Proctor's Mountain Classroom community transitioned to a hunter/gatherer mindset as we drove away from California. On our way to Boulder, UT we paddled through the Black Canyon seeking out hot springs around every corner. Once in Boulder we began fasting in preparation for learning how to butcher a sheep under the direction of Laurel Holding and Carrie Ryan. Both have acquired their skills over many years as instructors for various organizations, including the Boulder Outdoor Survival School.
We just came back from canoeing along the Colorado River. I was struck with the magnitude and expansive beauty: from the clear blue sky to the russet cliffs down to the emerald water. Everywhere I looked I saw something that got my blood pumping a little harder. The sights made the air in my lungs feel lighter and my hands and feet would itch to get a closer look. It was hard to pick one point to look at; I was overwhelmed by the colors, sounds, textures, and smells.
When we got to our first camp, a little canyon with a warm stream that led up to a smattering of hot spring pools, all I wanted to do was climb up the wall of the canyon and see what was on the other side. So after we set up camp well away from the water line, and everyone was settled down in the shade escaping the brutal sun, I started to climb. I ran up the side of the canyon, not pausing until I was at the edge looking over at the water. I straightened myself and looked up. I lost my breath, and I think my jaw dropped open. I was looking at something out of a fairy tale. The clear, green water meandered slowly before me, meeting the mammoth cliffs, which stretched towards the cerulean sky. I could see all the way down the river until it curved out of sight. The mountains beyond stood stoic as the sun caught the stripes of orange, red and purple that ran across their surfaces.
I had to sit down. I sat there looking at this impossible view, breathing in and out the sweet desert air. Every thing seemed to slide in to place, the colors, sounds, textures and smells seemed to melt together and create a living, breathing masterpiece.
I felt a trickle of sweat run down my back. I blinked and got up to go get the others to climb up and be able to experience the view. I looked around once more. My eyes moved slowly taking everything in as a whole, not as fragments. I smiled and called down to the others.
For the rest of the trip I made sure that I was looking at the big picture and not just the small details.
We all sat around a dying fire on the Holladay’s property the night before we killed the sheep. One of our guides, Carrie, asked us if we ever had a vegetable garden growing up. My stomach rumbled thinking about the tomatoes, hot peppers, and various delicious veggies my family grows in the summer. We were all fasting to respect the life of the sheep, so any mention of food made me salivate.
Carrie then asked, “Those of you who have never had a garden, do you know where a carrot comes from?”
Thankfully, everyone knew carrots are tubers, so they come from the ground. I had just never imagined that people would not know where different fruits and vegetables come from, especially one as common as a carrot. Carrie shared with us that a lot of people that she has taken out into the backcountry do not know where they come from, and in fact it is a lot more common than one would think.
Looking into the glowing embers, I asked myself how someone could know so little about where there food comes from. I thought about how my family has usually had a CSA at Casey Farm, and how we bought beef from my brother’s boss and our neighbor who was farming cows. I have always been introspective about what I put into my body. This is what prompted my decision to become a vegetarian in middle school and drove me to watch documentaries about the US food system outside of class. Then I realized, looking around at the people I have been growing closer to, that we were about to figure out where meat comes from.
Sure, we have seen pigs and cows and chickens, but as Americans, we are so withdrawn from the way our meat is processed. This includes the killing and butchering of animals. We just go to the store and look through the cellophane that covers the meat incased in styrofoam. We choose which chicken breast or T-bone steak we think looks the most appetizing, we cook it the way we like it, and we eat it without thinking about or properly respecting the animal that sacrificed its life for our meal. If we have ever eaten meat, not knowing what it means to take a sentient being’s life is the same as not knowing where a carrot or an apple or a pepper comes from.
On our walk down to the sheep, a lot of us cried for the first time since the beginning of Mountain Classroom. Knowing that I was surrounded by a group of loving, compassionate people that would respect the life of the sheep, my worries were eased a little, but not completely put to rest. The thought of killing something weighed us all down as we drew nearer to the sheep.
In the next two days, we processed the sheep, and made meals from it. We feasted on jerky, curry, a blood scramble, we grilled its ribs and toasted it over the fire. We celebrated its life, and respected it. Now that we have had this amazing experience, and shared it with Carrie, Laurel, and Willow, we are closer to understanding where meat comes from, and honoring what we eat. We thank the sheep for sustenance, and we appreciate and try to respect every future being that we consume.