This week is Michaelmas, the equinox, the start of autumn.
It’s still hot, but not like some years. In the evenings, the wind sweeps over the east hill at the farm, and blows cool. It blows colored, dying leaves down, too, and twists the yellowing bramble bushes.
Some years we really celebrated this holy time, sometimes in the Waldorf way, with hand-sewn felt dragons and little dragon breads with raisin eyes, stories of St. George and the dragon, and songs about it.
This year we didn’t really celebrate….but we did, in a way. We went to our friend Karen’s farm. Three years ago, her husband was tragically killed in a car accident. They had a working farm, and although many people helped out, she had three large hogs that were just ready for the freezer that she has not been able to do anything with all this time.
The hogs were very wild, and difficult to approach, and knowing how much work it was going to be, she had a hard time asking people to come help with it. Finally she let us. We met our friend PJ there, and another friend Miranda, who has two daughters. Another friend of Karen’s, Michael, also helped.
The pigs were big, and old, and we knew it would be lots of work. PJ and Michael had set up a trap in their paddock, hoping it would at least catch one of them, and make everything so much easier and calmer. But these pigs were too wild or too smart, and they absolutely refused to go in. That made things complicated.
Miranda, Karen and I stayed with the children and waited for the pigs to be felled. PJ, Michael and Ethan went in to get them. It seemed to take a long, long time, but finally we heard a shot. Then many more shots followed. Michael was the first to get back. He said the pigs were so old and hardened his bullets couldn’t stun them. We had a simliar experience a while ago, so Ethan hadn’t even bothered with the .22, and just brought the .30-40 Krag. It was a good thing, too.
Understandably, the pigs got very angry when they were in the pen trying to get them. They were charging fiercely. PJ was almost bowled over by a wounded sow, who simply bruised her leg when she jumped clear, staining her jeans with blood. Ethan was charged by the massive barrow with enormous tusks, but felled it point-blank as it was charging at him. It landed on his foot.
Once all three were killed, the work began. The children mostly played blissfully around. Karen’s pond was brimming with all the rain we’ve gotten, and the children found a boat and polled around in the shallows. Karen said they looked like children in a storybook. They played in PJ’s hammock. They played in the dirt, made fires to cook some tenderloin on. They loved it, and we worked. It was SO MUCH work. I am so exhausted – we are all so exhausted. Dragging a 400+lb animal onto a trailer. Dragging the huge sow out of the brushy trees. Then hanging them, skinning them, pulling the organs out, cutting the meat. We barely got that done, and only some wrapped up and in the freezer before we had to rush home and do the chores in the dark.
Matilda was NOT pleased. I had made her wait, so she made me wait while she grazed all the way down the brain-cage to the milking shed. I didn’t mind – she was so slow I milked all the goats first. And all the goats except Firefly decided to develop a haunting fear of the milking stand that night. May had to be half tempted with barley/half dragged in, and was a real pain.
There was still so much to be done, we went back the next day, picking up PJ and Miranda’s two daughters (at the chorusing request of our children) for moral support. I couldn’t believe how much more work there still was. We bagged up organs, chopped sausage meat. I was plugging away at the sausage meat for a long time – it seemed like forever, and everyone kept piling more scraps into the cooler. It felt never-ending. The children were tired, and squabbled, although not as much as I expected.
Ethan had a stroke of inspiration on an alternative fairytale to Rumplestiltskin, called “Grumplestiltskin.” It’s where you have an impossible, never-ending task to accomplish, and Grumplestiltskin shows up – but instead of doing the work for you in exchange for your first born child (an easy bargain, Ethan added, especially if the first born is being extremely surly that morning), Grumplestiltskin instead whines for ridiculous things that he could easily do himself.
But it was done at last, and everything cleaned and scrubbed and taken back to Karen’s house. We set off with just enough time to do the chores in the dark again. I had to milk May by the gate, because it was impossible to convince her that there were no predators lurking by the shadowy milking shed. Night Hawk managed to make himself a nuisance, too. He has been in disgrace since he shocked Mirin in the crotch last week, leaning his head through the electric fence.
We will be taking the rest of the week very easy. Today we did very minimal lessons, and the kids spent a lot of time drawing on the road with sidewalk chalk. There will be no cute dragon breads, or complicated hand sewing, or art projects, or dragon songs. The harvesting of the three pigs will have to do for our observance – and rather poignantly, too. In ancient British lore Mabon, whose name was the old name for Michaelmas, was the only one who could steal the magical razor, scissors, and comb from between the ears of a monstrous boar who ravaged the countryside.