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Travels With Maggie: Rubbing Shoulders With Death

Updated on May 3, 2019

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.

Say hello to Maggie!
Say hello to Maggie!

Chores Completed

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.

Death is a constant on a farm
Death is a constant on a farm

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.

Death is a constant in life
Death is a constant in life

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)

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    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      10 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Lawrence. Leave it to you to know the meaning of that saying.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      11 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      Its called that because its the shape the finger is in when curled around a trigger of a gun.

      Death is a part of this life, the 'GREAT EQUALIZER' as its also called.

      This was a great piece of writing.

      Lawrence

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      12 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sheez, MizB, that sounds painful as all hell. Thanks for the medical lesson.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      12 months ago from Beautiful South

      A trigger finger is when a finger curls up and can't "unlock" to straighten out. I have no idea why they call it that. It is very painful to try to straighten. The surgeon goes in and theoretically cuts away the part of the hand that is locking up the finger. It is a usually a simple procedure, but apparently Larry has something in his forearm that is locking his middle finger up. He has had carpel tunnel surgery on both wrists, so it probably isn't related.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      12 months ago from Olympia, WA

      A trigger finger, MizB? What kind of surgery is that? I've never heard of that.

      As for that German Shepherd, I'll bet the local wildlife was quite happy when that dog relocated. :)

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      12 months ago from Beautiful South

      Bill, I wondered how I missed this walk with Maggie, but the published date was the day that Larry had surgery on his hand for a trigger finger. It was a dismal failure, and he is not looking forward to an encore.

      Sweet Maggie, bless her heart. I’m sure it was a shock to her to see the dead chicken. It reminds me of our last dog, Genghis, a chow-pei. His mother died soon after his birth, and he was raised by our three cats. He was a big ole clumsy dog, but he wouldn’t hurt a small animal, but when we began to find the bodies of little animals, rabbits, squirrels, etc., around our neighborhood, Larry got worried. I assured Larry that I believed Genghis was innocent. Then one day Genghis dropped a dead possum at my feet and looked up at me sadly. He then looked at the house across the street, and I could just feel him saying, “do you see what he did?”

      The neighbor was keeping her son’s German Shepherd for a few weeks, and sure enough, as soon as the dog went home, no more small animals died.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      12 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you PS....it is always a highlight of my day when an old friend stops by. Peace, hugs, and love heading your way.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      13 months ago from North Central Florida

      Absolutely Yes----love well---hug longer---do not miss one minute of any day.. Have had more death encounters than I would have thought I would but each one has taught me something new----appreciate you sharing your insights, Bill Hope all is well in your little neck of the woods today Angels once again headed your way ps

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      True, Flourish. At least they recognized my existence, with is progress of sorts.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you always Dora! I'll tell Maggie what you said. She will be happy.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Nell! A new story is coming tomorrow so stay tuned.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      13 months ago from USA

      Bill, I was checking in regarding the mailbag but see from your comment that it's an HP thing. You'll have to let us know what the heck was going on. Hey, at least they were reading you, eh?

    • LoyalFrienemy profile image

      Loyal Frienemy 

      13 months ago from JAIPUR

      I really enjoyed reading this beautiful piece. Can't agree more with the fact that deaths do trigger our thinking process. It's really a thoughtful subject.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Verlie, there was a Mailbag and then HP pulled it and hasn't reinstated it yet.

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      13 months ago from Canada

      You, and Maggie, such good pals. Sweet to hear the stories Bill. I'm confused though, It is Monday right? But I don't see a mailbag, nada. Have I missed an important announcement?

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      13 months ago from The Caribbean

      "Death is there to keep us focused on the quality of life." Great quote. Maggie is good company of the highest order. She initiates reflection on the most important aspects of life. Gotta find me a Maggie.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      13 months ago from England

      I came across a dead bird in the road the other day. it does make you think, doesn't it? I love your stories with Maggie, and always good to 'see' you.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Suhail, thank you my friend. Animals know...much better than we do...that's why I try to listen to Maggie as much as possible.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      All true, Manatita. Age is just a number. I'm after quality of life all the way, and it starts with love.

      Peace blessings, and love to you always

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      13 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi Bill,

      This is one of the most beautiful piece I have read. Your hikes with Maggie has philosophical theme, which is great to read.

      When I am hiking with K2, we see lots of road kills, dead farm animals, etc. K2 always wants to explore, but then trots back. A living rabbit or squirrel will be chased, but not dead ones. There is simply no desire to play with dead bodies or eat them.

      As a side note, someone had aptly said that death of a loved one connects us with the afterlife.

      Regards,

      Suhail

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      13 months ago from london

      You seem to like Fogelberg, Bro. A lyrical poet, perhaps? A realist, perhaps. I suppose we all have to die (not me, I'm immortal) Ha ha. Some say a God-man called Babaji has mastered death and he is still around at 1000 years old!

