Monday, October 17, 2011

Autumn Planting Festival, or What I Learned From Killing a Chicken (part 2)

We got to sleep late that night and there was a little bit of panic when I woke up and realized that I had slept in by a few hours. I got out my laptop with the intention of writing myself a script of what I would say later on and then wound up taking to Chris and then Doug and Jon and Gwynn as they woke up. Before I knew it, it was 9:40 am and time to get the chickens.

I had borrowed a small dog carrier from Kelsey a few days before, so I loaded that up in the car and drove down to get the chickens. Google maps had suggested one route, but it had seemed to go in circles, so after a bit of futzing with waypoints I got it to give me a route that looked much more direct. Except that it wound up taking me through the parking lot of a huge apartment complex which would have actually worked, except that the back entrance/exit to the parking lot was blocked off with a locked gate. Fifteen minutes later, I finally found the place.

I was met by a very nice Transylvanian lady (I kid you not) who took me over to a small coop containing four chickens. We talked for a bit, her pronunciation of words was excellent, but her grammar was not so good, and wound up coming out sounding like someone doing a bad Romanian accent. Her best line was, “Planning trip back to old country soon. Be gone six months, maybe more. Men, they cannot be trusted to keep care of chickens. Must sell them before.”

She also said that her husband had said to give me a good deal, so she was throwing in a rooster along with the three hens. Four birds for $60. Seems like a lot to me, but Gwynn thought that the hens at least were some pretty prime poultry. She tried to talk me into buying some ducks too, which were quacking up up a storm, but I begged off of those. They were pretty mellow birds and were easy to corral into the dog carrier. It was probably just as well that I hadn’t noticed the huge, mean-looking bone spur on the rooster’s legs until near the end.

I got them home with no problems; they barely made a cluck on the drive.

Once home, there was a bunch of work to be done. I got the bread started rising. I got all of our buckets and filled a big tub with water. Pulled around a big wooden table into the back yard. Got the gas burner on our barbecue working so we could have hot water to help with the feather plucking. Chris made the cheese and meat plate. We put the others to work as wee needed them, but Becca was getting them in the historical mood by showing them the video game BrĂ¼tal Legend.

When we first came up with this idea, Kelsey and I had decided that we were going to do it in costume. So, a little after 1:00 pm (as the others were going to be arriving about 2:00 pm), I locked myself in the bedroom and got into my Anglo-Saxon garb. Which, I have to say, looks pretty damn good. I still need a few things. I could use an undertunic and shoes and maybe a cap. I love the woolen leg wraps, though between those and the long tunic, you can barely see the trousers. I got it together just as Layla and Kelsey arrived (both of their boyfriends were forced to go into work, so neither of them made it). We hung around and chatted for a bit, and nommed our way through the cheese and meat platter. By about 2:30 pm, we were ready to get down to business.

Gwynn was the only other person who donned a costume, although Doug made himself a blood-splatter tunic by cutting holes in a black plastic garbage bag. So I was feeling a little exposed and embarrassed, but it wasn’t to bad.

We went out into the backyard. The weather had turned out to be great -- sunny, but cool with a bit of a breeze -- which is a lot better than the dark grey with scattered showers they had been forecasting earlier in the week. I gathered everyone around and told them I had a few words to say. Becca and Jon videoed.

This was the moment that I had been working up to all week, even more than the actual chicken killing itself. There was a brief moment of panic just before I started and then again about half a minute in where I forgot how to speak for a couple of seconds. But I got my focus back. I got into character and said what I had wanted to say.

The gist of the speech was to ask everyone to imagine that we were in the 6th Century. Once there, I got into character as the Germanic head of household of a small farm. I went on to explain that my son had traded our last cow for some magic grain that was supposed to grow through the winter (I haven’t been able to get a good handle on when these strains actually came into use in Europe. Are they modern? Not sure.) and that he didn’t know what kind of ceremony to use to bless his field with the strange wheat. He gave a brief overview of the ceremonies that his people would have used for summer grains, and then asked for help in extrapolating out to the winter grains.

I thought it went well, that I said what I had wanted to say and that it had come out in an entertaining and interesting manner. I delivered it well enough and didn’t make a complete fool out of myself. So that was all good. I invited everyone into my head for 13 minutes.

Then our attention turned to the chickens. Now, one of our Portland friends, one who hadn’t been able to come, had sent us a link to a how-to website that had given very good and explicit instructions on one method of killing the chicken and instructions on gutting it as well. I had found a YouTube video that did much the same thing, though with a different killing method. Another website had offered an outrageous sounding procedure. And the good Transylvanian woman had suggested a different method. So we had five basic methods to choose from:

1. Hit it on the head to knock it out. Then either take it’s head off or bleed it out. (Website #1)
2. Find it’s jugular vein just under its chin and slice it. (YouTube video)
3. With the chicken on your lap, grab it by the head and yank hard, dislocating its neck. (Outrageous website)
4. Pinch the carotid artery in its neck until it fell unconscious, and then chop. (Transylvanian lady)
5. While still alive, chop its head off. (Commonly known, that’s what everyone knows about chicken killing method)

We had all looked at the website of #1, so we decided to go with that method.

I guess that I’m being a little inexact with that method decription though. Hit it on the head needs a little more detail. You can’t just hit it with a hammer. They move too much and there would be a real chance of hitting yourself or the other person holding the chicken. So, this method had you grasp the chicken by the feet, twirl it around at full force and then bring the chicken’s head down on something solid, like the edge of our table.

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