Mr. Buber’s Cat

Warning: Philosophical flight ahead, soaring high into the ether, bearing little or no entertainment value and no direct references to Mormonism, the election, or Prop 8.  Just so you know.

These fall mornings, to get blood going to my brain, I walk out into the desert near my house.  A few days ago I went up onto a nearby ATV route that beats a bare path south.  This I followed a short distance, heading to a spot having clear views east to Sleeping Ute Mountain in Colorado, southeast to Shiprock in New Mexico, and south-southeast to the Carrizo Mountains in Arizona.

Heavily traveled wildlife trails intersected mine–crusted, salmon-colored soil deer hooves had minced, coming and going.  Since the Hunter’s Moon in October, animal traffic across the mesa has shifted from sparse to concentrated and diverse.  Everything is on the move, especially the deer, who are flowing down with the last of the water from their summer range on the Abajos, heading to their winter range around the mountains’ shins and down into the desert canyons.  All summer, the history animals write in dust showed only occasional Cervidae passage, their cloven hoof prints.  Now, the parchment shows constant streams of deer flowing back and forth, up and down.  Often on morning walks I hear or see them around me, snorting or bounding for cover.

This time, though, something different.  As I neared my view point, I came upon a mule deer, a doe, standing in the open less than fifty feet away.  She stood broadside to me, a posture that has particular meaning in the animal world, though I haven’t worked out quite what.  By the time I saw her, her senses had already fallen fully upon me.  Her gaze was open and inquiring.  She displayed little obvious alarm, standing fully exposed, caught up in regarding my presence.    

I stopped and dropped my hands down in front.  For a few seconds, we exchanged questioning looks.  Then I said, “Good morning.”  Her ears twitched as they caught my words.  Then, breaking her gaze, she dropped the moment between us and ambled into the junipers, where I last saw her nosing about, looking for something edible.

The deer didn’t flee–not in the usual way of a frightened deer–though at my words, if not at the constancy of my looking at her, she dropped back.  In that gesture I left the focus of her thought; she relegated me to an object in her world.  For a few seconds, I had seen the guttering of some flame of regard in her doe eyes, but it went out at the language I laid between us.  I became an it to her.  A benign it rather than a predatory it, but an it all the same.

Over the last year I’ve been working my way through Martin Buber’s treatise on relation, I and Thou.  This experience with the doe recalled for me Buber’s story about his cat, which I happened to have read the night before.  “An animal’s eyes,” he says, “have the power to speak a great language.”  He explains that this language expresses through the animal eye “the mystery in its natural prison, the anxiety of becoming.”  This anxiety is the tension a creature feels between “the realms of [its] vegetable security and spiritual venture.”

Buber says his cat doesn’t have the capacity to address him in language, only the capacity to turn its glance upon him.  He remarks how, under his gaze, the cat’s gaze lights up and indisputably questions him, but the questioning extinguishes itself quickly in disquietude.  The sun of relation rises and sets in the cat’s eyes as a single movement.  “For other events,” he says, “possessed between morning and evening their day, even though it might be brief, but here morning and evening flowed pitilessly mingled together, the bright Thou appeared and was gone.”

The bright Thou.  In Buber’s map of relation, man speaks primary words in accordance with his attitude toward being in the world.  These primary words are actually word pairs: I-Thou and I-It

I-Thou is spoken with the whole being and takes its stand in relation.  Between the I and Thou in I-Thou, there is no subject-object span of distance and no bounds.  In I-Thou, there is “mutual giving: you say Thou to it and give yourself to it, it says Thou to you and gives itself to you.”  The I-Thou word of relation does not sustain you in this life in any practical manner, as I-It does, though it immerses you in eternity for brief or possibly more extended moments. Furthermore, the meeting with Thou “tears us away to dangerous extremes, loosening the well-tried context, leaving more questions than satisfaction behind them, shattering security–in short, uncanny moments we can well dispense with.”

