The Skull In The River

by Ingrid Dean

skull-517599_1280As a forensic artist and road patrol trooper for the State Police, I have worked on many interesting cases. Little did I know that a cardboard box placed on my desk one sweltering August day would contain one of the most challenging and emotional cases of my career. A year earlier I had completed a facial reconstruction course at the FBI Academy in Quantico.

The box contained a human skull and was my second skeletal case. The first case I worked on was still unsolved—the charred body of a black female was still at the morgue, waiting to be identified. This new case held little more promise. It had already sat on a property room shelf for nine years.

As I leafed through the police reports, I learned that the skull had been dredged out of the Clinton River, which runs through Mt. Clemens, Michigan, in 1992. A construction worker on a bulldozer thought he had found the “biggest mushroom he had ever seen.” When he jumped off the earthmover to kick it from its position in the soggy marsh, he was shocked to discover it was actually a human cranium. The rest of the body, including the lower jaw, was never recovered.

Although missing person reports were carefully checked, the skull remained unidentified and was packed away in a property room at the sheriff’s office. In the summer of 2003, the property room was cleaned out and the skull was sent to a Michigan State Police crime lab for possible DNA and comparison purposes. One of the senior members at the lab suggested it be sent to a forensic artist to do a reconstruction. Several weeks later, the skull was placed on my desk.

First I took it to the Michigan State University Anthropology Lab, where I asked the anthropologist to examine it and give me a biological profile of who the person I would be reconstructing. He told me it belonged to a Caucasian male, between the ages of eighteen and thirty. Since I wanted to do a three-dimensional reconstruction with clay, the missing mandible posed a huge problem. The lab was nice enough to let me borrow a specimen from a body that had been donated.

I fished through several boxes of bones in the lab labeled “Caucasian males” before finding one with a similar bite pattern. With my borrowed jawbone and several x-rays of the seven teeth that were left in the cranium, I took the skull back to my post to start work.

For the next eight months, I juggled the reconstruction in between normal working duties. As the face began to emerge, I began to get a feeling about what this man must have looked like. For instance, I could see that his teeth had been extremely well cared for. He could afford a dentist and he took good care of himself. From this I assumed his socio-economic place in life.

I also surmised that he was good looking. Since the skull was dredged out of the river in 1992, I figured he must have been in the water for some time to become completely disarticulated and skeletal. Therefore, I guessed his hairstyle would be from the late 1980s or early 1990s. I decided to sculpt a longer, falling-behind-the-ears hairstyle, in brown, since that is the dominant hair color of the Caucasian race. I also gave him brown eyes—both an intuitive and practical guess. I reminded myself that a reconstruction doesn’t have to look exactly like the person—but there has to be something about it that triggers a sense of recognition in just one person who sees it and thinks, Hmmm, that might be so-and-so.

Finally in April 2004, the reconstruction was ready to be released to the media. I held a press conference and was shocked to find that almost every media source in the metropolitan-Detroit area showed up to get the story. The following days were filled with newscasts, phone calls, and interviews.

About a week later, a District Sergeant who worked as an accident re-constructionist in my district phoned me. He had seen a photo of my reconstruction in the Detroit Free Press and it reminded him of a young guy who had gone missing from the Algonac area when he was a road patrol officer there. He said the guy’s name was Shawn Raymond.

Since this was my first real tip, I didn’t have any particular feeling or hope that this was going to go anywhere. I went to the Clay Township Police Department and asked if I could see the Shawn Raymond case. The officers were all too familiar with the case. Shawn’s file revealed that his mother had reported him missing after he was not seen for two days. Shawn was nineteen at the time and a recent graduate of Algonac High School. There were several photos of Shawn in the file, including one of his high school yearbook photos. I noticed he was an incredibly good looking guy, with feather-brown hair and a glowing white smile—just like I had imagined.

I didn’t immediately see a resemblance between the clay sculpture and Shawn, though I did notice Shawn’s dental charts. There was crucial information on these charts. The skull and Shawn had the same two bicuspids removed for orthodontic purposes. This was a clue I could not ignore. I immediately took the case back to my post and began calling to locate Shawn’s dentist to get x-rays for comparison.

The first dentist led me to a dead end, literally. His wife sorrowfully informed me that her husband’s practice had closed after his death and she had destroyed all the remaining records, including the x-rays. My stomach lurched. I thought, Is this the end of my investigation?

I feverishly pressed the keys on my telephone to call Shawn’s orthodontist. Amazingly, he was still practicing in the area. And, yes, he still had Shawn’s file, which included panoramic x-rays of Shawn’s teeth. I picked them up a day later.

