Jack Frost came and painted the valley. Painted the trees. The cars. The water troughs. Spread his ice-cold breath over the land so the most shaded parts, the south-facing hills enclosed by trees, still had ice on the grass at three in the arvo.
He also painted the roads, so a recent, very early start was marked by ice all over the roads. I see the signs, Slippery When Frosty, all year round, but on some mornings they’re more than just landscape. They’re a warning well heeded.
Frost makes for a slower morning. The milk is frozen when I try to feed it to the pigs. The ice needs breaking in the cows’ trough. I simply don’t want to get out of bed as early. But, when I do, it’s to be met with incomparable beauty. The silence of frost. The sound of the ice cracking as the sun hits it. The bounce of light, usually culminating in a soft pink dawn. A clear day awaiting the gradual thaw, and light angling through the trees, across the valley, vainly struggling to add its warmth to my soul. The scent of wood smoke as it drifts from the cottages nearby as they fire up their cookers. All this and more for those who brave the morning frost.
The cold weather has brought many comforts. For a start, there’s whisky. And cabbages, and cavolo nero. A possum invasion of the garden has been halted, and the only things to suffer were a few brussels sprout plants. Broccoli, collard greens and more are awaiting us in our gloriously prolific plot.
There’s a pig awaiting, too, in the barnyard. An eight month old that we’re going to preserve at home. Mic is bringing his mortadella recipe and his mother and son to help make it. Ivano is bringing his experience from a family pig day or three in Italy. Ross is bringing a mincer, a sausage cannon, his knives.
The bath is set up for the scalding. We have a tree branch cleared in the yard to hang the girl. I have a lump in my throat thinking about what must happen to turn a live pig into a saucisson sec; a cotechino; a treacle-marinated ham. Part of me wants to cancel it all and send her to the abattoir as we always have. Part of me wants to leave the somewhat dubious business of cleaning the pig, of disposing of the guts, of draining the blood, to someone else. But this is our animal, nurtured from birth to the cutting room, and it’s my responsibility to at least understand what the process in between involves. I like to think of myself as a conscious omnivore. I’ve chosen to eat meat after flirting with being a vegetarian. If I send the pig to an abattoir then someone else does these things in my name. At least this once I must know the process from birth, to death, to the sausage skin.
I won’t be the only one there. And there’s a trained slaughterman on hand to make sure things go well. But, I still have to admit, I’m not really looking forward it.
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