from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday, 24 November 2012

to live and to let go

From the window a greyish-white blob has appeared across the valley in the upper limbs of the old lightning-struck oak. With binoculars I can see what I suspected: a heron perched high above the brook, in this wild weather, clinging to the very tip of the highest branch, almost an extension of the tree limbs.

In the last couple of winters I've seen a small egret here, too, come inland, as they do at times.

Yesterday a jackdaw was whipped over my head, playing and spinning and tumbling, in the gale-force southerlies, croaking away to itself in what had to be manifest corvine joy. And then just now, at the very top of an ash tree in the very top margin of our little area of woodland a crow was being thrashed so hard in the wind and pelting rain it was a mere flurry of feathers, and yet it showed no desire to be elsewhere.

I love how hard animals and birds cling to life, immersing themselves fully (as far as I can tell from my human perspective) in the being alive; and then, when it's time to go, simply letting go in the way that an autumn leaf might.

I had a little rescue dog, Hessary, until 2010. I found her as a young puppy in the April of 2000. She'd been dumped in a cardboard box at two weeks old that January in the rain at the roadside, along with her siblings. She and a young male were so ill they nearly didn't pull through; but pull through she did, and, deaf and partially-sighted as I came to realise she was, she demonstrated a huge-hearted and totally enthusiastic engagement with life that one almost never witnesses in a human.  Everything without fail was a cause for delight and (noisy) celebration. (Admittedly she was sometimes a pain in the bum, but that was more than compensated for in her joie de vivre. Mostly. Perhaps not quite so at 4 a.m. on a wintry January night/morning when you're on your own with a sick horse to tend in a flooded stable and you're due 100 miles further north before the start of the working day and Hess is delightedly evading capture down in the woods a mile from the house, and you are so exhausted anyway with a post-viral illness that all you want to do is lie down in the mud and rain and sleep and sleep…)

When she was 10 she suddenly started throwing up. It's a long story but it turned out she had a tumour on her lung, inoperable, and a spleen about 6 times as big as it should have been. She went downhill rapidly, and stopped eating. Still, she snuck off to the brook at the end of our track every morning (crossing the lane on the bend which, given that she was deaf and quite liked racing out to chase cars anyway – yes, she was part-collie – even that ill, was heartstoppingly tricky at times) in order to swim at length in the little pool, barking with joy. And yet she was too weak to climb back up the track – I had to go and find her and carry her. And on her almost-last day, though she was too weak to go anywhere and had been breathing so fast and shallowly I wasn't sure how she was still alive; still, in this state, when we carried her up into her favourite place in the orchard, when my daughter lay down face-to-face with her, Hess passed the ball back and forth between them with her nose, with her usual engagement and gusto, in the habitually gentle sensitive way she played with people, for half an hour or more.

And when her time came it was very clear; and she simply let go.

To live with that level of joyful engagement! And when the time comes, to let go by simply closing your eyes and dropping off the tree.

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