Deer Hunting in Paris: A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat

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What happens when a Korean-American preacher’s kid refuses to get married, travels the world, and quits being vegetarian? She meets her polar opposite on an online dating site while sitting at a café in Paris, France and ends up in Paris, Maine, learning how to hunt. A memoir and a cookbook with recipes that skewer human foibles and celebrates DIY food culture, Deer Hunting in Paris is an unexpectedly funny exploration of a vanishing way of life in a complex cosmopolitan world. Sneezing madly from hay fever, Lee recovers her roots in rural Maine by running after a headless chicken, learning how to sight in a rifle, shooting skeet, and butchering animals. Along the way, she figures out how to keep her boyfriend’s conservative Republican family from “mistaking” her for a deer and shooting her at the clothesline.

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Prologue

ePub

Prologue

Keaton always said, I dont believe in God, but Im afraid of him. Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Big Bird.

Verbal Kint, in The Usual Suspects, 1995

Parishioners believed he could heal them with his hands. As a kid, I knew my father was different, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he was a preacher. His legs were shriveled down to bone and he walked funny, sometimes with a cane. His face beamed. He forgot to eat. He liked Maine, because the rocky terrain reminded him of home. He and my mother came to the U.S. from Korea after the war. At first, there were four of us, and then there were five: my father, my mother, my brother, my sister, and me in the middle. My older brother and I fought mean and hard, locked in a death match from the day I was born. Oblivious to the slugfest, my baby sister sat back and let the adults admire her. She was the pretty one, and could never figure out why I was so furious all the time. She was born with grace. Predictably, her Korean name, Young-Mi, means flower. Mine is Young-Nan. It means egg.

 

1. A Kormic Explanation

ePub

 

2. Hustle

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Chapter Two

Hustle

In good cookeries, all raisins should be stoned.

Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1796

On my way back from the Bon March to my studio apartment, Id often make a detour through the Luxembourg Gardens, where children would play with the toy sailboats in the central fountain. Each child would get a short stick and a boat with a numbered sail. Theyd poke their boat with the stick, and off it would float across the rippled surface of the large circular pool. Eventually, their boat would drift back to the edge, coming close enough so they could poke it again. This activity involved a lot of waiting and chasing, because it was impossible to predict when or where your boat would return to the edge. The children were always trying to poke the wrong boat, just because it had drifted close to them.

This is how I feel about romantic relationships. We begin by coveting what we see every day, Hannibal Lecter purred to FBI agent Clarice Starling, whod been visiting him at a prison for the criminally insane. He was correct, but who takes romantic advice from a cannibal serial killer, even if he is a doctor with great teeth? Studies have shown that people tend to date inside a ten mile radius, because theyd rather pretend that proximity is destiny instead of fessing up to being lazy. What happens when the boys go after a girl who accidently drifted within poking range? They take a stab at her, and the girl floats away. The process repeats itself until the pokers get bored and leave.

 

3. A Liver with Onions

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Chapter Three

A Liver with Onions

Lord, confound this surly sister

Blight her brow with blotch and blister,

Cramp her larynx, lung and liver

In her guts a galling give her.

J.M. Synge

At this point in a proper romance, the heroine should find herself facing a large obstacle challenging her bliss, such as a rival in stilettos, or an inconvenient war. Since the nineteenth century, the conventions of the genre have been consistent: the heroine runs away from marriage, a clever suitor figures out how to win her, the heroine finally relents, they tie the knot and live happily ever after. From Jane Austen to that Mormon lady who wrote Twilight, authors always make the heroine marry Mr. Right in the end. If he wasnt Mr. Right, the heroine would not have married him.

When the woman ends up with Mr. Wrong, she isnt the heroine but the sidekick. She is there to make the heroine look thin. I didnt want to be heroine or sidekick. I wanted to be Tolstoy, so I started writing about John and turned him into the heroine. Turnabout is fair play. Besides which, he was the one who always wanted to talk about The Relationship, asking me awful things like, How do you feel about us? Where do you see this relationship going? What relationship? Id reply in astonishment. Were living together! hed bellow in disbelief. So? Id retort, and refuse to speak to him until he apologized for being so mean to me.

