“Honi soit qui mal y pense” has always been one of my favorite sayings. The motto of The Order of the Garter (I had to look it up, too). The most literal translation seems to be “Shame to him who thinks ill of it.” I’ve heard it modernized to “To hell with you if you disagree with me,” but a more up-to-date interpretation might be, “You got a problem with that?”
These are words for us to live by, living as we do off the grid, in ways that fly in the face of, or perhaps outright mock, the American Way of Life—avid acquisition, conspicuous consumption, complacency and the rest. So, yes, I love to talk that talk.
But I don’t always walk the walk, as has been brought prominently to my attention recently by a lowly porcupine.
Yes, we eat porcupine. Honi soit qui mal y pense.
Porcupines are legal game in Alaska, although they are mainly the target of gardeners. When we first came to the homestead, we tasted porcupine and loved it. We eagerly watched for porcupine trespassers in our garden, waiting to try our own hand at preparing the tasty meat.
We eventually got our chance. As luck would have it, it came when Michelle’s parents were visiting in 2008. I killed it, Aly and I skinned and butchered the animal, and we cooked it. It was an all day process. We found ourselves dealing with an animal we knew very little about, with a dangerous pelt covering the meat we wanted, on a hot summer day with no refrigeration. Plus, we had a giant rodent in the stewpot, and my in-laws are coming to dinner! Cooking the strange wild animal filled our home with an unfamiliar aroma, and our hearts with anxiety. We were hopeful, but wracked by doubt.
It turned out well. We ended up with a big ol’ pot of food very much like barbequed, pulled pork. Delicious! Not only that, but Mom and Dad are delighted to tell friends and family of the experience, if only to enjoy the resulting expressions. Honi soit qui mal y pense!
Since then, pickings have been lean. The porcupine population on the peninsula has been low for most of our time here. Even last year’s rumor of a coming population spike seems a bit premature.
A porcupine strolling through the rhubarb patch a couple of evenings ago took us completely by surprise. We chased it down, and I dispatched it with an ax handle club kept handy for this eventuality. The next day, while Michelle hiked out to go to work, I began skinning, butchering, and cooking the beast.
I sorely missed Aly’s help and moral support, but the slow, laborious process ended in success. Later, when I set to work to cook it, the problems started.
My main anxiety came from my desire to please Michelle. Remembering our concerns last time, I had to make sure the dish satisfied her in every way; the slightest distress, discomfort, even inconvenience could not be tolerated! Honi soit qui mal y pense indeed. I worked extremely hard, even as I realized that, had this been a deer or moose, I wouldn’t have felt the need for half the effort. I laboriously searched each cut for stray hairs; I cooked the life out of it; I seasoned it like crazy, even to the point of using up all the curry in the house, then augmenting with tumeric.
When Michelle came home to dinner that night, she feasted while I fretted. She ate heartily, picking out a hair or two when necessary, laying aside a gristly piece now and then. I cringed at any percieved expression that suggested less than complete satisfaction. I hardly had the stomach for the meal, but she assured me it was good. The next day she took leftovers to work. I had some for lunch as well. Apparently, enough time had passed, and I, too, found it delicious.
But, the point had been made. Thumb my nose as I please, any utterance of my pet phrase, “Honi soit qui mal y pense” carries a simple caveat: it doesn’t apply to everyone in my life. I do care what some people think.