Sherman narrates as he works.
“I’m gonna sharpen this knife,” he says. “The secret to this business is sharp tools. I use razor blades a lot because they’re cheap.”
Eventually, I stop my wandering to watch what he’s doing. His hands move like a sculptor’s, expertly trimming away the unnecessary with a sureness that only comes after years of practice. I snap photos as he goes. The red interruption in the animal’s fur quickly grows wider.
“It looks like I’m leaving a lot of flesh on this skin, which I am,” he says. “But the rule of thumb on this stuff is ‘always leave meat on the skin and not skin on the meat,’ you know what I’m sayin’?”
Sherman peels the skin away from the animal’s mouth to show me its teeth. The upper canines are worn down to almost nothing, and the lower ones were completely gone.
“This was an ancient dog,” he said. “I never seen that before, worn down like that. This thing was old.”
The process doesn’t bother me. I thought it might, but it doesn’t really. Maybe because I grew up around hunters. When I was little, I used to lay on my uncle’s bear rug and play with its ears. If we had beef in the freezer it was from the cows that grazed around the lakes one summer earlier. And if we had venison, it was because my grandpa sat in a blind in the snow, waiting for hours before he felled it. It wasn’t unusual to catch a bucket of fish for dinner in the summer. My brothers and I would watch my dad and uncle clean them, fascinated. We’d carry the fresh pink filets into the house for my mom and aunt to fry. When we sat down to eat, we knew to watch for any of the tiny, fragile bones left behind in the meat.
The reality of the animal’s death was not a foreign one–and not unwelcome either. The animal lived well. It didn’t grow up in confinement. It wasn’t killed in a slaughterhouse. It’s meat was being used well. But, perhaps most importantly, its death was not fictional or hypothetical. It was close and real, and it was appreciated.