 

4. Bite Me

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Chapter Four

Bite Me

Biologically speaking, if something bites you, it is more likely to be female.

biologist Desmond Morris

Johns father is shooting gray squirrels from the kitchen window, trying his best to scare me away. Now that John has started bringing me to Maine every weekend, the Big House isnt big enough for the both of us. It isnt personal. Its political. Ill always be a liberal, and its best if John realizes this sooner rather than later and moves along to a nice conservative girl who isnt so noisy when she eats. The three-month hunting season on squirrels lasts through the end of December, and theres no bag limit because theyre a pest species. Specifically, the little criminals have been nesting under the hood of his truck and stealing from the bird feeder. The gray squirrels are also bullying the red squirrels out of the neighborhood, even though grays and reds dont eat the same food or chase the same girls. The red squirrel is small and sleek, resembling a chipmunk without stripes. But he cant eat acorns. Instead, he mostly eats pine nuts. As a result, he tastes like pine tar, the stuff in turpentine.

 

5. Sex Ed Chicks

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Chapter Five

Sex Ed Chicks

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

Peter Clemenza, in The Godfather, 1972

A flock of baby chickens has arrived at the house in Maine. They started out as sixteen unsexed chicks, meaning the males and females werent sorted before going into the box. Odds are that the ratio of male to female will be 50/50, but the actual contents are a surprise, kind of like one of those Jumbo Mystery Boxes sold by the novelty shop Archie McPhee, Americas foremost purveyor of fighting nun windup toys and the classic rubber chicken. How to sex a chick? I pick one up and eyeball its X-rated parts. No dangling bits. Its a hairy eyeball with little whirling legs. Peep! Peep! But, alas, no show. Its such a tricky task telling the boys from the girls that chicken sexer is an actual job, and even the professionals get it wrong. I do an internet search of sexed chick, and get dozens of strange hits. The top entry? Sex Ed Chicks.

The omniscience of math prevails: precisely eight of the baby chicks turn out to be males. Seven are dispatched right away. Translation: they are killed. They expire whether or not you approve; blissful ignorance does not change the way of the world. To placate their children, parents buy pastel-colored chicks at Easter to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. These baby birds come dyed. No surprise, then, that they dont live very longdrowned in dog slobber, smothered in chocolate kisses, set free so they can be promptly run over by an SUV. Pet owners absolve themselves of these deaths, because it wasnt their fault. The cat did it.

 

6. Bard the Joint

ePub

Chapter Six

Bard the Joint

Let the meat cake.

Mary Antwinet, leader of the French revelation, from blog, shitmystudentswrite.tumblr.com, 2012

The recipe begins: Skin the coot. (Do not pick). Wash in salt and water and let stand overnight in a solution of 1/4 cup salt and water to cover. According to the editors of Yankee Magazine, who decide such things, Stewed Coot is a Maine specialty. The problem is that I have never seen a coot, let alone eaten one. I dont know if its animal, vegetable, or mineral. Ive heard that they are both crazy and bald, as in Crazy as a coot and Bald as a coot. This information is not very helpful, because I could say the same about Britney Spears.

I decide to check out Cootworld.com, because if you want to know about Coots [sic] this is the place. To my surprise, a coot is neither a relative of raccoons nor a cucumber pickle. Its an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) that twists 45 degrees in the middle, exactly like a Dancing Barbie. The coot is both funny looking and tough. It lives in tricky water environments such as whitewater rapids and shallow lakes with rocks. I have never seen anything quite like it in the wild, but it went extinct in 1985.

 

7. Vampires Suck

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Chapter Seven

Vampires Suck

If the [zodiac] stars are animals, what food do they eat?

nephew of Adelard of Bath, 12th century

The neighbors had been losing chickens, Ruth remarks over dishes in the sink. Kept finding them with their heads gone.

and...? I prod. Shes washing. Im wiping. With one eye, I look through the kitchen window, scanning the henhouse, but its the middle of the day. Outside, nothing moves. No birds. No insects. Just flakes of snow, swirling on invisible breezes, falling in the gray light. Its utterly silent until the winds start to whip. Then the whole house sets to rumbling. These snowflakes sting if they hit you in the face. The edges are like little razor blades, but they are very pretty.

