A Report on the Natural World, 6/24/13

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Scout is the third dog that I have had in my adult life; thereby, I am on my 24th year of having a ready-made reason to get outside every morning.  We go to the large park at the corner of my block most days.  When it is below zero, my fellow dog owners and I bitch and moan and compare the relative warmth of our boots.  When it is well above 90, we bitch and moan and say that we really must be getting home, pretending that it is our dogs who can’t stand the heat.

Scout is a meanderer. I call her the Ferdinand of dogs, as in the children’s book where the ferocious-seeming bull wants nothing more than to sit in the field, and smell the flowers.  Scout wanders the park each morning, slowly, thoroughly, nose to the ground, not willing to miss one single thing that might be infinitesimally different from the day before.

Each spring, we experience an alarming wave of birds’ nests falling from their tree homes, or perhaps they have been helped along by squirrels, cats, raccoons, possums – any of the variety of wildlife we have.  Each year, for a time, our parks, yards, sidewalks are littered with tiny, dead baby birds.  Some are brand newly hatched from their shells, others are feathered and nearly fledged, one hair’s breath away from spreading their wings and living a life.

Considering that we have experienced an influx of fox and coyote – surprising considering that we live within spitting distance of the third largest city in the United States – I am always taken aback that the bird bodies are there at all, and so many.

A nest fell from one of the tallest trees in the corner park, and the carcass lay right against the trunk.  The first morning Scout and I came upon it, the parents mounted a riotous, all-out demonstration of their protective agony, complete with shrieking, wing-flapping, diving and swooping.  Each morning Scout nosed the baby gently.  We witnessed the body progress from its state of newly-fallen perfection, to being covered and consumed by teeming maggots, to becoming strewn bones and feather, until the morning when there was no remaining trace whatsoever.

It has been more than two weeks since we found the baby bird, more than a week since there has been any remaining sign of its life.  Still, every morning the parents shriek and wail.  Every morning they swoop down and peck the back of my very confused, 87-pound yellow lab.  They follow us part of the way home.

Do animals understand death?

Do we?

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My Brother Missed His Son’s Wedding

When a family member misses such an important life event, the air in every room is noisy with his absence.

He was not in the car when his wife picked me up a the airport, nor was he waiting back at the house, in the kitchen, with that slight frown of intense concentration that always accompanied his slow, deliberate, quietly jubilant cooking adventures that lasted full days.

His wife threw a party the day before the wedding, her sisters-in-law abuzz with busy helpfulness. Both sides of the family gathered, old friends, new meetings, hearty hugs and rich laughter abounded. The hum of celebration grew large, peals of laughter regularly piercing through. Still, the roar of my brother’s absence remained.

He did not see the expression on his son’s face when he saw his bride for the first time, coming down the aisle of the sweet chapel on her father’s arm. He missed it all.

As my daughter and I sat in the first row, waiting for the ceremony that would make my brother’s son a married man, my daughter whispered to me. She asked me if I missed him.

Oh yes, yes I do.

My brother Roy died on December 6, 2001. He died in Ecuador, on the side of a mountain very near its summit, immediately and without warning. And I think it would not be false to say that his absence, and my missing him, has been with me since. The loss of him, of a living brother, the little boy who was already there when I was born, the skinny, freckled, snake-catching, marble-collecting, bow-shooting, cowboy-playing, fly-tying person whose living presence told me that my own life and experience were true. He helped me know who I was. Every day he did this. Just by being alive.

I read this poem, by Rilke at his funeral:

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You don’t survive in me
because of memories;
nor are you mine because
of a lovely longing’s strength.

What does make you present
is the ardent detour
that a slow tenderness
traces in my blood.

I do not need
to see you appear;
being born sufficed for me
to lose you a little less.