Today I went on a walk. The air is warm, but still cooler than the heat of august. The leaves are turning or turned and the fields are all dulling to the browns and golds that mark the slow procession into winter. The pulse of the wind and water is a little slower... and if the land had an emotion today it would be cautious anticipation.
For the last week or so each evening flocks of birds have speckled the sky on thier furious migration south. Each degree cooler and each minute the days shorten remind them of their urgent retreat. It won't be long and the elk will march down from the mountains into the valley, nestling in through the winter. Unfortunately, the deer and moose will head closer to town, crossing far too many icy roads to avoid the heavy snow and lack of food to sustain them.
But most of this is foresight, and I wonder if the animals who prepare for winter are thinking of the coming season, or if they are simply urged by instinct and by the ticking clock of the yearly cycle.
I look towards winter with a slight distress. No more sun, icy roads, avalanches, freezing cold... It doesn't mean to me quite what it meant to my ancestors... but nevertheless, I feel it coming and I wish I could make the summer last just a little longer. I am very lucky, because I wont have to go foraging for the year's rations... I know that the store will provide them for me. Even so, the one thing I do look forward to is the possibility we will go hunting this year and provide food for the family that won't be pumped full of crap or cost a ton. If we get an animal we'll be sharing it across 3 families, and it will be used up, thank goodness.
Although I am quite removed, I do wonder what preperations would be made this time of year by my Arapaho ancestors. I wish I knew more about them... My grandmother is 1/4 arapaho... but she doesn't know anything either... What is odd is that we live so close to those people and we share a bit of their same blood and yet we know nothing. This is the issue I have with all of my heritage... I know nothing of the english, swedish, polish, french or any of these "heritages" that make up my family line. I would love to peek in on all of my grandparent's grandparents and know what they would be be doing right now, as winter is just over the horizon. It is kind of sad that all of those people didn't leave me any signs. I guess I could research the cultural traditions... but I would still feel like an outsider copycat.
This season is an odd one. It is a time of passage. We transition from people of the field, to people of the hearth. It is in some ways a time of death and sacrifice... the season of the hunt and the slaughter... and we prepare for both with solemnity and reverence and a bittersweet joy, knowing that we are lucky to have what we have... but it isn't without sacrifice. Where I live, there is no other way... keeping with nature. The supermarkets make a different lifestyle available to those who choose it... but the fact is that there are no mangoes in Wyoming.
Anyways... on my walk I could feel the "still" in the air. Patience, waiting, anticipating. How many animals are thinking this winter may be their last? How many people are? My dear hawk is gone and I wonder if she has taken flight to a warmer climate as well... As I walked I felt urged to stop... There at my feet was a tiny sun-bleached bone. I can't say what it belonged to. Was it a raccoon or a skunk? It is too large for a mouse. Of course, it could belong to a cat.
It makes me recall a conversation with my husband yesterday... As we drove down the highway we noticed a small animal dead on the side of the road. It went by too fast to tell what it was... though from the coloring and size I guessed it was a cat, and remarked so to my husband. We both sighed and paused for a moment, in the way that you do when you think of these things. Suddenly, he said "Why is it that people are upset when a cat or a dog is hit, but not so much when a skunk or raccoon is?" It's true... around here a dead skunk is more of an annoyance than something to cause pause. I though about this for a moment... and said "I think it is because you know there might be PEOPLE who really loved a cat or a dog and you feel for them."
Of course this is a terrible way to think of things. Surely the family of a skunk or raccoon loved each other as much as a pet owner loves a pet, if not more. I will never think of a dead skunk the same way again. It is a waste no matter what the animal is lying there, unused, without purpose... on the side of the road.
So when I saw that bone... sitting there at my feet... it made me think. I have no idea "who" this animal was. Seemingly all that is left is this tiny little bone. Its body and soul has been reclaimed by the earth... re-entered the cycle. It is a comforting notion, even though it saddens me. It is not the idea that the creature I never knew has died- whatever the cause... what makes me sad is that some other creature has felt the pain of loss of a family member or friend and now, probably long after its demise... the only memory of this being in consciousness is a lone indistiguishable bone...
Someday that will be me.
Perhaps it is reincarnated by now.... Maybe it's spirit belongs to an animal or person I will meet someday. The odd feeling of connection to this remaining piece of "someone" makes me think so. I decided to keep the bone. It reminds me of the cycle, especially the downswing that we often choose to overlook because of its unpleasantness. It reminds me to be thankful and reverent of nature. As I look forward to samhain and remember those who have gone before I am reminded that some of those I have lost may be reborn in my presence and that nothing is ever truly, completely lost. Someday, long after the cycle sweeps me up as well, maybe a silent passerby will remember me and call me home again.