Hot Blood on Snow
I wasn’t dressed as well as I could have been for the twenty-below-zero weather. My nose was stiff on the outside, runny on the inside, and my gloves were hardening up. I wish I had worn another pair of long johns and another couple of base layers. But I had thought I could handle it.
I was staying with a farm family in the northern part of British Columbia, Canada. It was mid-winter and everything was covered with snow. It was butchering day, which to them was a normal occurrence, but to me, was something I had never experienced, and probably will never experience again. The father and son were ready to shoot the old lame cow, and they called us to see if we wanted to come watch and help out with the butchering. I, of course, couldn’t resist. I was silent on the drive over, but the kids were yapping in the backseat. Some of them wanted to take part in it; others couldn’t bear to watch. These kids had been around it all their lives, and even then, it didn’t become an easy task to get through.
I couldn’t even handle the cold, let alone the prospect of the shooting. The father and son got out of the tractor and retrieved a pail of grain, setting it on the ground so that the cow would come over and eat. She hesitated a little, and then started walking over. She reached her head down toward the bucket—
The cow immediately fell to the ground. The sound reverberated everywhere. I kept saying out loud, “No, no, no,” but I couldn’t look away.
The father jumped over the fence and slit the cow’s throat. Hot blood came steaming out onto the pure white snow, the dark red puddle expanding slowly. Before I knew it, the cow’s legs were tied up in chains and it was raised up by a tractor. The father and son grabbed knives and started skinning the cow. The heat from its internal body rose into the crisp winter air. The daughter came in and traded off every so often, but then they handed me a knife. Before I could comprehend anything, I was taking part in the process. I was butchering something, and I had no idea what I thought about it. I didn’t feel myself. At that moment, I forgot everything that I was involved in during my previous life. The only thing that existed was this knife, this cow, this family, this snow.
“Whatever you do, don’t puncture the skin,” they said. “You’ll be wishing you didn’t know what the inside of a cow smells like.” Although I didn’t puncture the skin, or the stomach, which apparently gave off the most pungent smell, I smelled the inside of a hide from a cow that was walking around just moments ago. It was enough to cut cautiously. I had trouble grabbing the hide because you had to grab the inside as well, which was a slippery pink layer of, as I reminded myself, a real cow. They taught me to make slits in the hide so that I could grab it and pull it more easily. And when my bloody hands started to freeze up, I was told to place them on the warm insides of the body, or to get them near the hot blood trickling out. I was miserably cold, so I obeyed.
After that day, I knew my life had changed, but I couldn’t quite explain it to others. I could barely handle one cow being killed, and I failed to comprehend it or grasp the weight of it.
Then I thought of the steaming blood poured out on the purest snow.
Then, another picture: a first-century Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, raised up not by chain links on a tractor, but nails on a cross. He’s hanging there, and there I am, too, looking at him, not unlike how I looked at the cow: riveted, perturbed, about to throw up, but pulled close. And now I find myself tentatively placing my hands in his hot blood to keep from freezing.