Travels With Maggie: Rubbing Shoulders With Death
Sorry About the Title
Rather ominous, that is, rubbing shoulders with death, not the kind of reflection you were looking for, ‘eh, but that’s how it is on these walks. Maggie and I don’t get to choose what’s coming down the road of life at us, anymore than you do.
It was a partly-cloudy kind of day yesterday, the sun darting to and fro, a cosmic game of hide-and-seek, typical April fare for Olympia, Maggie and I arriving at the farm about twelve-thirty, as is our norm, our chores awaiting us as they do daily.
I grabbed the bucket of feed from the back of the pickup and carried it over to Chicken Town, that’s what we call it, an enclosure about fifty yards long and maybe ten feet wide, where a myriad of chicken coops can be found. I unlocked the gate and instantly had fifty hens, maybe more, following me at my heels, darting to and fro, pretty damned eager for that fermented grain Bev prepared for them. Maggie hung back about ten feet, gently encouraging any stragglers to get a move-on and follow the gravy train.
Dumped the contents of the bucket and set out to grab the hose, turned a corner around one coop, and was greeted by a dead chicken, it’s ravaged carcass already home to flies and egg sacks, a once beautiful Rhode Island Red now rotting in the gentle sun.
It’s a constant battle, raising chickens, so many predators afoot, all with a hankerin’ for some raw chicken, the coyotes, weasels, and raccoons, the foxes, bears, and occasional cougar, not to mention a prowling dog, my goodness, life for a chicken can be harrowing at times, and that Rhode Island Red learned a very tough lesson.
I picked up the carcass and tossed it in the pasture. It would not remain there long after sunset.
I finished up with the feeding and watering, glanced out at the pasture, and noticed Maggie approaching the dead chicken. She got within five feet of it and stopped. Sniffed the air, sniffed again, and then circled it with a five-foot buffer, never getting closer to it, her head down, eyes locked on death, finally shook her head and trotted back to me.
I understood completely.
I’ve seen death, held it in my arms at the age of twenty, my father taking his last gasps in my arms. I do not fear it. I understand it, know it to be a part of the natural order of things, but I will never find peace with it. Death is there, in the words of Dan Fogelberg, to keep us honest, to constantly remind us that time is a’wastin’ and we better get a move on. Death is there as a counterpoint against all silly excuses about time . . . not enough time, couldn’t find the time, where did the time go, and blah, blah, and more blah. We are dying from the moment we are born, a fact we push aside during our youth, our teen years, and into young adulthood, but there comes a day when we can no longer spit at the truth, our lottery number WILL be drawn, and that’s one fact we would prefer to not be reminded of . . . death is there to keep us honest. And so we walk around it, head down, sniffing the air, eyes locked on it, but never do we enter that five-foot safety barrier.
One More Line to That Song
There is one more line to that stanza by Fogelberg:
“Death is there to keep us honest
And constantly remind us we are free!”
Maggie and I finish up our chores and head out on our walk down the country road, just a man and his dog, walking, sharing, and loving. I am reminded of feelings past, leaving funerals, leaving memorial services, and feeling relieved . . . feeling selfishly happy . . . feeling greatly liberated . . . that it was not me in that casket, that I still have days left, that for me time continues.
Maggie runs up ahead, her tail erect, her eyes scanning the area, a happy dog on a happy walk, less than two years old, hopefully many years ahead, and I know the feelings she is experiencing. We have walked away from that killing ground, seen death once more and, once more, walked away from it, for we both are still free. We both have days ahead, days of learning and mystery, days of defeats and celebrations. We both have days of love approaching, days of triumph, days of warm comforts and the wagging of tails, and we both have sweet melancholy to hold onto as we keep lost ones close to our hearts.
Back at the Farm
We returned a half hour later to find death still in the pasture, a solitary reminder to keep it real in all phases of life because, when it is all said and done, when that final scorecard is tallied, there are only a few items in any life worth paying close attention to . . . death is there to keep us honest . . . I would add that death is there to keep us focused on the quality of life. Hug a little harder, laugh a little louder, love with more passion, find empathy, find compassion, and forgive as though the saints rest upon your shoulder. It all matters, every single damned moment matters, the mother of all butterfly effects, inconsequential actions upon inconsequential actions all add up, all send out ripples, and all complete the portrait that is us. If you are a golfer you’ll understand the word “mulligan.” We are continually offered mulligans in life, do-overs to get it right, to get back on course, until we draw our last breath and the sum of our efforts is calculated.
Maggie takes one last sniff of death and then turns back towards the truck. It’s time to head home, and she seems more eager than normal to leave the farm.
I understand completely!
Rest in peace, Dan Fogelberg, The Leader of the Band!
2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)