The primary word I-It is never spoken with the whole being and takes its stand in the world of experience, or of separation: I perceive something, I imagine something, I will something, I feel something.  In the speaking of the I-It primary word, I becomes a subject which experiences and uses, objectifying what it sees with “the field glass of remote inspection,” separating particulars and arranging them according to casual, advantageous connections that the I makes for its own purposes.  In I-It, the I profits itself, turning any given moment toward “the sustaining, relieving, and equipping of human life.”

The success of a person’s life in the world depends on his/her ability to move back and forth between the I-Thou, I-It dual human reality, but the deeper a person ventures toward speaking Thou to what and who he/she meets, the more sustained is that person’s constancy of immersion into “the whole stuff of life” and the more fully the mystery of life, even the face of God, turns its gaze upon you.  “Thus the time of human life is shaped into a fullness of reality, and even though human life neither can nor ought to overcome the connexion with It, [that connexion] is so penetrated with relation that relation wins in it a shining streaming constancy: the moments of supreme meeting are then not flashes in darkness but like the rising moon in a clear starlit night.”

I thought my meeting with the doe so like what Buber described happening between him and his cat that I wondered, for a moment, about whether our life with nature indeed swayed “in gloom,” unable to cross “to the threshold of speech,” as he asserts.  Maybe, I mused, Buber just had a stupid cat.  They exist–I know it.  As for the deer, this close-in meeting was our first.  It would be too much to expect a deer or anybody else to engage in a hale volleying of Thous at first sight.  Though sometimes I wonder about lizards.  There’s something strangely forward going on with some of them.

Buber believes a person’s capacity to say Thou in speech to other people meets with greater success than his/her saying Thou to nature.  Language , Buber says, is spirit’s primal act–it’s in speech that relation opens between people.  Ultimately, through the saying of Thou, the relation between man and God lights up.  Check out this extraordinary passage:

“¦there is a cosmos for man only when the universe becomes his home, with its holy hearth whereon he offers sacrifice; there is Eros for man only when beings become for him pictures of the eternal, and community is revealed along with them; and there is Logos for man only when he addresses the mystery with work and service for the spirit.  Form’s silent asking, man’s loving speech, the mute proclamation of the creature, are all gates leading into the presence of the Word.  But when the full and complete meeting is to take place, the gates are united in one gateway of real life, and you no longer know through which you have entered.

Nor, I think, do you care.  You’re just there, and the other being’s there, God’s there, whether physically present, as with nature and its creatures, or whether, as is the way with humans, language and the revelatory moment catches you up in presence in streaming beams of Thou.

It’s a great temptation for human beings to abide in the I-It realm of experience, treating everything, including language, as just another It.  Then we fall to using written or uttered speech as a hammer to drive home a point or a wheelbarrow to cart some matter from one spot to another, sometimes raising words as swords or guns, wielding them wholly in service to ourselves or to our interests.  In so doing, we likewise reduce the receiver of our pointed meaning to It, some thing we are trying to do something to or with, perhaps fix into place or arrange to our liking. Human language, a teeming environment in which a person might happen, shrinks down to a processing device that limits prospects to the merely expedient.  It’s I-It that greases the wheels and pulleys of deterministic systems of thought and rigs up the illusion that life bears no freedom.  I-It, in the fictions it mocks up for itself, sets the confines of its stifling fate, the inevitable outcome.  People are little more than machines “which must be taken into account and utilized for the Cause”; God becomes just “another means by which we profit.”  The impulse to speak I-It to another is the stone in the clenched fist of Us-Them.        

On the other hand, I-Thou, spoken with the whole being, steps into torrents of revelation, which in Buber’s language is not the same thing as the idea about God’s word being spoken through an anointed mouthpiece–a prophet–who dispenses it to those waiting for word.  Revelation erupts in the meeting between man and his Thou, and when he emerges he comes out with “something more that has grown in him, of which he did not know before and whose origin he is not rightly able to indicate.”  This is to say that, having gone through the moment that “tears us away to dangerous extremes, loosening the well-tried context, leaving more questions than satisfaction behind them, shattering security,” the man turns out differently. When he emerges from his Thou moment he leaves not only the moment but what he was prior to it, he advances toward his destiny.  Destiny differs sharply from fate.  For one thing, it moves in man through his mounting freedom.  Freedom infuses the I-Thou relation because, unlike the world of It, the “world of Thou is not closed.  He who goes out to it with concentrated being and risen power to enter into relation becomes aware of freedom.  And to be freed from the belief that there is no freedom is indeed to be free.”

