Life, Death & Screaming Kids

animal spirit family homestead shamanism story

A few weeks ago my house-husband duties bumped up a notch when Terry started a graduate program to get an MSW (she’s still got a month left in her organic farming training program.) Now many evenings its just me and the kids on top of the breadwinner-familyCook-livestockCustodian-soccerDad-foodCanner-shamanicServiceProvider duties.

I love my life. No qualifications. I am blessed. I could write a list of blessings here, but it might piss you off IT IS SO AWESOME! Just know – my life rocks! I say that because I’m going to complain about something I have no right to complain about: being awesomely popular at home.

When I say popular I don’t just mean everybody is happy to see me, some days I AM MOVIE STAR POPULAR! What do I mean by that? I mean I walk in the door and am assaulted by munchkins – scaling me, clinging to me, strangling me with their love. Then comes the dog (all 80lbs of her – no we don’t trim her claws because she has to protect the livestock) and sometimes the cat. Its like I’m a giant magnet and every being under 100lbs must attach themselves to me. This after I’ve been out of the house (100 yards uphill) for just a couple hours.

It doesn’t stop there. Making my way back up the hill to my office means facing the ardour of a motley crew of turkeys and hens. If you’ve ever been pursued by galloping turkeys its…well lets just say its so clownishly adorable that you of course fall in love with them and want to let them peck you to bits.

Now being loved this much is of course AWESOME, the first 5,000 times it happens. When your old knees start to give out, and your neck twisted out of place, it starts to wear thin. When you never get to use the toilet in privacy, are not able to cook effectively because of the toddler wrapped around you, it gets tiresome.

Then there is of course that other issue: that the one person I want to climb on and cling to is otherwise busy with her graduateDegree-I’mBecommingAfarmer-mother-chauffer-financialManager-housecleaner-laundryCustodian-familyTherapist life. Everyone thinks you’re a movie star except for that person on the couch with her nose in a book. You are not a movie star, you’re the guy distracting her while she’s trying to deal with what’s really important, that essay on Whatchama-BestSocialWorker-InAllofHistory. Don’t even ask to see where you’re at on the priority list. The fact that I’m a movie star to the munchkins does not help my priority-list-position. Everybody loves Tim, whats he complaining about?

That first week Terry was gone was also my first turkey harvest. Actually it was my first turkey mercy killing. In hindsight, it started a few days before when I found a turkey feather centered neatly on our front door mat. A friend later cautioned that picking that feather up meant taking on the responsibility for the life of that turkey. Apparently one of them wanted to go, I sure had a strong feeling that day we’d lose one. He hunkered down in the same spot – barely eating – in Bella’s place under the big lavender out front.

Our littlest one, True, was especially needy with Momma away. We’d been doing fine all evening, so long as I didn’t put her down for more than 10 minutes at a time. Just enough time to get dinner on the table in fits and starts, Terry would make it home that night to join us at the dinner table.

Then I heard feathers digging into the dirt and Bella snarling. I looked out the kitchen window to see Bella standing on the lonesome-hunkered-down-turkey, pinning his wings beneath her paws. I was out the door instantly to seperate them. The turkey was still alive, but his neck was clearly broken as he struggled to stand, likely due to Bella pouncing from above and behind him.

Thats when the screaming began. True is sensitive to stress and arguments, when I yelled at Bella to “GET OFF THE TURKEY“, she freaked out. She was screaming like she used to scream, when she first came to us, when she had her worst nightmares. When True screams, the whole world shakes around her. She has pipes and an endless sea of energy to call on.


Time to unfreeze my ass and get it moving.

Drag Bella into the house and get the meat cleaver.
“Tadg can you be with True, try to calm her down! Bella broke a turkeys neck and I’ve got to slaughter it now!”
“REALLY!!? Can I see!?”
“No…I’ve got to go out now, please stay in with True. In a minute…”
Back outside, found a bucket, found a block of wood (that old piece of railroad tie right there should do), grab the turkey.

Pause. Breathe. Ask the spirits for help, ask them to watch over the spirit of this bird, look it in the eye.
Thunk! One cut and release. I could feel the turkeys relief wash over its body just before –
“FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP!” The life ran out of him, I picked him up by the claws and the blood began to drain.
More screaming from the house. “GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!”
“Tadg whats going on?”
“She’s upset she won’t calm down.”
{Me screaming at the top of my lungs with a headless turkey in my arms bleeding out, hoping my voice will penetrate the flapping wings, kitchen window, and the sound of True’s screaming}
“ITS OK SWEETIE, PAPA’S RIGHT HERE…PAPA WILL BE IN SOON AS HE FINISHES”… I just have to finish slaughtering this creature you’ve come to love.
I can’t stand out here for twenty minutes while blood drains out.

Then there were two.

{Now totally annoyed with Dad}”WHAT!?”
“There’s an orange power cable in the mud room, can you throw it out the back door.
“I’ve got to string this turkey up so I can come in and be with True.”
Put the head in the bucket, grab the bird and head out to the back.
Hold the turkey up, balance on the other bucket, throw the chord over the back porch awning, wrap twice and tie off. Wow…it worked.
Back in the house.
“Its OK sweetie let Papa hold you.”
She points. Oh shit, great – perfect view of a giant headless bird dripping blood out the back door. How many years of therapy for that?
“Lets put on Elmo while Papa puts up a curtain over the back door. Moma will be home soon.”
Not what she was hoping to come home to.

I had plans to work with the turkeys well in advance of their harvesting, to journey to their spirits, ask advice on how best to slaughter them and care for their spirits. Instead this turkey showed me how it was done. Bella had been irritated and stressed for weeks with heat and a skin condition. The turkey knew just the button to push. All that was left for me to do was show up and deal as humanely as possible with everything at hand. There will be no fanfare, just life, death, and screaming kids.

I’ve carved something out for myself since Terry’s schedule change: fifteen minutes a day. Thats the time it takes me to make my circle, invite in an animal spirit to move with and then – move. Some mornings it happens in the dark before I even let the critters out. Some mornings (like today) True is up with me before dawn and movement happens after everyone is all packed off for the day.

The spirituality I find amongst the tangles of family life is in many ways the most precious. It is native to everything I am. It does not need to escape turkeys, and dogs, and cats and kids and insanely busy Moms to find itself. I savor it more because of my experience as a parent. It has depth and value to me that goes to places only parents know.

I got the turkey mostly plucked that night, certainly gutted and ready for the fridge. A few minutes here and there over the next couple of days and his feathers were (mostly) all gone. An interesting thing happen – at some point he stopped being the animal I’d killed and started being a turkey for my family to eat. The cook took over where the homesteader left off. A bit of grace in an otherwise hectic, epic animal harvest.

The peace that bird expressed, its sense of relief has stuck with me. It was as if he planned his death, was waiting for me to get my act together and finish the job. Animals know their place in life and death better than we do. The struggle for life was over, he was ready to go. It was time. When I journeyed to its spirit later it let me know it would be waiting to help when the other birds died.

One of the other turkeys showed up this morning for my movement work. He watched me from the large cob door while I was merged with an animal spirit, strutting powerfully through the room. At first he flared up, displaying his fine feathers, his face turning bright red and soft purple. Then slowly he backed down, respectful that I could hold my own.

I am no movie star, some day my kids will realize it (I hope I can still walk by then!) When those days come I’ll want to cling to them, not let them go. I suspect I’ll still have turkeys around me. I hope then they’ll still think me worthy of a feather placed at my front door, worthy of a good place in their life.

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