      Anyway, that dog of yours is 'cool' and pretty 'nifty' too, whatever that means. 70, eh? Close behind you, Bro. Close. Sweet Nellieanna talks of going all the way to 100. Me? So long as I can check out doing something for Love, its cool. Nice series.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I did indeed, William, and I think he's smiling from above.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I get it, Sis! Thanks for stopping by with your silliness, despite the topic. That cow bell just doesn't match your clothes, hon. We have to get you a smaller one, maybe in red or blue. Copper is not your color, girl!

      Hugs, Sister of mine. Lighter topic next week. Stay close to us this time.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Hari, thanks for stopping by.I'm so happy you enjoyed this.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Peggy! Here's hoping you and I have many more years of friendship.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Shannon, I would only change one part of your statement.....all animals are smarter than the people I see daily. lol

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Beautiful thoughts, Pamela...being kind and live to the fullest....I love it!

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      13 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Beautiful piece, Bill. Somehow, I think you sneaked a tribute to Dan Fogelberg in, too. Pretty clever. There can be something positive, even in death.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      13 months ago from UpstateWestern,New York

      Whew! am I ever glad to see you and Maggie again! The last time we all went for a walk, I must have taken a wrong turn! I've been wandering out yonder, walking into trees and slopping through mud puddles, calling out to you 2, but I guess you couldn't hear me....unless of course you were getting a large charge out of it!! I can just hear you telling Maggie...."Just ignore Aunt Paula, Maggie....poor girl is so directionally dysfunctional, we had to tie a cow bell around her neck when she learned how to walk! She'll be home in a couple days."

      Despite it all, here I am again, walking with you, because I hate missing out on the fresh air and inspiration. I'm listening but I don't really want to talk about death, if that's OK with you guys. I'd rather be oblivious today.......Hey! no wise cracks, Bro! Hugs to my bro and Maggie (such a sweet girl!)

    • shprd74 profile image

      Hari Prasad S 

      13 months ago from Bangalore

      Life and death is such a humbling experience. It is experienced with such maturity and understanding in farms or countryside, than by us people in urban societies. Great read Bill. Thanks.

      - hari

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      13 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Death is a part of life and for those of us who are older, it appears closer all the time. You are right to focus on extracting all the good that we can out of life while we are still here to enjoy it. My parents, siblings and many good friends, as well as many pets, have already passed on to the next life. Live is indeed short! Love these Maggie tales!

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon Henry 

      13 months ago from Texas

      Okay. Vampires are okay. They typically aren't seen with rotting flesh. LOL

      Dogs are very smart. So are cats. Actually, I think many animals are smarter than people usually give them credit for. We've got a brand new puppy and I question his intelligence right now, but he'll learn soon enough that the big dog is top dog. She only tolerates him because he is a baby. Yesterday she tried to grab him by the scruff as she headed toward the door. My husband joked that Daisy was going to throw him outside to get some peace.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      For sure, RoadMonkey. Lessons are always waiting for us on the road. Thank you for joining us.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Nithya! For sure, there is something very unsettling about death....it is not my favorite topic now that I'm seventy. lol

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Shannon! I'm not into zombies either, but I love vampires. lol Go figure! As for dogs, I do love them. I just wish they weren't smarter than me. It makes me feel inferior.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I had to stop and think about that, Bill. No, she's seen several dead chickens....reacted the same way to all of them.

      Hoping you have spring weather one of these days, my friend.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      All true, Lori, and thank you for sharing your thoughts on grief. I'll be grateful if I die before Bev. I really have no desire to mourn her passing.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Eric. Very true for sure. I wish I had a dog's senses for one day. What a trip that would be.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I like that Pop, your memories are your farm. That's perfect!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Ruby! Maggie says good morning to you. I wish I had time to do these each day.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      True words those, Flourish. You made me laugh with that last line.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You stated it perfectly, Mary! Spoken like a true farmer. Thanks for the idea of a motion detector. I'll look into that, and I hope your husband is doing better.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      She is indeed, Linda! I'm having great fun writing about these walks. I feel refreshed as a writer and that is always a good thing.

      Love

      bill

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Sha! I'm really enjoying these walks and telling you about them.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      13 months ago from Sunny Florida

      When you reach my age time seems to move more quickly, and the treasures in my life are my good memories. Many of them involve a loved one that has passed away. To live each day to the fullest and being kind is my goal today. I am not afraid of death, but until that my "lottery number" comes up I hope to enjoy life.