Buber’s model appears mostly to assign art to the realm of experience, an act of arranging matters to one’s liking, and thus to the world of I-It, since to attempt to express the inexpressible, especially the moment when your Thou steps in close to meet you, is to render it a thing, not to mention that your rendering becomes itself an exercise in futility.  But I think there must be a way in which art can be a saying of Thou, not just in the act of creating, as address to the supreme Thou, but also to the reader of a work or the hearer of a musical composition or the soul whose gaze falls upon art in whatever form.  Art might also stand at the doorway of revelation, I think, offering the potential for what Buber calls “turning.”  He certainly sings with delight over the spirit in the work of Goethe, Socrates, and Jesus, their beaming I that abides in the shine of endless dialogue able to accompany man into the “stillness of death and becoming.”  Whatever the case, even as It, there is hope for art when the artist’s immersion into the whole stuff of life results in his work transfusing and being transfused with the warmth and glow of relation.

In all fairness to Mr. Buber’s cat and that curious deer, I’ve been there, hung up in that tension between vegetable security and spiritual venture.  If it hadn’t been for people in my life who, when the dawn of questioning did arise in my eye, stepped up to meet it before it set and slowed with their power the arc of the sun of each meeting, I might be there still.  Sometimes I slip back toward that tension when matters become too much, I sink back toward the creature comfort of It.  Yet experience shows that always the bright Thou awaits my return, meets my gaze for as long as I can sustain it, and teases me further out into the world and meaningfulness.  For there’s a more radical dance to life than fate allows for, there’s always more to the story than what I try to write into it.  Every word bends toward what lies beyond, aching to explode into showering fireworks of Thou.

27 thoughts on “Mr. Buber’s Cat”

  1. I’m not sure I follow everything with the precision and resonance I’d prefer, but I do like this very much:

    “there is hope for art when the artist’s immersion into the whole stuff of life results in his work transfusing and being transfused with the warmth and glow of relation.”

  2. I’m not sure I follow everything with the precision and resonance I’d prefer…

    That’s the Kafka talking.;) If you channel William Blake, that might help.

    Actually, the sentence you pulled out pretty much gathers it all up.

    Also, I didn’t mean to imply with the prophecy remark that the Mormon concept of revelation is off-base. Buber locates the highest potential for relation not in organizations but in the strivings — “effectual action” — of the individual in his/her toward community through Thou. I don’t think that’s an especially foreign concept to the Mormon idea of spiritual endeavor.

    Reading Buber is rather like reading the Gospel According to John mixed up with Isaiah, with something else present, something compact concentrated and careful that’s distinctly Martin Buber. There’s the reason it took me a year to work through a book that’s less than 7 inches tall, 4 inches wide, and not even half an inch thick.

  3. I’m mulling, too, Laura. This whole post is a mulling over of difficult material. Many parts of the treatise I had to read three to six times before I could go on to the next paragraph. I read part of it at school while I waited for students in the reading/writing lab. The lab has a whiteboard. I mapped out the language on the board so I could see how Buber constructed his sentences and paragraphs, each element of which bears the power of poetry, and hence approach something of his meaning. This language was so different from anything I had ever encountered that I immersed myself in it so that I could try to see what lay at its depths. Of course, I read it in English translated from German — original title Ich und Du — so that added another layer of mystery.

    The translator explains some believe that Buber’s approach to relation is an expression of “the unique force at work in Christian tradition.”

    Much of Buber’s thinking on relation, salvation, etc., as far as I could enter into it, was a homecoming for me, but some ideas I doubt, like his expressions of the inevitable distance that lies between man and nature. Because animals lack speech, the reciprocity between beings that flows person to person is only latent with them. Only some people of a particularly spiritual nature are able to say “Thou” to animals, including wild animals, and move them to response.

