Tribute to Dana Meadows

Published: April 22nd, 2001

By Hannah Jacobs

~Environmental Studies major, Dartmouth College~

I grew up with the words of Dana Meadows. Published faithfully each week in the Keene Sentinel, the newspaper of the town where I went to school, her writing was a source of hope and inspiration to the community. My high school graduation gift was two books by Dana, and now that I am in college, rather than writing letters my grandmother sends me clippings of her columns. Her presence at Dartmouth was also one of the main factors in my decision to come here, and I, along with the other students in her class this past winter, felt blessed to be able to have her as a professor in the month before she passed away.

I am going to read excerpts from a column of Dana’s entitled “A Time of Death and Life.”

The Shepherd’s year ends and begins in November. That’s when we bring the sheep up from the pasture, butcher last spring’s lambs, and turn the ram in with the ewes to make lambs again. The record book closes on one cycle, and the next cycle begins.

I think of it as The Time When We Haul Sheep Around.

The final haul was the five ram lambs we took to Sharon Beef, the slaughterhouse. This is an annual trip, which we do with crisp routine and a certain serenity. We unloaded the rams into clean stalls at Sharon Beef on a Sunday night. The next Friday we picked up wrapped, frozen, labeled lamb meat to deliver to the freezers of our customers. We also picked up the pelts to scrape, salt, and cure to become sheep-skin rugs.

The slaughterhouse is meticulously clean and efficient, and all the business is done with neighbors. Neighbors do the butchering and neighbors buy the meat and rugs. The income arrives just before the December tax bill, when we most need it.

When I talk happily about this time of year, some folks, nearly always meat eaters, ask how I can be so cruel as to take my lambs- in whose births I assisted, whose growth I’ve overseen, whose mothers I call by name- to slaughter. It’s a question that can only come from an urbanized culture like ours, where most people live a long way from the sources of their food.

You don’t have to live on a farm very long before you can come to terms with life and death, with the Novembers when you kill the lambs and start the lambs. You don’t become hard or unfeeling; rather you become accepting. You know that birth and death are not separable and that deaths are necessary so that the ratios of rams and ewes and sheep and pastures will be right, and so there will be meat to feed people. On a farm every stage of the cycle- breeding, birth, growth, maturity, death- has beauty and dignity.

November isn’t the exciting high of spring when the lambs are born and the daffodils bloom. It’s the time for preparation for spring. The dead-looking daffodil bulbs go into the ground, and the ram goes in with the ewes. The fall is the time to remember that nature turns death into new life. The garden takes last year’s cornstalks and fallen leaves and sheep manure and turns them into next year’s tomatoes and broccoli. The sheep turn last year’s hay into next year’s wool and lambs. And who knows what tasks and achievements, joys, and sorrows our customers will produce out of the energy from that lamb meat.

It was Gandhi who pointed out that in spite of all the death in the world, what persists is life.

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Since its founding in 1996 by environmental leader Donella Meadows, our Institute has been at the forefront of sustainability thinking and training. Our initiatives have addressed economic, environmental, and social challenges from a range of angles and at many levels. In everything we do, the disciplines of systems thinking and organizational learning inform and shape our work. It is this focus on whole-system analysis, combined with careful listening, truth telling, and visioning, that make the Donella Meadows Institute unique among sustainability organizations.  Read More

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