They set out traps, she continues, her arthritic hands busily scrubbing a casserole dish. Finally caught a white weasel. Hed been decapitating them. She shakes her head and scrubs some more, marveling at the peculiar thirst of animals.

Weasels want the blood. Rats attack the flanks. Foxes decimate the bird, leaving nothing behind but cracked bones and feathers. Americans want the breasts, putting the rest into fancy feasts for cats. The hunger reveals the beast.

 

8. The O in the No

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Chapter Eight

The O in the No

The cat that cannot reach the meat says it stinks.

Persian proverb.

Seven A.M. Sunday. There is no hunting today, so John is sitting morosely at his breakfast, eating French toast made with warm eggs just laid by the hens. I swear the chickens looked proud of themselves when I went to the henhouse this morning. Some days, they are too busy bickering to notice me hovering by the door in my pajamas and boots. Other times, they press forward, expecting me to give them nice tasty worms. Today, they practically stuck a name tag on each shell so Id know which hen laid which egg. By the time I trundled back to the human house, John was sitting at table, waiting for his breakfast, and reading Uncle Henrys because I hide Guns & Ammo on church day. Uncle Henrys has a Firearms section that he checks religiously. He also looks for snowmobiles, ATVs, and tractors.

His mother wanders in the kitchen, looking for coffee.

Hey Mum, he calls without preamble. You want a peacock?

No, she says flatly.

 

9. Do Not Feed the Bears

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Chapter Nine

Do Not Feed the Bears

Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.

Archy the Cockroach, from Don Marquis, Archy and Mehitabel, 1927

Weeks later, as fall draws near, the morning sun means that John and I will be bushwhacking up the mountain in back of the Big House. The reason is to look for moose and deer sign, because this is what hunters do. Its also just to get to the top of the mountain, because its there, and its a beautiful day. Dressed in hiking gear and ready to go, I start filling water bottles to stuff into our daypacks as John sits at the chair by the door and starts lacing on hiking boots.

Just so you know, Don says laconically to John from his lounger in the living room, the McKennas were back there, setting up bear bait.

(... bear bait?)

They quit hunting bears, Don continues. Now they run a little guide business for tourists who want to see bears. But dont be surprised if you smell something.

(... smell something?)

Err, I say, raising my hand to object.

Not likely youll find yourself in the same spot, Don drawls, pointedly ignoring the surprised look on my face, but no need to worry. Bears get timid as soon as the bait comes out because they know the seasons starting. Theyll just run away from you.

 

10. Coyote Mobile

ePub

Chapter Ten

Coyote Mobile

The loudest duck gets shot.

Chinese proverb

Im going to kill the chicken, Don announces without preamble. You want to help?

Uh... sure, I reply uncertainly. I feel obliged to witness its death since Im responsible for pointing out its scabrous condition. A little while ago I went out to the henhouse to say hello to the chickens. Hello, chickens! I said. Right away they lined up, pressing forward to see if I brought food. They all came over to greet me except for one, the one with the weird walk and the bloated stomach. She looked really bad. Chunks of feathers on her back were gone, and her demeanor was sullen. Worse, she was huddled in the corner where the first bird had croaked. She couldnt smell death, because death smelled like her.

Shes eating, Don remarked, when I returned to the human house and tattled on her. Its probably not a disease. Dourly, he scratched his chin. He was not particularly interested in deciphering the clues.

The feathers on her back are funny, I insisted. Either shes picking them out, or the other birds are pecking her.

 

11. Girls in the Man Cave

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Chapter Eleven

Girls in the Man Cave

A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition.

Rudyard Kipling

Back in May 2008, to great rejoicing and fanfare, Cabelas opened a new branch in Scarborough, Maine. John was so excited he started dancing around.

Whats the big deal? I said. Its just another store.

Its Cabelas! John explained by energetically waving his hands over his head.