    I’m uncertain about this language, first of all because of the subject-object distance the language demonstrates. Words the translator applies, like “tame” and “move,” and “partnership with animals” feels like I-It language to me, not I-Thou. What does that mean?

    I know hardly anybody’s following me on this post, and maybe nobody is, but I have to speak as if somebody might be. The second concern I have with Buber’s stance toward nature stems from my experiences with a person. If speech is the basis for “open relation,” then the relation between my disabled daughter and myself has not been open, which implies it was not a person-to-person relation. And yet if I were to describe it, I would have to say it was deeper and wider and more epic than my relation with people with whom I have engaged in the kind of back-and-forth speech that Buber supposes is characteristic of human reciprocity. Furthermore, the reciprocity that emerged between us is hardly expressible. The best I can come up with is a metaphor: What she gained from the relation between us would take years of work to express, but because of my years-long deep involvement with my daughter’s consciousness, I see other colors that lie outside the visible spectrum of what I understand Buber to consider to be speech.

    When I go out into nature, which I do frequently, I find animals, and some insects, to have far more going on with them than Buber suggests. Frequently, events unfold that nobody would believe. The story I tell in this post is true and unembellished, except for my remarks about the nature of questions. Who proved to fall short on the reciprocity back-and-forth scale in that story? Me. The human being.

    I fell short.

  4. By the way, did anybody else find it interesting that Buber used Eros rather than Agape in the long passage quoted in the post?

    I think he’s dropping back from the Christian softening of the concept of love, the bound word “agape,” to Plato’s broader, deeper, and less bound meaning.

  5. My comments:
    I think you hit it when you said the deer showing its full side is saying something along the lines of “I’m exposed”, as in, “and not afraid to do so before you”. That’s how I take it.
    I appreciate these moments when we make eye contact with another species, and I remember once when I made this kind of eye contact with a black panther at a zoo when I was a kid. I stood there so long and so quiet that he finally wondered what was up. He stopped pacing long enough to look me over. Another time I was in the woods w/ my dd and suddenly encountered a doe with her dd (let’s presume). She and I looked each other over and seemed to come to the same conclusion: not dangerous at this time. And we parted. A couple years after that I read “Blueberries for Sal” to my kids and couldn’t get enough of it. That might be as close as I get to Buber.
    This Buber sounds like he might only be addressing one aspect of interaction at a time. If he had a cat, then he knows there are other forms of relating that happen between people and animals. I mean, aren’t cats just little gods that apply infinite patience in directing our actions?
    Maybe I’m wrong. Just the other day a cat person who is a close friend told me that animals don’t have spirits. I wasn’t expecting that from a usually intuitive person. She was stating this in a religious conversation, in terms of what she had been taught.
    Have I even addressed the I-Thou relation? The translation from German lost a bit of the deutsches in that ‘du’ is a more comfortable and familiar ‘you’ than ‘thou’ might come across. ‘Thou’ might be more like the formal ‘Sie’. I could be wrong. It raised the idea in my mind not so much of the German formal/informal as much as the language of sacred respect used in mortal/immortal writings. I liked that contrast better than the standard German translation which might lack some of the spirit that Buber seems to be reaching for.
    You know, if you’re having trouble with attendance on your post, maybe bring chocolate next time.

  6. Lora,

    Well, I forget a lot of my reading German, which wouldn’t have served me well enough for reading Buber auf Deutsch anyway, but the “Du” here is the familiar “you.” “Thou” has a history of being used for intimate/familiar address. Given that moment when you become caught up in the meeting with Thou you are moved into relation where you give yourself to your Thou and Thou gives itself to you in unbounded involvement, “mutual giving,” the familiar “Thou” rises naturally to the lips.

    Buber speaks to the irony of how sometimes, when we use the familiar address with those close to us, when we call them “Thou,” what we really mean It. He says, “To utter the sound ‘Thou’ [du] with the vocal organs is by no means the same as saying the uncanny primary word [Ich-du]…” In some cases, what we mean when we address father, wife, comrade, as Thou is “O my ability to use.” In such passages, he plays up, I think, the tension, perhaps even blasphemy, of using the familiar “du” in the separated world of It.

