Earth Day 2016: My Kansas Tribute

There was a time, many moons ago, when I used to genuinely celebrate Earth Day as a holiday (of sorts). Living in California, and being in graduate school studying holistic and transpersonal psychology, it was almost mandatory to buy-in. Each year I would take my young son, toddler through kindergarten, to the Concord Pavilion where the Earth Day celebration would be held and we’d peruse the displays about evil chicken farmers, admire furniture made of reclaimed wood, and engage in face painting. That was our Northern California urban tradition.

These days (these years) I barely even remember that April 22 is Earth Day; because as a hunter and fisher, I daily pay homage to the Earth and the myriad blessings G-d has bestowed upon us. My fishing and hunting licenses, annoying though they may be at times, and my deer & turkey tags, and trout stamp, do more for conservation on a regular basis than a decade of Earth Day celebrations will ever do.

I tend not to be a religious person, albeit quite spiritual, and therefore am not well versed in the Bible; however I turn to the Old and New Testaments when I seek guidance, or a verse that punctuates my point. One such verse that I take to heart is: Genesis 9:3 – “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” And with that in mind, I joyously fish and hunt to provide sustenance for myself, my family and my friends.

Today, Earth Day 2016, was no exception. Having already filled my first spring turkey tag last weekend (with my gorgeous first-ever Tom) I decided to spend at least part of this weekend fishing, before trout season ends when the Kansas weather turns sizzling and the trout cannot survive. So with today off from work, I headed out to my favorite trout pond on post, Cameron Springs, to engage in some trout fishing. As it was midday, and not a particularly good time for trout fishing, however, I also used a second fishing pole with a soft bait treble hook filled with stink bait to try my hand at catfish.

It didn’t take long before I had my first channel cat on the line; a decent sized 10-12 inch fish. I gave it the obligatory kiss on the lips for luck, placed it on my stringer, and cast out again, meanwhile continuing to tend to my trout line. My second channel cat was a fair bit larger, at about 18 inches, and I felt quite pleased at this second catfish. I continued to have minimal action with my trout line, not because they didn’t like my bait (this year, salmon eggs are all the rage with pond trout!) but because it was early afternoon and the weather had begun to warm up. So out went my catfish bait again. I genuinely enjoy channel cat, finding it an awesome accompaniment to farm fresh eggs in the morning. Another hit on my catfish line… and I reeled in the largest channel cat I have ever caught; two feet long and easily five pounds!

I moved from pleased to ecstatic when I saw the size of this fish! His head was so big that he didn’t fit on my metal stringer and I had to tether him to my rope stringer all by himself. By this time, about two hours had passed since my labbie-girl and I got to Cameron Springs and set up, so I tried one more time for a trout. I tend to be like a Retriever when I’m fishing; the slightest nibble will get me fixated and I can’t turn away. Finally, as we approached 3:30 PM, I managed to hook a trout, almost three hours after I started fishing. The trout was small, enough for one meal, but ultimately I was thankful to have gotten one at all. My yellow lab and I headed home with quite a generous bounty.

This essay will spare you the pain, primarily physical, of gutting and cleaning the catch of the day – specifically the largest catfish, whom I decided would be best without his skin. Normally I leave the skin on when I prepare my catfish, mainly because I have never learned the proper way to gut them. But this fishy was quite dirty, and being so large (all things considered) I determined his skin would hinder, rather than help, the palatability of this catch. Needless to say; it took over an hour to clean the catfish, and half of that was spent just on my “big guy.”

As far as Earth Days go, it was a fabulous day. It started out in the woods this morning, setting up a new Ameristep ground blind in a new location on my friend, John’s, property, as well as putting up a Moultrie game camera to catch the whitetailed foot traffic in the area. I spent three hours fishing; which was both productive and relaxing. And it ended with a dinner of wild turkey breast (from my Tom).

I have always known that being out in nature is a spiritual experience for me, one that calms and empowers my well-being. It was only recently, however, that I learned of a new friend’s philosophy, which makes a great hashtag; outside for a better inside. On this Earth Day, unlike those of years’ past, I didn’t just observe the commercial definition of being a good steward of the Earth; I practiced it, I lived it, I embraced it… and I ate it.

As a hunter and a fisher; I recognize that Earth Day is every day. I care for the environment in which I live, because it cares for me. And I can think of no place I’ve ever lived that more exemplifies the principles of Earth Day than Kansas; a state whose very existence is a tribute to the blessings of this Earth.

