Subject: Valley of the Bones
Whatever possessed me to embark on this donkey trip? I should have stayed on the ship watching Elsie draw and the clouds floating by the moon, listening to Mother complaining of everything while denying what’s happening as well as waves slapping against the side of the ship as sea gulls call to one another, smelling Elsie’s crayons and Mother’s perfume with an ocean salt water background. Instead I am on a donkey that is really too small for me, bouncing along a muddy forest path, having fallen behind my companions (since my donkey is so small and doesn’t move very fast) composing emails in my head of what I will write to you, Clarisa, when I return to the ship and have access to a computer.
At first I was delighted when a tiny white donkey with blue eyes (didn’t realize donkeys had blue eyes) ambled right up to me, nuzzled my hand and gazed directly into my eyes. What a sweet donkey she was, and so connective. (Reminds me of the box turtles I’ve found over the years in the woods that do not retreat into their shells but look right at your eyes, not your feet.) I had had trepidations about a donkey trip but she allayed my fears. This wouldn’t be so bad with such a cute donkey (not at all intimidating or threatening.) Her eyes are so very expressive and soft. (Makes me think of Elsie and that sweet young hospice patient.)
The farrier at the stables insisted I should ride on this donkey, not walk alongside (I was thinking of my weight overwhelming her), so I did. The farrier also said I could name her so I decided on Snowflake after my cat who also seemed to choose me. I don’t think I ever told you this, Clarisa. I remember we had to park the car in the dirt road since there was no driveway onto the property when we were looking for land to relocate. We left the window half open for air as we tramped all over the 25 acres of meadow, woods and a section of huge rock boulders.
When we returned, we found a scrawny, infant kitty was huddled on the back of the car having opened a package of cheese crackers. Poor thing seemed to be starving. We gave it some milk from our cooler and some real cheese, talked to her, tried to smooth down the rumpled white and dirty fur, and left her with another bowl of milk. That was in spring.
By fall we had returned, having bought the land, sold our house back east, and, with our heads filled with many new possibilities, had pulled our travel trailer down to live in it while making arrangements for getting a well dug and a septic system put in on the land. We were finally back to the beautiful land. What hopes and dreams we had for us to have sold our dream house we already built (literally, with our own hands, all parts of it), and to move so far away.
We parked in the dirt road again, gathered what we needed from the trunk, turned around… and there she was… as if waiting for us all these months. Somewhat bigger, looking a bit better, but waiting for us. As we hiked on the land that fall day, and many days, weeks and years later, she followed us, obviously choosing us to care for her. She loved to sit in my lap and purr as I stroked her, in the evenings. I still miss Snowflake, 26 years after she made her choice.
And here I am with another Snowflake who chose me, and now I follow her lead. She seems to know where she is going, but she just goes slower than the other donkeys. Mother will watch Elsie but who will watch Mother? There’s no telling what mischief she will come up with.
We’ve been ambling along for what seems to be hours, during which time I think of these things I will email you, Clarisa, when I am able to do so. The tree canopy thins out and we approach an opening in the trees. Ahead stretches a huge area covered with such an assortment of things: tents in one area, people squatting on the ground digging and searching through rocks of all sizes, mounds that look like the Native American burial mounds in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and open areas strewn with rocks like in Pennsylvania where the glaciers dropped off all the huge boulders as they melted and receded during the Ice Age. These rocks aren’t as large as those, but seem to be interspersed with something else.
This must be the Valley of Bones I heard mentioned… Those whitish sticks must be bones! But so many bones? I’m overwhelmed! So much death! But, how did so many bones come to be here? Who were these people? these animals? What were their stories? I guess this is what people feel when they think of death and dying and hospice (so overwhelming). We hear it all the time, Clarisa, “How can you deal with it all?” And of course the answer is – one person at a time – one person’s story so it doesn’t end with dying alone and in pain. One person at a time; one bone at a time.
Snowflake flicks her ears around (did I speak out loud?) and turns her head to look at me. I reach out and stroke her neck. She licks my hand, nods her head, and turns back as she moves gingerly, avoiding stepping on any exposed bones, along the perimeter of the area.
