Sunday, October 21, 2012

To Live

by Andy

The old grey-snouted dog limps slowly toward me, her eyes bright and hopeful. "Come here good girl!" I say, and she quickens her gait. As she walks toward me though, she slows again and stops midway and lies down for a break. I urge her to get up. We need to go home. Laboriously she rises and continues her trudge. There was a time when she could run as fast as I could ride my bike from the fields to the house. Not any more. Pearl the good girl is not such a girl any more. I know she might not make it many more months, and I would be surprised if she was with us this time next year. Our Pearl, the helper dog.

This time of year seems to invite thoughts of the cycle of life. First the basil dies in the mid-September frost. Then the hard frosts and hard freezes come and convert the tomatoes, flowers, peppers and other crops into brown plants with squishy fruits. In those cases the life disappears from one day to the next. But sometimes the changes come so gradually that it seems that nothing is happening. The oak tree in our front yard was a blaze of rich burgundy two weeks ago, and today when I looked the leaves we rusty brown and half were on the ground. When did it change?

It is this way with Pearl. Hers is a slow steady change that I only notice when something new reaches a tipping point. The day she peed in the house. So out of character. Or the first time she couldn't make it up into the car and had to be lifted. If I had to reckon, I'd say she is half as fast as she was last year at this time, and she was already slowing down then. And to look at a photo of her from last year, it is clearly apparent that she has lost a lot of weight. I want to hold onto her and keep her as she is. I can't.

Last night I hung out for the closing of the day with the Farm Stay students. They have been reading The Land Remembers by Ben Logan. This is one of my favorite books. It is a collection of stories from the early 1900's on a farm in southwest Wisconsin. The stories in the book are arranged in sections by season. It is fitting that the students are reading about Autumn now. Last night's story was called "Ghosts" and it recounted Ben's searches for the Passenger Pigeon, which was only recently extinct at that time. The story touched me, and after a while I could not continue reading aloud without starting to cry. The author brought my attention to something I would rather not see. Animals, plants and people die. And sometimes it is untimely or unjust, as in the case of the Passenger Pigeons, and sometimes it is after a long rich life, as in the case of Pearl's impending demise.

I don't put my attention on death easily or often. I know it is part of my everyday life, but it surprises me when it intrudes on my attention. This fall however, between the succession of frosts and Pearl's daily downturn, my attention has landed on death nearly everyday. It has intensified my own appreciation of life. I seem to feel things more deeply. I want to focus most of my attention on life and vitality. But does my habitual denial of death and decay cut me off from the life-affirming vital sensations and feelings that I do want to feel? Would it be useful to make the acceptance of death part of my daily practice?

Time and Life are cyclical processes that seem to be linear. The celebration of life is contained within the recognition of death. The exuberance of Spring comes from the decay of Autumn. In a sense, everything is so intimately connected, that to deny one part of the cycle is to step outside of the it entirely. This denial fools us into a linear world view. In the linear world view, I don't need to notice life or death because I am always moving forward. Is that perceived forward movement actually running away from something?

I don't have a daily practice right now outside of the Farm Stay schedule, unless you include my daily oatmeal. It think a daily practice that includes reflection would make much more sense in a cyclical mindset. I might be ready for that.

Post Script; December 7th 6:45 pm. Pearl passes away at home surrounded by her people.

Pearl on our first snowy day.

Any treats?

Pearl will wait while we hang out at the Treehouse.

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