    I think.

    As for Thou sounding stiff and formal to our ears, I just saw an episode of Bonanza where Adam Cartwright falls in love with a woman who is a member of a religious “sect.” It seems as if the group is Quaker, since they abhor violence, but some Mormon overtones are present. Anyway, the members of this group address everyone as “Thee” and “Thou.” Adam starts off using “I” and “You,” but as he becomes more involved with the lady, he starts addressing her as “Thee” and “Thou,” with strangely lyrical consequences.

    Funny side trip. Anyway, it worked.

    The purpose — emphasis on “purpose” — of meaning It when we say Thou, of reducing the intimate relation to something we experience and use, is to “subdue the present speedily and thoroughly,” because if we didn’t take precautions, “life would be quite consumed.” That is, moments of Thou, the lyrical and dramatic episodes of intimate relation, are scary stuff. If we “fill each moment with experiencing and using … it ceases to burn.”

    As for attendance on this post, people can bring their own !@&# chocolate.

  7. I do have my own chocolate, thank you very much.
    I’m beginning to see more where you’re coming from with Buber. And really, in a more blah sounding general sense, I can see where making connections is something we need to be reminded of as we move thru this world. Can I call these organic connections, or are you going to hit me? I find this kind of talk about eye contact and interacting with animals is a reminder against those days when I realize I have spent more time with my computer than I have with my family or the nature around us.
    I didn’t know ‘thou’ could be informal. I probably used to know that, but if I haven’t been tested on it in twenty years it may be gone by now. Still, I kinda understand what you mean about using one word and meaning the other. I’ll have to think more about our using ‘thou’ when we mean ‘it’. It sounds like something I haven’t been trained to see (or have been trained to not see), and so I didn’t realize it’s there.

  8. Gentle commenter, Thou hast no cause to fear, for hittings be not permitted here.

    Essential “thou” facts and some trivia, such as the occurance of “thou” in Clockwork Orange, can be found here.

  9. Take your time, greenfrog. I have a couple craft projects going on, m’self.

    I also have TTW’s latest, review forthcoming.

    Thanks for reading. And for surfacing long enough to show that you’re still out there.

  10. Orion crouches stilly, listening and waiting. He hears. He draws. The bowstring leaps. The arrow marks. Orion gathers, harvests, eats, lays stores.

    * * *

    Rapt Paris takes willing, Spartan Helena from Menelaus, giving all, wrecking Troy, not accounting loss.

    * * *

    The mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) is a deer whose habitat is in the western half of North America. Its closest relative is the black-tailed deer (considered by some a subspecies of mule deer). The mule deer is the largest of the Odocoileus genus, standing, on the average, 40 to 42 inches at the shoulders and stretching 80 inches or so nose to tail. An adult buck will weigh from 150 to 300 pounds on the hoof, with does averaging 100 to 175 pounds.

    * * *

    I-Its, all.

  11. I-Thou?

    Shear away the tangled dreds of concept, notion, need, and want.

    Renounce the sheilds.

    Only see.

    * * *

    But being seer is, itself, a mask-making.

    I-It or I-Thou — both entail a stance, a view, a location, a vantage.

    Both present a mask to which we press, shaping our selves a face against the mask-back, and suddenly seeing from that place.

    * * *

    tat twam asiI AM THAT I AM.

    * * *




  12. What happens when Mr. Buber’s cat meets Mr. Schroedinger’s cat?

    Seriously, can you have an I-thou relationship when one part is uncertain?

    And isn’t it the nature of human existence that all of us are uncertain?

    Perhaps that is the point behind I-thou — overcoming the uncertainty on both sides?

    Or have I missed the point?

  13. Kent, Can Mr. Buber’s cat meet Mr. Shroedinger’s cat? Or will they be simultaneously meeting and not meeting? And even if we look into the box, given the nature of Mr. Buber’s cat, will we be able to tell whether the cats are meeting or not?

    If I read Buber right, certainty is characteristic of the I-It world. I-Thou relation abides in mystery, no matter how much closer we move to God through I-Thou moments. Though a kind of incommunicable certitude is possible as one’s life becomes more and more imbued with meaning thou I-Thou relation:

    Man can do justice to the relation with God in which he has come to share only if he realizes God anew in the world according to his strength and to the measure of each day.

