Our first stop was “where the road goes across”, a cement slab through the river that Harrisonburg city workers drive across when they have to go pull rabbit carcasses out of the pipes that bring us our drinking water. It’s a good place for little people to run around in a few inches of water and splash each other. There was a small group there: a woman in her 30’s and four kids, including three West Virginia Lolitas. The two older girls didn’t look over sixteen, but one had a lip piercing and the other had a tramp stamp. We helped them build some small dams and then wandered down to the area we call the “swimming hole”, where we reinforced another dam until the Spotted Opossum was tired and edging up on cranky.
Building dams in creeks is something I can’t imagine outgrowing. When I see a body of clear, flowing water, I immediately start planning how to block it up. I’m a big fan of earthworks in general, but dams constructed out of well-placed river rocks are far and away my favorite. For the amount of muscle power and energy that I will happily expend on a dam that will be knocked over the next time a hard rain swells the creek, I would expect no less than $12 an hour, which is actually something I really hate about the capitalist system. By linking work with money, capitalism strips the joy out of working which means we don’t love our jobs even though they are technically more constructive than building dams in creeks out in the national forest. Fuck a bunch of capitalism.
Anyway, before we headed back to town, we got a feather out of the car to lay on the grave of the blind, deaf, spotted dog who died last year and who is buried out back of Rivenrock. I carried the grrrl to the gravesite; she carried the feather. I was a little cautious as we approached the rotting log that serves as a marker because I knew that I didn’t bury Trudy deep and there was a good chance some critter had been at her. That was a deliberate choice on my part. I want to be returned to the ecosystem when I die and I wanted my dog to be the same, even to the point of having her feed a raccoon or some other varmint. I wasn’t sure how the grrrl would feel about it. In the event, she was more interested in finding something else that we could leave on the old dog’s final resting spot because she had decided she wanted to keep the feather. She found a little mushroom which fit the bill. We paused a moment and then I picked her up, using my other hand to pick up a bone that was laying on the ground. I was planning on incorporating the bone and whatever psychic energy it might possess into my BDSR/Espresso Shaman gear, but the Opossum spotted it and insisted that we leave the bone on Trudy’s grave because dogs like to play with bones.
To clarify, my daughter thought that the old dead dog would enjoy chewing on her own leg bone. I would have been more amazed by this if the grrrl hadn’t demonstrated so clearly and repeatedly that she is a very old soul and a dyed in the wool pagan. Feeding the dead their own flesh and bones is classic pagan thinking. The Ainu, in Hokkaido, have been ritually feeding sacrificed cave bears their own flesh for millennia. It’s perfect death-is-somehow-not-death-style thinking. Death is a transformation or crossing-over. It is no more an end than if we had driven another twenty miles and crossed over into WVA. The grrrl wasn’t aware of all that of course. She knows that bones can occasionally be found in the woods and that her Daddy frequently brings them home. She did not put two and two together and realize that a bone near Trudy’s grave was almost definitely a Trudy-bone that got pulled up by a carrion-eater. To her it was just a bone. Still, she is a savvy little person and she has displayed some rather complex thinking regarding death. I don’t know where she got the idea that the dead cross over a rainbow bridge to get to the other side, but she knows that’s what happens. She seems to be a bit unclear as to what happens after that, but who isn’t? I pretty much affirm all of her speculations because I don’t know either, which leaves us with the soul crossing the rainbow bridge to get to the place where God is, which is really everywhere, but sometimes people and dogs get born into this world again, possibly as people or dogs again, but also possibly as something else, we’re not really sure. Today, she was working on the possibility that she would have a baby when she grows up, “like when I’m thirteen”, and that baby might actually be Trudy in baby form. I avoided mentioning my hope that she will put off parenthood a while longer than that and simply agreed that it could happen. Being absolutely ignorant of what happens to the soul after it leaves the meat-carriage, I can’t tell her that it couldn’t.
The only thing that I do strongly want to communicate to the sprat is that death is nothing to be afraid of. Even if nothing happens, even we vanish like the flame when the candle is blown out, that is nothing to fear. I don’t bother contemplating that possibility, but it should be acknowledged.
There are piles of advice-oracles for parents. When the Spotted Opossum was still in the cooker, I started ready them when I came across them, just to see what they had to say. They’re pretty consistent about not getting too worried about anything, but the general tone seems to be that when your kid starts asking about death, you just set ‘em down and have a talk. Tell ‘em how it is, give ‘em a cookie and send ‘em into the other room to watch Dora The Explorer. I have yet to read an advice-for-parents article that says “You live with this kid. You’re going to be talking about death and sex and everything else for years to come. You’re not going to solve it all in one conversation so don’t try”, which is really how it is. Christ, on the way back to town the wee grrrl asked me why boys’ bathing suits were only the bottom part. Try explaining that to a four-year-old. I did the best I could to explain that it’s really an almost arbitrary decision that our culture collectively made many years ago and that there are other cultures where women are not expected to cover their breasts, but that the rule about covering the bottom half is pretty much universal.
“What are ‘breasts’?”
“Daddy! Don’t say that! That’s because that’s embarrassing for me if you say ‘Boobies’.”
I said that I would not say that word again. She saw a horse out the side window and from then on we were mostly pointing out animals. She wanted to know what animals I ate when I used to eat animals before she was born. She was pretty impressed with the fact that I ate snails, frogs, snakes and a turtle. The idea that anyone would eat bear was baffling. She said that she would eat deer, given the chance, but she was a little shocked to learn that I had eaten rabbit.
As we passed the Unitarian-Universalist church, she waved and shouted “Hi, little red church! We’ll see you on Sunday!”
I’ve only just barely begun to discuss death and sex with my daughter. Like everything else, those conversations will evolve and change as our understandings of those subjects evolve and change.
It is entirely possible that I’ll go out to Rivenrock this weekend when the grrrl is with her Mommy. There’s a woman who I’ve been thinking about a bit lately and I may manage to get her out to the woods for a hike and a dip in the creek. What’s in her pants is not my only concern, not even the main one, but I have given some little thought to all that. If I go out there, I will certainly go back to Trudy’s grave to stand for a few minutes. She was a good dog and a good friend – I got her name tattooed on my arm way back when she was still spry as a pup and could see out of both eyes. Maybe I’ll snag that leg bone to hang from my banjo or maybe I’ll leave it there for Trudy to gnaw on. I can decide that when I get there.