> jumping into life.



The nights have turned cold, with broad mornings that slip directly into afternoon, skipping midday altogether. The sun is warm, but breezes and shadows both chill. Butchering time.

At nine o'clock the butcher and his wife arrive in a rumbling truck, backing the trailer carefully into the barnyard. Inside, he has everything laid out: the line of killing cones, an aluminum trashcan of hot water over a propane burner, the plucking machine, two sinks mounted on the wall with a tub beneath to catch the guts. Feet and necks go into one bucket; hearts and livers in another. Outside, we have a tank of ice water, a roll of plastic bags.

We've dragged the chicken tractor - the coop which we've been moving every other day, all over the side-hill below the barn - as close as we can get it to the barnyard. We bring the chickens, three at a time. They work quickly, methodically. We talk about the season, the rain, the drought, the frost, except when the plucking machine roars to life, which is my cue anyway to get another three. There is surprisingly little mess. They tell us they've slaughtered seventeen thousand birds this year, so far. He's coming up now on seventy, supposes he'll keep working 'till he's eighty but it'd be nice to find an apprentice, someone to follow. Nobody else in the state doing this kind of work; if there's meat to be slaughtered, he says, they've been there.

It's a good living, he says: seventeen thousand chickens at two-fifty a head, just do the math. Not even considering all the beefers, the hogs and in the spring there's lamb.

Each time I go back into the coop, the chickens sit calmly, stupidly, staring at the feed troughs that we left outside. I don't feel badly for them. I catch them fast, and once they're upside-down they quiet. Mostly they don't even flutter when I hand them across to the butcher's wife. Ten seconds later their heads are in a bucket. Chickens aren't especially expressive, and of course there's no way to really know, but I don't see anything I'd call suffering.

The butcher says they've seen a lot of new business this year, a lot of new kinds of folk raising their own meat. Especially chickens, easy to care for, easy to kill: the gateway livestock. Lots of doctors, lawyer-types, state police. Not just farmers and back-to-the-landers, not anymore. Themselves, they grow mostly what they eat, trade slaughtering for vegetables at a farm down the way. The kids don't want that life, though. Maybe one of the grandkids will.

At the end there are four birds left. I'll do two and two, she says. It's cruel to leave one alone.


The wedding is eating my brain, even though I promised myself it wouldn't.


(But I'm going to wear cowboy boots! Yee-haw!)


And it was suddenly autumn. We all knew it, though nobody knew quite why. It was something in the light, something in the air. No room for doubt. The chipmunks stopped to watch us, their cheeks stuffed full. The loon cried her wildsong as she passed over the field. The sun set into gathering clouds. There were geese in the distance. The leaves started to fall.


The end is nigh. Today came in on little grey feet, a soft drizzle and a pot of chicken soup. We'll be bringing in the potatoes and winter squash next week; the onions are already in the greenhouse to cure. It's a heavy season, the last of the harvest. We have a digger, a machine to pull the potatoes out of the ground - and we've got about seven thousand pounds of potatoes, so thank god. We'll still have to haul them into and out of the truck, one fifty-pound crate at a time, but at least we don't have to pull them out of the ground. The trees are starting to turn. We pulled our wool blanket out and added it to the down. After weeks of dry and hot and sun - the rain stopped just in time for a drought - it feels like fall.

We're getting married in 35 days.

Last night with my arm around him and my belly against his back, I thought about his little old man body and my little old woman body, the bodies we'll have in fifty years. Imagined our knotted bones and paper skin here where today we are youth and health and strength. Will we still be bickering over unwashed dishes and doors left open? Will we still see into each other's secret hearts? We are fifty years and thirty-five days away from our golden anniversary. I wonder what we'll do to celebrate.