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Spring Turkey 2016: After the Hunt

The thing about hunting is; it doesn’t end after successfully harvesting an animal. A deer doesn’t drag itself to the hunter’s truck, a turkey doesn’t field dress itself, and fish (with regarding to fishing – which is really like water hunting) don’t gut themselves. Hunting is a process; enjoyable, but also time consuming.

Take for instance my harvested Tom during spring turkey hunting this weekend: Once my friend, John, and I got the turkey back to my truck and lowered the tailgate, I had easily 30 minutes’ worth of processing to do. Granted, a more skilled hunter would likely not take so long to field dress the turkey, and John was adamant that, had this been his bird, the remaining carcass would have become fodder for the yotes (that’s slang for coyotes in Kansas-speak) and such. Yet I was endeavoring to keep my cuts precise and minimize damage to the bird’s body because my intent was to take him to a taxidermist. I don’t know how to successfully remove the tail feathers without damaging the fan, so I wanted to insure I could deliver the entire turkey to the taxidermist Saturday morning.

In all honesty; my knives went dull sooner than expected while trimming the breast meat off, as I’d neglected to clean them and sharpen them after their last use. It also got dark quickly, making it difficult to see, and I became agitated with the mosquitoes feasting upon my neck while I worked; like the tiny little vampires they are.

I inadvertently cut through the Tom’s bowels while attempting to be thorough, thereby releasing putrid liquid, feces, and a horrific smell; all of which soaked my hands. This led John and I to bring the turkey over to his hose to wash him out, then placing the Tom in a heavy duty garbage bag for me to transport home and refrigerate until morning. To add insult to injury; the three new freezer bags I’d placed in my backpack, just for the purpose of a successful hunt, had managed to disappear and the only one John could find for me to use for my turkey meat was the freezer bag I’d brought to the hunt that had veggie pulp in it. The bag had been emptied prior to my hunt, but remnants of veggie pulp lined the inside thus covering my turkey breast meat with tiny vegetable slivers.

When I got home at 9:00 PM, I placed the garbage bag with the turkey carcass in the fridge and headed to the bathroom for a shower. In my urgency to find the Tom in the woods, I’d pressed myself through the woods in a devil-may-care fashion with total disregard for poison sumac, my sworn enemy, or limbs, brambles, or spider webs. I knew I needed to ditch my hunting clothes as quickly as possible and clean up to eliminate the potential for urushiol oil settling on my body, and wanted to minimize the chance of ticks turning me into a buffet. There was also the matter of turkey bowel I’d soaked in, which had forced John to comment that I smelled so bad he couldn’t hug me goodbye.

Once in the shower I immediately found a tick searching for a table for one. As I began to wash my hair, I realized that my ponytail had acted as a catch-all, and I pulled enough thorny vines and twigs from my hair to begin a table decoration. By the time I was ready for dinner, about 10:00 PM, I’d lost most of my appetite and interest in eating. As I endeavored to unwind from the night’s excitement, I felt a tiny bite on the back of my neck and got hold of another tick before it had settled in. After finding the second tick, I started to itch all over, and while scratching my freshly washed scalp found a third tick who seemed to have gotten somewhat trapped in my mane of hair.

Saturday morning, I woke up to find that the turkey had discharged blood and water (presumably from the shower he’d had the night before), which had seeped through the garbage bag, and covered the bottom of my refrigerator, dripping onto the floor. As I stared at the absolute mess, pondering how I would clean it all up, I remembered I purchased a shop vac when I got my service dog a few years ago (although I’d never really used it). Fortunately the shop vac did the trick and sucked up all the bloody liquid. In that moment I was glad I’m the kind of gal who likes tools and such. I removed the turkey from the bloody garbage bag and placed him in a plastic tub I’d purchased for pickling my squirrel hides. That’s when I noticed there was a lot of meat left on the Tom that I’d neglected to get the night before. Before setting my sights on collecting the remaining meat, I had to scrub the refrigerator, the vegetable crisper bins, and wipe down all the bottles that had been sitting in the bloody water. It’s ironic really; the turkey got me to clean my refrigerator when I had been putting it off for a very long time.

I was able to carve an extra 1-2 pounds of viable meat from the breast area and thighs. I also took his neck, thereby adding future yummy goodness to turkey soup and also making it easier to fit the large turkey in the small red tub. The turkey in a tub was then placed in a new garbage bag and transported to the taxidermist in town, Kansas Pro Taxidermy, a fairly new member of the Junction City community. John had informed me about KPT, and I recognized it as a great way to keep my dollars local.

