly every other forest creature imaginable, both under foot and overhead, share this space with my husband, our toddler and a menagerie of dogs, cats, chickens and bees. Not long ago, for a variety of reasons, I decided that (our personal pets aside) I wanted to eat some of those other creatures. And I even wanted to learn to track, kill and butcher them myself.
A creature of habit, I love routine, the safety and security of it. My childhood was chaotic and transient, characterized by moves from town to town and house to house. My adult life has allowed me to introduce a bit of soul-satisfying tethering to places, people and practices. Mostly, that’s a good thing. On occasion, though, it can trip me up, holding fast to a job, relationship or habit far past the point of mutual benefit.
Such was my steadfast, tenacious devotion to not eating meat for well over a decade. Years as a vegan were followed by vegetarian, macrobiotic and raw vegetarian diets. Not only did I find my diets to be healthy paths for myself, I counseled and advised others to do so as a holistic nutritionist (and still feel that a vegetarian diet can be the right choice for many). I knew, without question, that vegetarianism was the path for me. Right up until the moment I knew that it wasn’t.
Midway through my pregnancy, I turned to my husband and suddenly announced that I wanted a cheeseburger.
A huge, mayonnaise-slathered, tomato-topped cheeseburger. As the words tumbled out, seemingly from a mind and mouth other than my own, we stared at each other, dumbfounded. I decided then to tiptoe back into meat-eating, beginning with poultry and seeing if any other urges arose. They did.
We’d planned a water birth at home for our son, Huxley Wild, now a toddler. Sparing you the gory details, suffice to say, this was not what transpired at all. The perfect storm of unforeseen emergencies landed me in the hospital, heavily medicated, short on blood and minus an ovary, for four days. Walking out the hospital doors, our wee one burrito’ed up in swaddling blankets in my arms, I made another meat-related pronouncement. “I want beef,” I told my husband. He knew I meant business.
Though my return to eating animal products was swift, it wasn’t capricious. To resume such a radical shift in diet, I had to face my fears surrounding death. Everything that lives, I feel, wants to continue to do so. Everything that lives, however, does so at the expense of another living creature, whether the life we’re talking about is a pig or a potato. Our reality is predicated upon the notion that survival requires continual death, birth and renewal.
My return to meat-eating has rendered me more mentally alert and physically fit than I’ve been in years. I weigh less now than I did before I became pregnant, my digestion is the best it’s ever been, and, even as a new mother, I have energy and stamina in spades. Physical benefits aside, though, the aspect of my dietary change that has impacted me the most is the way I’ve come to respect all life more fully. Even though I’ve gardened, tended to fruit trees and foraged all manner of wild edibles for some time, eating animals has left me more acutely aware and appreciative of the cycle of life that occurs on our planet.
It has also inspired me to learn to hunt. It’s primitive, our pursuit of animals for sustenance, but for me, it’s the obvious next step in my education about the natural world. And I’m not alone either, with a cadre of lady friends eager to take up the practice with me. I’ve even considered writing a book on the journey. While I never could have imagined my life would take this course, I can’t deny its powerful pull. Nor can I pretend that this particular tethering, to animal, soil and life, doesn’t ground me deep down in my bones and feel righter than right, on every possible level.
Ashley English is author of four books in the “Homemade Living” series from Asheville’s Lark Books. For more of her writing, check out her blog, Small Measure, at http://small-measure.blogspot.com.