I still didnt understand what all the fuss was about, so he took me shopping. It was a revelation. Billed as the Worlds Foremost Outfitters of Outdoor Equipment, Cabelas turned out to be Disneyland for gun nuts. The dcor was vintage hunting lodge, with mounted trophy heads popping out from every wall. There was a shooting arcade, a Gun Library, and a freshwater aquarium, but the centerpiece of the store was an ersatz mountain where taxidermied animals frolicked. To discourage shoppers from attempting to climb it, Cabelas did not sell crampons or guide books for trekking through the Himalayas. The store only sold useful outdoor stuff such as turkey calls and camouflage bikinis, both of which I had to try even though I had no chance of succeeding.

 

12. When Worlds Collide

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Chapter Twelve

When Worlds Collide

Your salvation doesnt interest me. Mine does.

When Worlds Collide, 1951

Its my fathers eightieth birthday weekend. My brother, his wife, and their daughter are taking a red-eye flight from California and landing early on Saturday morning. They are staying in Wellesley for thirty-six hours, long enough to land, say hello, have dinner, and then they are fleeing back to Palo Alto. We have not been all together since my mother died fifteen years ago.

Am I thinking about this? No. I am trying to organize the freezer. The impending arrival of a thousand pounds of moose meat creates an acute space management problem. In 2000, according to the USDA, the national average consumption was 195 pounds of meat per person. One moose, then, feeds a family of four over the course of a year if you can figure out how to preserve it. One solution is jerky, but Id really rather not turn good meat into spicy strips of shoe leather.

If were lucky, well get a moose right away! John hollers cheerfully, and bounces down the stairs, through the kitchen, and out the front door as fast as he can. Hes heading up to Maine. Its Friday night, meaning that hes got Saturday and Sunday to scout. On Monday, the moose season officially starts. He is also trying very hard to disappear before my family gets here. Families are just bigger versions of other peoples babies: theyre adorable until they start throwing tantrums and screaming. In my case, theyre screaming in Korean and sometimes French, depending on who shows up and the nature of the occasionsay, my sisters wedding. Nobody has a clue what the other person is saying, but theyre all saying it very LOUDLY.

 

13. Don’t Shoot the Deer in the Ass

ePub

Chapter Thirteen

Dont Shoot the Deer in the Ass

The hunter is not least a subject of song, who brings peace to our pastures and feasts us with every sort of meat.

Synesisus of Cyrene, Letter 148, 1st century AD

It is 5 A.M., and John is getting ready to go deer hunting. Outside, its twenty-three degrees in the disappearing dark, and the fields are frozen. By the time I turn over, a shy mist is rising from the land, blending earth and sky. John is using my half of the bed to offload and organize his gear. I am pretending to be asleep.

I open one eye, and see orange. Theres a fluorescent puffy vest layered on top of me.

To keep you warm, baby, he says primly, and tucks it in around me.

Mmmph, I thank him, and disappear under the quilt.

He tugs on long johns and heads upstairs for food.

Brzzzzzip! goes the coffee bean grinder.

Thump! go the logs in the stove.

Argh! I mutter, pulling his pillow over my head. Something soft lands on me. Its a balled-up sock. I sneeze and count my blessings. This time, the sock is clean.

 

14. Blood and Guts

ePub

Chapter Fourteen

Blood and Guts

Lawyer Amanda Bonner: And after you shot your husband... how did you feel?

Defendant Doris Attinger: Hungry!

Adams Rib, 1949

Patrick lost another one in the dark and rain. He was very high up the mountain, where the terrain is steep and treacherous. Hed been tracking a buck and took a shot. The hit was fatal, but the kill wasnt instantaneous. Running after it, Patrick found bone, blood, and hair before the pounding rain washed the trace away. A weaker animal would have dropped in its tracks. Five friends came out the next morning to look for it, and all they found was the gut pile left by a stranger whod stumbled across it.

Is it poaching to take another mans quarry? Its not unusual for hunters to lose their animals in the forest. Humans stand out. Animals blend in. Within seconds, the wildlife can vanish, even if you know exactly where they are going. So if a hunter stumbles across a buck felled by another mans bullet, the right thing to do is to dress and hang the carcass, alert the game warden, and have a nice day. To walk off with the deer violates an unwritten code. Its the hunters version of the girl crush. A nice girl never steals a boy that her girlfriend likes. A tramp would hit on him just for fun, and steal him if she could. Its one of the ways you know shes a tramp. Sure, alls fair in love and warbut in real life, its not exactly true.