The work did not cease at that point, however, because I then had about 10 pounds or so of turkey meat to clean, cut up, and segregate in vacuum seal bags to prepare for being placed in my game freezer (which is one of the most expensive pieces of furniture in my bedroom). All in all, it took over an hour to process the meat and secure it for later use. And lastly; today I emptied and cleaned the shop vac, and washed and sharpened my knives in preparation for the next successful hunt.

With the exception of writing my two essays today and doing laundry (the hunting clothes were washed yesterday), the after-hunt work took up my whole weekend. Whereas it took an hour to hunt the Tom, and another hour to find him; it took a full half day, spread out over two full days, to complete the hunt in its entirety. That’s not counting the several hours it took to write both essays about the hunt.

As I progress in my hunting experience, I hope to decrease the time it takes me to field dress my harvest, and I look forward to improving my meat prep skills, although I’d be happy if I could just decrease the number of times I cut myself with a knife during the whole process. One day I also pray to have my own house with a garage so I can process all my own meat, including deer, and have a large space in which to do it, rather than the small galley kitchen in my apartment.

Until such time, however, I consider the whole experience to be an integral part of the hunt; something I look forward to and enjoy. And a process which reminds me of my ability to be self-responsible (and therefore Free) every time I consume a meal consisting of the wild game I harvested.

SpringTom Meat

Mango Madness Meatloaf: venison & paleo

In an attempt to make a yummy venison meatloaf that ascribes to Paleo guidelines, I created the following recipe, which I call Mango Madness Meatloaf. Because I am allergic to tomatoes I have come up with alternatives over the years, primarily mango and papaya, to replace tomato in certain recipes.

Mango – one
Almond meal -1/2 cup
Ground venison – 1 lb
Ground chicken (or turkey) – 1 lb
Eggs (omega3) – 2
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Sage – 1 tbsp
Thyme – 1 tbsp
Garlic – 1 tbsp (or 2 cloves)
Black or 4 season pepper – 1 tsp
Red bell pepper – 1
Yellow bell pepper -1
Celery – 2
Onion (sweet) – 1/4
Apple, Gala – 1/2

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Using food processor, almost puree mango. Add eggs, oil & seasonings and mix. Place ground meat in a bowl and add mixture with hands. Dice up veggies and apple. Add veggies and almond meal to meat mixture and mix with hands. Rub a small amount of olive oil on sides of baking dish (Pyrex) and put meatloaf mixture in with enough room for meatloaf to rise as baking. Cook for 60 minutes and let sit for 10 minutes after baking. This makes over two pounds of meatloaf, so use a large baking dish or be prepared to bake meatloaf in two episodes. My dish holds one pound so I had to bake two separate batches.

Because I’m endeavoring to follow the Paleo lifestyle, there is no salt added, no seasonings with salt or sugar, and I used a glass baking dish instead of aluminum or Teflon. The meatloaf smells wonderful while baking, and tastes very good. The chicken I used was from Perdue, as they advertise being hormone-free. The ground venison is fresh from my December harvest.

My palate and tummy are very happy with the outcome!

A Look at The Paleo Diet (Glad I’m a Hunter)

It’s been less than one week since I began perusing the book, The Paleo Diet, by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. Initially I was reading it starting with the introduction, but after perusing the website (thepaleodiet.com) I started reading from the index instead of front to back. Between the book and the website, which is chalk full of interesting articles, I have come to realize everything I thought I knew… was wrong. My life’s been a lie! Okay, so not really a lie; that was an over dramatization of how I feel since being redirected in my thinking.

Let me backtrack a tad here, to first share how I even came across the paleo diet and the book of the same name. As an avid second amendment supporter I read Hands Off My Gun, by Dana Loesch, a pro-2A pundit on Fox News and the Blaze. I actually happened upon her by accident (or by G-d’s design) which led me to her book (a very good read – read my Goodreads review) and, in this modern era of tech and electronic networking, to her Instagram account. While following Loesch on Instagram I happened to “like” one of the photos she posted of herself in a dress showing off her toned legs, and in the description she mentioned the paleo diet. So off I trotted to online retailers to get the best price on a copy of the book, The Paleo Diet, so I can learn more. And the rest, they say, is history….

