This is a story about generosity, about receiving a gift from virtual strangers, and about the gift of the deer nation.
It all started with a friend recommending Soul Proprietor moccasin to a client of hers last summer. I met and measured this woman’s feet. The easiness with which we talked to one another was lovely – not just business for either of us – instead an exchange from the heart that took up the better part of an afternoon. Again when she tried on the patterns for proper fit and more so upon delivery.
Out of the blue she called me last fall. Would I like any deer hides from the hunt her People would be going on? She is from the Snoqualmie Tribe. Each autumn the People come together to hunt, to make meat, sustenance for all who’ll need meat throughout the year. She offered that I could have possibly as many as 20 hides. I accepted 3, not wanting to take more than I could properly tend to.
Late last year she delivered the hides to me. And would I like some feet? I accepted this too. I put the hides into my freezer until I could dedicate my time to them. The feet needed immediate tending. I was presented with a learning curve. I’ve never taken toes from hooves. Nor had I ever harvested tendons to make sinew. This is a time I can say thank goodness for Google.
When I am making moccasin, I am able to be present with feet in a surprising way, it seems so intimate and personal. Likewise, taking the hide and toes from deer feet, seeing their structure – the muscling, the tendons and blood vessels, the bones – different than an intellectual knowing, now it was personal for me. And working with these particular deer, knowing they had been prayed for before they were hunted, that these deer had been honored in a good way – they had offered themselves so the People may live. My own prayers of gratitude and respect accompanied the boiling water that would soften the cartilage allowing for the toes to be removed. Sage smoke to purify. Some of the tendons and toes released with ease. Others took effort. Metaphor. What am I holding onto? How can I let go? What makes sacred and what makes ordinary? Is there a difference?
Last week I took the smallest hide from the freezer, let it thaw, then opened the black plastic bag. I hadn’t seen the hide yet, the bag had been tied closed. I was taken aback by the thick coat of fur, course yet so soft. I spent a while praying with the hide, being thankful, honoring the animal’s life and this gift. I called for help.
Fleshing is very hard work. Was I scrapping enough of the fat and fascia off? Was I going too deep? At first it seemed like I’d never get it done, there was a lot to do. It made me slow down, be present, learn from the animal. Medicine is such a teacher. No single direction accomplished the task, I was circling around the work table in the fresh air with the warmth of the sun – mourning the absence of winter and snowpack, it was nearly 60* on a winter’s day. Finally, listening, I was able to work with ease, a composure within myself and the gentleness of the deer to guide me. Once I understood, I found a rhythm and could be present with both the work and my prayer, and my wondering thoughts. The Snoqualmie People – how generous to share with a stranger the bounty of their hunt. Prayers for their good health, happy hearts and all their needs being met in a good way. Who shot this deer? How many will eat? Who took the hide off the animal? They did a really good job of it, no holes were cut into the skin. I thought of the landscape that supported this deer, of my prayer for Ina Maka. I was reminded of the buffalo hunt my own community had the year before. I helped to take that hide from the animal, it was women’s work just like the old days. Who fleshed the buffalo hide? I don’t know. It must have been a herculean task, I found myself grateful there was a community to do the work. And deep gratitude for Eileen, gifting me a knife on that day, the knife I was now using, perfect for my work. I wound up with a blister where it fit into the palm. I thought of friends long gone from my life and how tender a place still for them in my heart and memory. Flies. Was this bounty an unexpected feast for them or did they just take it in stride? I thought about the food chain. And enough. I reflected on the fact that this is my life – buffalo hunt, helping friends to butcher turkey, now this deer – could I kill? I never have taken an animal’s life. I thought of my own mortality.
It took longer than I thought it would, not just the work itself, but the time to make ready – teaching me patience and to trust. I worked on it three separate days just to remove the fur. Each day more fur came free but not all. I saw the places I held fear the way the skin held the fur – not wanting to waste or lay to ruin this hide. How long was too long to soak it waiting for the fur release and be easily removed? Using a round stone that fit nicely in my hand, I rubbed the fur off the skin. Soaking it again over night with wood ash. Then over a weekend, the last of my ash. Was there a better way? Was I working in an efficient manner? I was reminded again and again to breathe and relax my shoulders, release the tension in my neck and thoughts. To trust in the process.
I never did get all of the fur removed. There is still a bit around the edges of the hide but nothing that will inhibit good use of the skin which is large enough for two drums to come forward. I chose to dry the hide so I could learn how to stretch it without stretching too much. More metaphor. Deer teaches of the many paths there are to follow to arrive at a single destination. I am constantly amazed this is my path into the Mystery.
The first drum and the first rattle will be given back to the Snoqualmie People in gratitude for their generosity. Their kindness gives me hope for us all. We are all one nation, one tribe, one human family. And the deer, who made an agreement to give of itself sets an example for me to live by, one which we all can learn from in these times of great need. There is enough when we share in the bounty.
Pilamaya to the Snoqualmie Nation. Pilamaya to the Deer Nation.
Mitakuye Oyasin ~ All My Relations