Saturday, October 10, 2009


This Post Not For the Squeamish. Death and Decay discussed.

Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Today I gathered bones.
In August, Chatter, my 2nd original goat died. I heard her cry out from the barn, but I thought nothing of it for the sound ceased as abruptly as it rang out. My goats often cry when they hear people's voices and I was busy. On a "rough day" scale of 0-10, it had been about an 8 already(one of those days where in order to keep my mind and body from pathologic thoughts and acts I hurtle myself into the woods to run till I cannot breathe and movement requires more than will). I was barely holding together as it was, dead tired from readying projects for entry to the county youth fair the next day. So, when conscience pricks drove my weary feet toward the barn, my foggy mind only considered it a routine animal check.

Her body still and bloated. Limbs outstretched. She did not answer my call. A glance told all.

When a foggy mind is slapped with something it is unprepared to handle, it goes haywire, shrieks, calls for help, pleads. But only for a moment. Negative feedback kicks in and the mind goes numb, for one must be able to act logically in crisis, even an emotional crisis.

Dad summoned, I returned to the barn. I touched her; stroked her face, her flank. The children came weeping. Perhaps I was a bit short with them. Dad sighed. It was already growing dark outside. Every piece of equipment capable of digging had broken down. We'd never manually dig a large enough hole that night. But something had to be done. It was warm and there would be no time the next day or the next week to shovel dirt.
"Sarah," he said, "It's the only good choice."
"Alright," I said. "I'll help you drag her."
We laid her 14 year old frame on a hillock under a single tree at the lake farm. Heavy but frail she seemed: I could not help but remember the stubborn, strong doe I first met. I touched the reddish black curls for the last time under the stars and glanced into the darkness. Were the coyotes already gathering?

I had not wept.
Today I gathered bones.

The leaves rustled beneath my feet. I carried a white cardboard box - probably used for bulk foods. The chill wind nipped around my ankles and the edges of my sweater. I thought of nursing and giving life. I pondered dirt, things that live, that grow, as weeds tangled my feet. Toward the tree fled my feet, my thoughts far away.

My feet stopped. I sniffed the air and set down my box. Clean, crisp autumn filled my nostrils as I pulled on vinyl gloves. Though I appreciate physical contact with my work, somehow, even symbolically, I didn't want this dirt on my skin or under my nails.

White, brittle pieces of mineral. The scavengers and elements cleaned well. Gently, I gathered every bit - some bones had been carried a few yards away. Some were missing altogether. Into the box, rib by rib, every tooth and chip, every dried scrap of sinew. Even three hooves remained. For some odd reason, this brought a joy to me, remembering how much difficulty Chatter had given me during hoof trims. Three locks of the glorious red coat also lay preserved, finding their way to the box as well. Last of all, I found the skull. Off all the bones, this was the only one I could clearly visually identify as Chatter's. I could see the smooth grove I used to stroke my fingers along while her eyes closed and head relaxed, the prominent ridge I used to itch for her. I laid it atop the pile. Having combed a 50 foot radius around the spot where we laid her, I broke off dry grass plumes and cushioned the rest of the box.

It's not that Chatter is in her bones, but they once were in her. I understood why we left Chatter's body to the birds, dogs, wind, sun and rain. It was sensible. It was necessary. Yet, part of me had always planned to bury her on the farm, next to Darey (my first goat) when he passed. When we left her clay on the hill, I thought of returning for her bones. One voice inside me pointed out that such action would be sheerly childish and sentimental, that there was no need. Yet another part of me quietly rose up, and, as if in defiance, resolved to go for the bones for the sake of practicing the childish and sentimental even while recognizing the sensible. I do many irrational things in my spare time which one could regard as silly - why not this as well?

There is nothing so much like a freshly plowed garden as a newly dug grave.

Two mounds near the pasture. Two more near the woods. The original herd and cat have passed. Even the doe I raised from a kid shows her years. The herd is unfamiliar to me now - I even have to ask the names of the younger ones.

My brother brought me two crosses. I was tempted to be annoyed, theologically. But the same part of me which brought back the bones squelched it. He meant kindly; he felt bad about the deaths, even though I do not. I laid them on the dirt for him, an adiaphoron. Even if Christ did not die to earn forgiveness of sins for animals, He certainly renewed all Creation by death and resurrection. Goats too belong to that created order.

Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Their Creator knows.


Nana said...

Sarah, This blogpost made me cry....

The Celebrated Author said...


Sir Cuthbert said...

This is beautiful, despite the sad subject.

elizabeth said...

It is okay and good to mourn for the passing of life, and esp for our pets. Nothing wrong with it and through Christ and the Cross all of creationg is redeemed...