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The Day I Learned I Wasn't Kindred Spirits with Mary Oliver

Do you know Mary Oliver? She is a wonderful American poet who has won many awards and published a whole lot of poems over the course of her career. I was over in Laramie not too long ago and picked up a collection of her poems (among a few other things)(of course). I have been reading a few at a time, and was nearing the end but hadn't quite finished on Tuesday. That's the back story.

On Tuesday morning, I had to run the bi-annual Dillow Dentist Appt Circus first thing so Ellie didn't get her regular walk. After I got home, my window of time to spare for our regular route was closed but I decided we would just take a short trip around the 20th AF building and back the long way through the alley with camera in hand so I could check out the glorious trees that are fighting off the April winter that keeps hitting us.

It really is among the most glorious time of year, these eight days of spring

I had to get after Ellie near this big pink tree because she pulled on her leash and managed to get a rabbit bone in her mouth; big enough to choke her, so I had to pry her mouth open and cause a scene for anyone looking out of the 20th building as I wrestled it away from her. Gross. We kept on walking, around the alley to check out some more rare Cheyenne blooming things.

white flowering tree Cheyenne

And then she pulled again—while she is the best dog, she's also an occasionally nasty one who loves to eat gross crap off the ground—so I got ready to pry her mouth open again and get whatever bone she grabbed out of her reach.



At this realization I whoooooooped and flailed around in an "OH HELL NO" dance of epic proportions. I certainly wasn't going to touch that, so we marched home with me muttering like a crazy person back through the alley.

Ellie Dog Dillow

She was very proud of herself. BLECHY. BLEH.

Of course I wasn't letting her in the house with whatever decapitated head was rolling around in there, so I made a big show of how nasty herding dogs can just stay outside with their gross rodent heads and put her on her tie out, where she stayed for almost an hour doing whatever "I win" dance she was doing out there. When she barked, I finally let her back in because I knew she couldn't bark with it in her mouth. Seriously. Dogs are so gross sometimes.

When Maddie came home, I told her the whole story (flailing OH HELL NO rodent stories are always a hit) and we went on about our day. Bridget and I had to go to a serious and intense meeting about the school situation for next fall, so we took off and left Maddie and Gracie at home (note: Matt was on TDY at the Tribal Council/Air Force meeting, foreshadowing). Fast forward to about 45 minutes later, when Bridget and I are sitting at the serious and intense meeting which Maddie KNEW we were going to—and the phone rings. It's Maddie. I immediately decline the call and tell her we're at the serious and intense meeting, remember? and what does she need?!?

She texts back immediately: I NEED YOU TO CALL ME RIGHT NOW.


So I excuse myself and racewalk out to the hallway to call her back; when she answers, she is H Y S T E R I C A L. Like, I can't understand a word she's saying. She sounds like she's retching and bawling at the same time, and I realize that Ellie has probably had a massive heart attack and died in the time it took us to drive across town. Except no, that's not it—she finally gets enough words strung together that I understand that there is A PRAIRIE DOG HEAD ON HER BACKPACK.

[insert all the "you have to be kidding me" thoughts that one has when presented with the problem of a half-chewed prairie dog head on one's child's backpack]

I try to hiss-per her through her options (so as not to disrupt the meeting) and she eventually hangs up on me apparently because I cannot apparate to save her and her other parent is in another state. She was only able to carry her backpack to the top of the basement stairs where she LEFT IT FOR ME covered in paper towels; I made all sorts of slow motion startle noises while trying to pick it up with rubber gloves on and without accidentally uncovering it from the paper towels. After we recovered, Maddie finally found a small amount of humor in the notion that Ellie had carefully saved her prairie dog head to share with one of her favorite sheep; Maddie's always sharing her beef jerky with Ellie, so she was returning the favor! It was not our best evening.

Later that night, I finished my Mary Oliver book. One of the poems in the last section was this one:

Wings by Mary Oliver My dog came through the pinewoods dragging a dead fox— ribs and a spine, and a tail with the fur still on it. Where did you find this? I said to her, and she showed me. And there was the skull, and there were the leg bones and the shoulder blades. I took them home. I scrubbed them and put them on a shelf to look at—the pelvis, and the snowy helmet. Sometimes, in the pines, in the starlight, an owl hunches in the dense needles, and coughs up his pellet—the vole or the mouse recently eaten. The pellets fall through the branches, through the hair of the grass. Dark flowers of fur, with a salt of bones and teeth, melting away. In Washington, inside the building of glass and stone, and down the long aisles, and deep inside the drawers, are the bones of women and children, the bones of old warriors. Whole skeletons and parts of skeletons. They can't move. They can't even shiver. Mute, catalogued—they lie in the wide drawers. So it didn't take long. I could see how it was, and where I was headed. I took what was left of the fox back to the pinewoods and buried it. I don't even remember where. I do remember, though, how I felt. If I had wings I would have opened them. I would have risen from the ground.

And that's when I knew: I am the opposite of Mary Oliver. When her dog finds a dead and decaying wild animal, she politely asks it where it came from. When my dog finds a dead and decaying wild animal, I throw an outdoors fit of epic proportions. When Mary Oliver has to decide what to do with said dead and decaying wild animal, she decides to carefully wash the bones. When I have to decide what to do with said dead and decaying wild animal, I kick my dog outside and tell her she can STAY THERE UNTIL SHE ISN'T SO GROSS. When Mary Oliver looks back fondly on how she felt about burying the dead and decaying wild animal, she imagines herself rising with wings in a triumphant swell of glory. When I look back disgustedly on how I felt about throwing the dead and decaying animal away in the trash can without actually touching any part of the trash bag or trash can, I shake my head and giggle over the ridiculousness of it all. The end.


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