by Tiffany Cheezem, Wilderness Year Participant, April 25, 2017

Today I processed my first deer. She had been hit by a car. Her neck and body were still faintly warm, and her eyes were still clear. She had sustained serious internal damage. However, she was such a beautiful, large, healthy doe, I couldn’t even begin to lift her into the back of my car myself.

Two teenagers stopped to help me out, and I drove her back to the Arnot Forest where I live. I had guidance in where to make the initial cuts into the hide (thanks Justin and Zoe) and the last cuts to take some meat (thanks Greg), but in between, I was on my own, just me and the forest and the snow and the deer.

I learned that her coat was thick and lustrous and ready for winter. I learned that she had had a fawn and was still lactating. I learned that she had made it head and shoulders past the oncoming car before it hit.
I’m not from a hunting family or a farming family. I grew up vegetarian. I generally get queasy at the sight of blood and squirm when someone describes an injury. I have had trouble cooking meat because it is out of my comfort zone. But my baseline is shifting fast. Two weeks ago I skinned my first animal ever, a hermit thrush; today, after skinning and butchering this deer, I feel like I could process almost anything.

It’s extremely empowering. My thanks to my mentors and to the deer.

One thing that stands out to me is the way I was led to the deer at the right place and the right time. I was on an out-and-back trip to the laundromat and decided to go the opposite direction when I was done instead of back. Within two minutes, there was the deer.

Not only that but had I not spent the past week scraping hides to prepare them for tanning, I wouldn’t have been comfortable touching a dead animal, especially one that was bleeding. I’ve been on the lookout for deer for months, but none came my way until I was actually ready to process it.

Another thing that stands out is how I actually feel like I know this deer now; how much compassion I feel for her; and how strongly I want to honor her life by using her hide, bones, meat, and sinew. The more work I put into turning her gifts into useful and beautiful things, the more respect I give her.

I hope her spirit has passed to a peaceful place, and give thanks for her life and her gifts.