Sunday, July 25, 2010

Something About Death, from Macondo


Was driving down Brynteg Lane, near the Butterfly Cafe (where the butterflies hang out at a little seep in the road) when I caught sight of the tattered skin of some animal - bunny? squirrel? - it has been around for a few days, mostly eaten by something with claws and teeth and hunger; I'd since seen the crows and turkey vultures taking turns. Their hard work had dragged that poor carcass all over this section of the road. This time, though, the carrion birds were all gone; they'd done all they could with beaks and claws. In their place: Butterflies. Black butterflies with iridescent blues, yellow butterflies with stark black patterns. Antennae quivering.

I thought: I want to end up like this: eaten by butterflies. But since butterflies have no teeth, it is more like being licked and sucked by them. And the feel of their tiny feet, and the beating of their wings, veins pumped full of my own blood and moisture.

If I were brave, that's the last experience I'd like my carcass to know on this earth. Courage is required, because it is a giving up, a faith, and because being a gift is much harder than receiving a gift.

So I've been thinking about that anonymous carcass, those butterflies. Who imagines butterflies as carrion-feeders, in the same profession as vultures and flies and maggots and beetles? Yet here they were, doing their best work, helping another dead being recycle itself.

Helping themselves to the released blood, fecal matter, urine, pulling it into their black insect bodies. For them, this death is life; not just their own, but the life of the eggs they will lay, or fertilize; the next generation. I hope someday my own carcass can at least do that. If I were brave, it would be like that, my body left outside for the recyclers.

But I am chicken-shit, so I plan to be cremated, my ashes scattered on our land, perhaps at Carmel and Santa Ynez as well. Although the distances sound odd. Still, all three places are home.

The most important thing is that I am allowed to return to the earth and the water. Being trapped in a box of any kind would be the cruelest possible fate. Poor Ishi - I am so glad his brain was finally returned, and his ashes finally taken home and released. I'm sure Ishi had been at peace for some time, but the earth herself needed his ashes returned.

Of course, in the end, all of us will go there, either by plan or by natural disaster. This culture's cemeteries and mausoleums can't stand forever. Eventually, in earth's time, we all return, even those wealthy souls shot into orbit around the planet will fall homeward one day, and although none of us will be around to see it, the earth will still be here, accepting the gift.

I don't know why I'm writing about death on this beautiful morning, sitting on the banks of the lush San Antonio River, watching white egrets forage for breakfast, gliding in, taking off with their long elegant legs; strange ducks with rooster combs waddle through the grass, and in the oak tree above my head, a mockingbird makes a half-hearted attempt at imitating a car alarm. Cars speed over the concrete bridge behind me, Our Lady of the Lake University slowly comes awake to my left.

But I've been wanting to write about those butterflies for days. And I've been conversing with dead people - relatives, ancestors - for so long. Perhaps I'm trying to put them to rest. Perhaps I'm finally ready to bury my own dead, to release them. Back into the care of the earth, where they will not be alone, or lonely, or afraid. They are not abandoned, unfinished, forgotten, silenced. They've just gone home.

Gone to butterflies! Maybe that's why this spring and summer have been so full of wings.

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