 

15. A Long Winter’s Nap

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Chapter Fifteen

A Long Winters Nap

If skill could be gained by watching, every dog would become a butcher.

Turkish proverb

Home butchering makes a lot of sense if youre committed to understanding the nature of meat. It means that you know exactly what odds and ends go into the grinds used for burgers, and every bit of usable meat gets taken, according to your time and inclination. It also means you can take the other bits of the deer that have odd but practical uses, such as strips of membrane for bowstrings and the tarsal glands off the legs to use as scent lures. I want to take the intestines for natural casings. It can be done. Its just the unpleasantness of dealing with yards of entrails, the idea of which is off-putting because human beings have strained relationships with their own guts.

Deer hunting season begins at the start of winter during the rut, so the bucks are padded with fat. Its too early for them to be starving to death. The hunger phase doesnt begin until February, after the earth is buried beneath snow and theyve stripped all the bark and buds off the dormant trees. The external fat is a mixture of oily fatthe alluring, sexy kind you see on the rinds of T-bone beefsteaksand suet, which is fat so hard and crumbly it looks and feels like dried spackle. Suet can be made into tallow, baked into British puddings, or stuck in a bird feeder to plump up the chickadees. When a deer dies in the forest, even songbirds join the feast. Compared to a domestic cow or pig, a whitetail doesnt have a lot of suet. But its there. It sticks to everything, smearing your fingers with a tacky layer of grease that coats the knife, gumming up the blade, prompting that awful wiping motion across stained pants legs.

 

16. Fish Heaven

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Chapter Sixteen

Fish Heaven

[Pliny] fashions the name of good mother to the Earth, because having compassion for us, she instituted poisons.

Pierre Gassendi, Concerning Happiness, 1647

The first Sunday of No Hunting after the winter snow has melted, John wants to show me where he shot the buck. Look, he points at the ground. You can still see the blood.

Except I cant. Theres just leaves and more leaves layered thickly over moss.

Look, he points again, and waves his arms around. Its all over the place.

I shake my head. Nope. The earth has drunk deeply. He is seeing a memory.

Exasperated, he kneels down and starts jabbing at an oak leaf, one of maybe a hundred oak leaves I could grab if I just stood in one spot and started raking with my hands. There, his index finger waggles. Now do you see?

Myopic, I bend over and squint. Theres some blotches that could be a stain from spit-up baby food. Well, yah, I agree peevishly. Now that youre pointing right at it, I can see the blood, I lie. But its just a drop!

 

17. Ham Supper for 227

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Chapter Seventeen

Ham Supper for 227

I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.

Sir Winston Churchill

Ow, Patrick announces, as everyone sits down to Sunday supper at the Big House. I just bit on something.

Buckshot, John says calmly.

But Im eating potatoes, Patrick protests.

Buckshot, John repeats, and reaches for another serving of venison chop suey.

So tell me about the wedding! I prod Patrick.

We got married, Patrick shrugs, still chewing with a slightly puzzled expression on his face. Then we fished at the lake.

Thats it?

Yep.

You still doing the pig roast?

Yep.

What about the pig? I poke him. Have you got one yet?

Nope, he replies. If I bring a pig home early, Christy will start cooing over it and before you know it, it will be another Bucky. And then Ill just have to get another pig to roast.

Just to be clear, Bucky wasnt a pig. He was a dog stuck in the body of a goat.

It is a truism of animal husbandry that certain animals come in pairs. The dove is one of them. The goat is another. Even if herds of other friendly animals are around, a single goat will not do well on its own. The specifics of the pair dont matter: It can be girl-girl, boy-boy, boy-girl, old-young, big-small, or black-white. They just both have to be goats, preferably two of the same kind, and not an Archy and Mehitabel kind of pair (a cockroach and an alley cat, in case you were wondering). Bucky thought he was a dog. So did all his friends. Wagging his tail, Bucky followed Patrick wherever he went. Begging to be petted, Bucky lived inside the house and shed on the couch. But one day, while nobody was home and he was all alone, he died. Death deprived him of his amazing powers of mind control, and behold! Bucky was returned back to being a goat. It was very upsetting.

 

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