    That before which, in which, out of which, and into which we live, even the mystery, has remained what it was. It has become present to us and in its presentness has proclaimed itself to us as salvation; we have ‘known’ it, but we acquire no knowledge from it which might lesen or moderate its mysteriousness. We have come nearer to God, but no nearer to unveiling being or solving its riddle. We have felt release, but not discovered a ‘solution.’

    For Buber, the I-Thou meeting has an indefiniteness to it. It’s not a thing, you can’t grasp it, you can’t carry what you learn to others. You can only change in its light:

    First, there is the whole fulness of real mutual action, of being raised and bound up in relation: the man can give no account at all of how the binding in relation is brought about, nor does it in any way lighten his life — it makes his life heavier, but heavy with meaning. Secondly, there is the inexpressible confirmation of meaning. Meaning is assured. Nothing can any longer be meaningless. The question about the meaning of life is no longer there. You do not know how to exhibit and define the meaning of your life, you have no formula or picture for it, and yet is has more certitude for you than the perception of you senses… Thirdly, this meaning is not that of ‘another life,’ but that of this life of ours, not one of a world ‘yonder’ but that of this world of ours, and it desires for confirmation in this life and this world.

    I could go on, but it would probably just cross people’s eyes. I think if we look at the old ideas about eternal progression, such as B.H. Roberts advanced and Widstoe, I think, we catch something of Buber’s vision. Maybe if we look more closely at repentance, too, with its broken heart and contrite spirit, that sudden tearing away, in the flood of revelation, of the world we thought we grasped.

  14. greenfrog: When you said, “still entwining,” I thought you meant your blackberry canes, and that you’d be gone for a while, but it looks like you meant this post.

    I hope you don’t feel a burden to defend your world view to me. I don’t expect that of anybody, especially not you.

  15. I love the image of you looking at the deer looking at you. Defend my view? I suppose my comments do sound that way. Not sure why, exactly.

    Your writing did impress on me the recognition that seeing requires a stance. I’ve really no idea what happens before or after the stance, before I press against the inside of the mask and form a face and a view.

    happy thanksgiving, friend.

  16. If you’re still out there, greenfrog:

    As I walked this a.m., in a gray drizzle to begin with and broken sunshine toward the end, I thought over your remarks. You mentioned you’ve no idea what happens before or after the stance, before you “form a face and a view.”

    I think, maybe, I can say that the moment you meet your Thou in the I-Thou moment, your stance is torn away, you don’t just “give yourself” to your Thou (which has appeared in whatever form) but you give yourself, your position, up to it. You do not emerge from the I-Thou moment the same person with the same stance you entered into it.

    But Buber would agree that eventually, sometimes quite quickly, when you emerge from that meeting you begin to form that mask you speak of, your vision clears, you start “seeing” and take a new stance. He believes that it is not the same stance you held before the I-Thou moment, that it cannot be, because:

    The moment of meeting is not an ‘experience’ [an It] that stirs in the receptive soul and grows to perfect blessedness; rather, in that moment something happens to the man… The man who emerges from the act of pure relation that so involves his being has now in his being something more that has grown in him …

    Does this resonate with you?

    One thing I found this a.m. while I was out was an entire skeleton of a horse. I’m taking my daughter out later to look at it. She has a rising interest in bones.

  17. Never more than a day’s journey — or perhaps two — away.

    Opening, really opening to another, releasing insistence on I/Me/Mine in the presence of another, always transforms me.

    I love horse skeletons, though I’ve never found a whole one. As a youth, I found some teeth poking out from the earth. I dug them out, thinking I’d found a mammoth. The U of U palentologist my mom drove me to meet gave me the news: big horse, not mammoth. But I still thought it was cool. They were big teeth.

    One spring a couple of years ago, I found an elk skeleton, spread out over a meadow in Yellowstone. I disarticulated a vertebra from the still-connected spinal column and pulled a sheaf of lime-green spring grasses through the spinal cord channel. I left the artifice beside a cold, dancing stream.