She proceeds a bit, and then stops and looks back at me, rippling the muscles of her back.
“Should I get off now?”
She nods her head. How can she understand, yet turtles seem to understand at times, as do cats, and other critters. I slide off the best I can and glance around. I have no clue what I am to do here (excavate, dig, move bones and clear areas?) I let my eyes wander, trying to get a sense of where I am. Snowflake gently paws next to a spot where some smaller stones are piled with a larger rock on top forming a ledge of sorts.
“Okay, I get it.” I bend over and lift the top rock off and feel around the remaining stones. Way underneath, under the ledge, I feel something both smooth and pointed.
‘Fragile’ I hear, and look at Snowflake. Those same far-seeing, aware eyes gaze back at me. Eyes that are not typically cat’s eyes or donkey’s eyes. Who are these animals?
But I carefully grasp the item and draw it forth. How beautiful! A white shell or bone – fragile and lovely – in the midst of mud and rocks and people looking like they are mining for gold (or Arkansas diamonds.) I grab a blue cloth from my saddlebag and gently brush off the remaining dirt and mud. There! I can see it even better now as I check it out from all angles.
Each view a masterpiece! What kind of shell is this? Or is it a sculpted piece of alabaster or ivory? It’s so intricate. ‘No, it’s a shell.’ My thought or Snowflake’s? I now remember seeing such a shell, an alabaster murex, and reading that the flanges kept the snail within from sinking into the mud of the ocean bottom, acting much like snow shoes do. How magnificent!
Holding the shell, ever so gently, with both hands cupped, I walk to a grassy spot at the edge of the tree line, and sit. Snowflake lies down next to me. I look from the shell to Snowflake and back again, wondering about the connection, if any.
‘No coincidence.’ So what do a white shell, a white donkey and a middle aged woman – also white – have in common? ‘Patterns – check for patterns.’
“What kind of patterns?” No reply. I squinch around a bit to get more comfortable and my foot moves a pebble to reveal something white. Holding the alabaster shell in one hand, I unearth the object. Brushing off the clinging dirt, I hold it this way and that to discern what it is. Not as fragile as the shell, but similar with spikes like the shell but a hold running through the middle, like a donut. This almost looks like a spinal vertebrae, but just one? I look around but don’t see any others.
“Tell me more. Don’t just say patterns.”
So I carefully observe the shell in one hand and the vertebrae in the other.
The life force/cerebral fluid flows through the vertebrae bringing life and awareness and consciousness to the body. It protects the soft and fragile spinal cord within. The shell protects the soft creature within. I look from one to the other. They appear so similar. One is the housing for spinal fluid, the consciousness, and the other for snails of the ocean, the basics of life. I think of the spinal vertebrae, protecting the fluid that connects us to life and to other levels of consciousness, other realities if we so choose. I can feel my own awareness rise, as in meditation, moving up from the lower chakras to the eye center.
I put my hands together, so shell and bone touch, completing the circle of my energy through my arms. I feel a small jolt, as the energies connect and circulate. And with that jolt… I know this shell is like those remembered many lifetimes ago, on the shores near Ur over 4000 years ago. I remember how prized they were, and how some scribes used them to inscribe words of homage to the gods and the kings. And I had ridden to the ocean in a cart pulled by an onager (somewhat larger and more horse-like than a donkey, and far more unruly with a stiff mane like a zebras and a black stripe down the middle of its reddish-brown color.) I feel the intense heat.
I finally glance up to see Snowflake watching me. She nods. So once again I remember a lifetime. The larger patterns reveal themselves once again. Some would say its imagination, hallucinations, even craziness. Those who don’t know me might say I’m on drugs, etc. (They obviously don’t know me, Clarissa.) I don’t expect others to agree with my interpretation – it is the kind of experience that each person needs to discover for themselves. It is enough that after all these years I am comfortable knowing what I experience is true. The struggle to reach this point has been difficult, but well worth it. Fortunately, there are enough people around to support me even as they know how sane and ordinary I am (some would say even boring). And now a little white donkey even agrees. (Who or what is this donkey?) Something else to discuss woth you, Clarissa, when I actually complete and send this email to you.