      This is a thought provking article today Bill.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 

      13 months ago

      Great walks with Maggie. I have always found on walks like that, that there is always a lesson to be learned.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      13 months ago from Dubai

      Death is scary and I guess Maggie felt disconcerted, poor Maggie. As you have stated every moment counts and we have to live life and enjoy every passing moment.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon Henry 

      13 months ago from Texas

      To put it bluntly, death just sucks. I don't fear death either, but losing those I love to death is the worst. Even losing those I simply know as acquaintances or casual friends is always a sort of shock.

      But people often have a weird fascination with rotting corpses. Of animals. No, of people too. Zombies are all the rage now, aren't they? I'm personally not much of a fan of that kind of thing.

      Dogs on the other hand...Maggie is a very interesting dog to me. Many dogs will tear into something like that much like a vulture would. It makes me wonder what she may have been thinking about. All the other things dogs instinctively know. Like maybe what killed it.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      13 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. Perhaps this was Maggie’s first introduction to death? And like with most of us, it can be unsettling. Have a great weekend.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      13 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      There is something so special when walking one's dog. They are deeply sensitive animals and can teach us so much. As to death, I feel like Pop. My mother died in 02 at the age of 66 and I miss her and think of her ever single day. My dad in 08. But death is inevitable. I am okay and unafraid of my own death and hope I go before most people. I hate it when others die but as the years passed I've learned that grief is a gift, a painful one, but a gift nonetheless.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      13 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Bill I have been too close too often. Those who passed and when I should of. Incredible how dogs are so in-tuned. The sensitivity is beyond my comprehension. Knew an avalanche dog once - Wow!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 

      13 months ago

      Yes, death is a natural part of life, but after all these years I am still grieving for my parents and sister. I lost them much too soon. What I do have are the memories, and i am eternally grateful for that. The memories are my farm.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      13 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This was so real. I could envision the journey every step of the way. I love Maggie, she is so much like a child, learning, trusting and sometimes sorrow. I could read a story like this everyday. Ok, I know you have work to do!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      13 months ago from USA

      Poor chicken met an early fate. You never know when your number will be up. For most, it's too soon, and for others it didn't come soon enough.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      13 months ago from Brazil

      Farming, I believe puts life in perspective. The excitement of a new life and the sadness of a passing. The circle of life, is played out continually on a farm.

      Have you ever thought of installing a motion detector camera? It would be interesting to see what is on the prowl at night.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      13 months ago from Washington State, USA

      I've lost parents, siblings, beloved pets, and best friends. The pain is different with each one, but the grieving never gets any easier.

      Each day that passes means that I am one day closer to Heaven; a comforting thought but also a reminder that, as you said, we all need to hug a little tighter and never, never forget to say "I love you" to those you hold in your heart.

      Thank you for loving us enough to share these walks with Maggie; she is your new Muse.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm happy it helped you, Louise, and I'm sorry for your loss.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      13 months ago from Central Florida

      Bill, this walk with Maggie is loaded with wisdom and reminders that life is short. Live each day as if it were your last.

      I'm going to go back and read this again. What a powerfully reflective piece, Bill!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      All true, Heidi! All true for sure. Even my adorable Maggie will kill if she has to to survive....dogs are not that far removed from wolves.

      And I hope your weekend is springlike.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Zulma, the new pup is learning his place in the hierarchy. Maggie is accepting of him as long as he knows what he can and cannot do...and he better not mess with Maggie's food. lol

      Have a great weekend!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad you found them helpful,Mary.Thanks so much for your support and kind words.

    • louise-barraco profile image

      Louise Barraco 

      13 months ago from Ontario

      This is amazing Bill for someone who has had three deaths in the past year this makes me feel a little better about it. thanks for sharing

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      13 months ago from Chicago Area

      After helping several of our dogs--some old, some young--cross the rainbow bridge, I know the end is inevitable. It's just part of the journey.

      And I think there are so many other angles to this story, too, such as the food chain aspect. Predators need to eat. Sadly, for you, it might be one of your brood. Meat-eating predators will never be vegans. Unlike Maggie, a number of my dogs (oddly, mainly the females) have been quick to go into hunter/scavenger mode when prey (alive or dead) are in the area. Again, accepting the inevitable.

      Love the Maggie stories (I think there's a book in the works, no?) and am anxious to have Tobias make his appearance one day.

      Have a blessed weekend!

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      13 months ago from United Kingdom

      Poor little Rhodie. Yes, death is a part of living and yes, it comes to us all.

      But it doesn't mean I have to like it.

      And a different topic, how's the new pup settling in? Will he be joining you and Maggie on your walks soon?

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      13 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you for writing this Bill. I felt you were talking to me directly as I have just experienced death of a loved one recently. Yes, we have days ahead and we need to laugh a little louder, hug a little harder and love with more passion. I'll keep these words in mind.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Truth to that, Sally! I'm one of the last standing, sad to say.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      13 months ago from Norfolk

      I so understand this, went to a funeral this week and the older one gets the more you see those around you passing on to greener pastures.

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