  18. Yay! And look what you brought!

    Visualizing images of this spinal column, laced with grass, sparkling beside a dancing stream, reminded me of something I found in a canyon years ago. I was walking below a spectacular pictograph panel when for some reason I bent down and picked up a flat stone and turned it over. On its underbelly, somebody had scratched a rendering of the renderings on the alcove wall.

    I wove this incident into a story, a third rendering. What would Plato say?

    I discovered this evening I can’t get into comments on your posts over at the pond because our web filter has been blocking them as “web chat.”

    This has been going on for a while. I didn’t realize it before because with other sites the filter labels as web chat a message pops informing me of the block. That doesn’t happen at your site. The post page comes up fine, nothing pops, but no link appears for the comments.

    Working on fixing this…

  19. Plato might say, “Give me back my vertebra” or he might say, “Look outside the cave.” Or perhaps he would apostrophize Ramon Fernandez.

    I promise there’s nothing to upset a web filter in the comments at the pond.

    Well, almost nothing — some do, I hear, object to to William Carlos Williams.

  20. “Give me back my vertebra” — I like that one.

    He would almost certainly say, “Ban[ish] her!”

    Daughter and I spent an hour with the horse today, hefting and turning over bones, tipping the elegant skull with its full complement of ridged teeth this way and that. Dried flesh still pinched against the bone around the bottom jaw, inside and out. Tail bones lay in order in a row. One hoof remained, the rest having gone off as chew toys for coyotes, I imagine. All the big bones, skull included, shone white as snow and had not lost too much of their mass, settling in the hand like stones. Long brown hair from mane and tail lay matted on the ground.

    We’ll be going back again and again with labeled diagrams so that we can learn the bones. We’ll also take sketch pads, a camera, my hiking notebook.

    As the sun set, she took me to a place where a few months back she and two neighbor boys had discovered a coyote carcass strung up in a juniper with two dead pups on the ground below. The adult had been tied up front legs spread wide. Those remained hanging in the red baling string. Below the knots in the baling string, two tawny paws, fur and flesh intact; above the knots, sharp, thin bones where the rest of the body had broken away and now mouldered in a heap on the ground with the bodies of the pups. The skull had rolled down the hill. We stroked the adult’s dangling paws, the fur of which was still soft, but the bone, ligaments, and muscles had gone quite dry and hollow. Very grim.

    We took the long way home as deer flowed up out of the canyon and into the fields. We mixed in among them as we walked. At one point, I heard distant coyote yips coming from behind and stopped to listen, turning around to hear better. My daughter pointed out four deer trotting into the trail behind us. As we watched the deer mill, another pack of coyotes, much closer, ignited the quiet with an answering chorus.

    The sunset drew streaks of neon orange and hot pink across a slate blue sky. The new moon had swung into acute conjunction with Jupiter and Venus, and my daughter and I ooohed and aaahed over the sight, talking quietly as we walked about two other significant points in the configuration — the sun, which lay below the horizon, its position reflected in the cheek of the moon; and the earth, from which we observed the other lights as if from outside, but of course we were a part of it.

    How’s that for a total threadjack.

    As for our web filter’s objections to your comments, I don’t think it’s William Carlos Williams per se that’s the problem — it’s more likely that dubious mix of chickens, rain, and the color red I recall seeing there.

  21. I once found a javelina skull in the desert outside of Tucson. I brought it home to my wife’s bemusement. I’ve sketched it dozens of times. Bones make fabulous sketch subjects.

    I wonder if the pups were killed where you found them or whether they found their mother crucified and remained beneath the cross until they died.

  22. Evidence points to the coyotes having been stripped out of their element. The humans involved appear to have operated completely within theirs.

    When were you in Tucson? While I was attending the UofA, I spent a lot of time in a park out west of town off Speedway Blvd., Sentinel Peak Park, I think it was called. It was the only refuge from the craziness that I could find.

  23. Our element? Sadly, yes.

    Tucson? Business trips. I think I found the javelina skull about ten years ago near a cholla cactus in the desert west of town.

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