As a two-time cancer survivor with a permanent disability to remind me of the blessing of life, and as a mid-life woman (so hard to contemplate that) with arthritis and other sundry maladies, I am always endeavoring to seek improved health through dietary lifestyle changes (except for when I ate the breakfast sampler yesterday morning at Cracker Barrel – sucking down grits, hash-browns, biscuits & gravy, eggs, sausage, ham, and bacon – but not all of it!). I have been awakening in the middle of the night with hands so stiff and painful I cannot bend my fingers at all! The doctors assure me there is no current evidence of arthritis in my hands, per x-ray, however based on my level of discomfort I am likely pre-arthritic. I am loathe to take medications if not absolutely necessary, so seek to find holistic ways to repair myself, and vaguely recall reading, years ago, about the macro diet and how dairy is joint-degenerative. With that in mind, I intended to seek a dietary change, and then voila – The Paleo Diet manifested itself into my life! (It’s the Law of Attraction, I tell you!)

What I’ve come to learn thus far, is that much of what I’ve done to seek better health may have, in the long run, created some of the problems I now have. Years ago I took on the mantle of a low-carb lifestyle (except for occasional cheats) which supported weight loss and increased energy. I cut out rice (except for sushi), potatoes, candy, breads (except Ezekial) etc. Well, according to Dr. Cordain; legumes, such as soy (and peanuts, which I’ve learned are not a nut), grains, dairy, refined sugars, and salty-processed foods (like bacon!) produce chronic low-level inflammation in our bodies. This means that the soy milk I enjoy in lieu of cow’s milk, the protein powder I have used for close to a decade to reset my carb cravings and which is my staple for breakfast (which is soy and milk-based), the complex carb bread I have learned to enjoy for years, the cheese I love, and even the tofu I make my awesome pumpkin pie with are all aggravating various physiological mechanisms in my body and maintaining on-going inflammation. I won’t even go into my love of bacon (all salt and nitrate full).

The premise of the paleo diet is that our bodies, by design, work best eating as the hunter-gatherers did (Paleolithic man – hence the name). It donned on me that this is a great dietary lifestyle for me, since I am now a hunter! There is nothing quite as yummy as a lean (by design) venison steak, straight from a free-range deer. On the other hand; I have built a dietary lifestyle apparently full of “toxins” and it will take some serious effort to change. My goal is to make the switch in January 2016, because I will be spending Christmas with my parents and their every meal defies the paleo diet. But now that I know what little that I know about the foods I’ve been eating, I feel almost self-destructive continuing in the same manner. For instance; I bought a one pound bag of white beans to cook in the crockpot into white chili with my wild turkey legs and now I have legume guilt, knowing that what I initially thought was going to be a wholesome and delicious cold-weather meal may actually make my hands hurt worse.

Although I am excited to begin the paleo diet and watch myself return to vitality, I have experienced a pre-release of burdens and some added burdens at the same time. For example; I used to endeavor to follow the blood-type diet. According to that author, my type A blood is meant to be vegetarian. I have had that thought in the back of my mind even as I enjoy my fresh game. Yet according to Cordain, the blood-type diet, although somewhat sound in cutting out wheat and limiting dairy, is faulty scientifically and historically in assessing the blood types; type A is actually the oldest type and meant to be a hunter-gatherer, not a vegetarian (agrarian). So I am delighted to release that guilt niggling at the back of my mind. As much as I love hunting, enjoy wild game, and pulverize bones for marrow it was pretty hard to contemplate being a vegetarian (although I was for several years right after my cancer). A burden I have added, however, is learning that some of the nutritional supplementation I have been using, from a highly respected and beloved nutrition company, is actually a “toxin” based on the paleo diet research, and now something I feel I must choose to eliminate from my diet. Making this dietary change is sort of like learning to walk again after having been unable to for years….

Ever since my cancer, over 20 years ago, I have sought ways to attain and maintain health; to decrease foods problematic to my system, and to choose holistic alternatives. My choice to become a vegetarian after my cancer was to avoid the toxic meat supply ladened with hormones, pesticides, and anti-biotics. Now that I hunt, I am eating free-range wild animals with no hormones or anti-biotics, and minimal pesticides (depending on the farming practices near where the animals graze). There is no marbling on the deer meat, because there is next to zero fat on creatures that roam miles per day. The Paleo Diet only insures my continued hunting, and increases my desire to bag enough game to keep me fed for one year, until next hunting season comes along.

Over time I will continue to read the book, The Paleo Diet, follow it up with online research, and slowly purge my kitchen of those things that no longer fit the lifestyle I’m headed toward. And as I begin the process now, with two months of preparation, I will look forward to a new year with greater health, more energy, and less over-all inflammation throughout this only body that I have….

So glad I’m a hunter!