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Moments with Wild Living

"What are you going to do with all that bear fat? ...

Eat it. And, use it for bark tanning, leather conditioning, salve making, soaps and lotions, achy joints and teaching folks about rendering.

"You can't eat that. It's like eating a racoon!" Said one of the hunters that stood by watching the local butcher skin his over 400 lb black bear. I am pretty sure that he took the life of that bear for sport and maybe just the skin and probably threw all that meat away. Which is a part of this that I struggle with emotionally and spiritually sometimes. I am glad to be using parts of the bear and saving it from a dumpster. I feel like using all of an animal after you have killed it is a way to honor the life that you have taken. I didn't take the life of these bears. (I am not sure that I would if I had the chance.) But, I do think that I am playing a small roll in honoring it's life when I take that fat use it and eat it. I also feel gratitude flittering on the surface of my heart while I am working or eating that fat. But, there is still a small part of me that feels guilty for benefitting from what was most likely the result of a style of hunting that conflicts with my values and ethics. (Baiting and sport hunting.) I go back and forth about whether or not I want to be eating the fat and taking in all that energy.

But, then again: How could you not rejoice in the bear and all that its flesh and spirit offer us while nibbling on fresh bear cracklins. While the fall chill is is settling in at night, it feels like a natural celebration and preparation for winter.  Cracklins are like french fries without the potatoes. And, for  me, it's all the comfort of diner food, fried food and fatty-goodness but with out too much to worry about - like gluten, rancid oils, and carb over-load. (I was going to say GMO's in that list, but recently have been thinking about all the foods that hunters bait their bear traps with and decided that I won't be too foolishly righteous about how "incredibly healthy" bear fat is for me.) 

I will be elbow deep in bear grease for the next week - rendering the raw fat down to better preserve it. I will be gathering up friends and whoever else wants to join in the process and learning to share and work our hands sore and blister up our forearms with teh inevitable hot grease splatters. I think that I have gathered about 500 lbs of raw bear fat (maybe more) this year. Which I estimate will render down to about 20 gallons of usable grease.

I went a little overboard this year - it's true. It's WAAAAY more fat than we need. But, the bad rice yer reminds me that its important to practice gathering and STORING UP resources when working with (and relying on) the unpredictability of mother nature.) Aren't we all lucky that we can go to the grocery store and buy vegtables from California when the drought and floods wipes out all the local wildrice?

The more I do this work and live and interact with the ups and downs and mysteries of nature, the more I both loath and appreciate the conveniences of our modern world. So convenient is it to so many of us that we expect there to be food in the grocery stores and thus are willing to throw away 500 lbs of usable calories. So convenient is it that I don't have to watch my friends wither away from starvation because it was a bad rice year. So convenient is it that I can throw up my hands and go to a dance party when its too cold or rainy to think harvesting food is a fun thing to do today. (I won't lie, I ask the universe for great booty-dancin as often as I ask for sunshine and health of the rice beds to return!)  There is a part of me that really appreciates that convenience,   and, a part of me that recognizes how much that luxury robs me of the experience of being a human that lives on the waves and tides of the seasons, the ups and downs of nature - robs me of the ways one grows, loves, and learns under the looming reality that I would die with out a deep understanding and connection to all that is around me - robs me of the wisdom and compassion that develops when I feel the pressure of needing to know the earth so intimately and be her ally as much as she is mine because my survial depends on it. 

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