I was ready to put my anthropology degree to the test and compare the dental films. As I drove the x-rays back to the post, I phoned my dad, who has thirty years experience as a trooper, detective, and forensic artist. I chatted with him nervously, telling him, “It’s got to be him. There are so many coincidences!”

My dad urged me to be calm. “Now, settle down. This is only your first tip,” he said.

Back at the post, I scotch-taped the bite-wing x-rays I had taken at MSU to my office window and then, with hands shaking, taped the panoramic film from Shawn’s orthodontist file underneath it. Undeniably, even to my little-trained eyes . . . it was a match! Now all I needed was the final okay from an ontologist—a forensic dentist. I sought one out in the area and made an appointment to meet with him at his office the following day.

Morning seemed like it would never come. I had several conversations with my dad, who continued to tell me, “Don’t get your hopes up too high.” But I was beyond help. In my mind, I knew it had to be Shawn. There was nothing that was going to convince me otherwise (except, maybe, this expert I was about to meet).

As I drove to his office, I tried to calm myself down. I had thoughts like, What if it isn’t him? What if I have to start all over again? My stomach was in complete knots. A soft rain was falling as I approached the parking lot and turned in. I made one last call to dad and told him, “I’ll phone you with the answer as soon as I’m out!”

When I met the dentist, I sized him up to be on his last year or two before retirement. He was elderly. He had me set the reconstruction on a stool and took his own panoramic films of the skull through the clay. I guess he didn’t like the bite wings I brought with me as proof. When his x-rays were developed, he held up Shawn’s films and the freshly taken films to the fluorescent lighting above him. He nonchalantly said, “Nope, that’s not him.”

I was dumbfounded. My heart sank. I fought off tears and began to tremble. Here I was, in my professionally tailored uniform, holding a human skull encased in twenty-five pounds of clay, and I was fighting to choke back tears. I mumbled to him, softly at first, “No, you’re wrong . . .”

As my vision cleared and I regained my composure, I took a quick glance at the films he still held in his hands. Still fighting tears of disappointment, I stated clearly and louder, without reservation, “No, you’re WRONG!” I snatched the films from his hand. He had been holding one of the films backward! I handed them back to him the correct way. He raised the films toward the lights again and—without hesitation—said, “Yup, that’s him!”

The trip from his room to my car seemed like I was running in slow motion. Once I was in my car, I dialed my phone. “Dad, it’s him!” And, for the next half-hour, I sobbed. At least my tears were of joy and not sorrow. I was so glad that Shawn was found, and I was thankful that his family would find out that he was no longer missing, that his remains had indeed been identified.

Note: Facial reconstruction requires both scientific and intuitive work to successfully identify someone. Features such as the nose, lips, style of hair, etc., are almost strictly intuitive guesses.

More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at www.spiritofthebadge.com.

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Bearhug – Part 1

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by DCH Park

Bear Hug by terren in Virginia https://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2257963106/

Bear Hug by terren in Virginia https://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2257963106/

Bearhug loved blue skies and warm breezes and fragrant flowers. He welcomed the lazy pace of summer and the busy harvest of autumn but he especially loved wintertime. He relished the snow and the ice and the quiet that only seemed to fill the world when snow is falling or freshly fallen at night or in the evening and he was the first one to cross a virgin field, either alone or with a special companion.

Even in the daytime he marveled at the unbroken freshly fallen snow. It changed the landscape completely. He always relished being the first one to break the surface of a virgin field. Whenever he did, he became part of the winter scene, immersing himself totally in it. He loved winter’s chilly bite and savored feeling the cold, dense winter air deep in his lungs.

The wetness that he was walking through now bore little resemblance to that virgin field yet that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm at all, nor did the wetness itself. The skies were grey and a light mixture of snow and rain had darkened the ground though nothing was falling currently. The world seemed close and standoffish at the same time. Bearhug was trudging along, hands in his pockets, glad for the warmth of his hat, scarf, and jacket. He was taking advantage of a break in the falling slush and just about to follow the path up and to the left before it bent back to go into town when he spied another way going off to the right.

He stopped in mid-stride. This was strange, he thought. He’d walked along this path many times and had never noticed this other way before. He looked down the new way but could see only a short distance before it went around a bend.

He looked at the ground and the trees around the entrance to the new path. The earth was well-packed and the foliage grew as if many people had trained the trees and brush to leave the path open. The way had apparently been there for a long time yet he had never noticed it before. It seemed to be headed directly into the center of town, unlike the other path, so he shrugged his shoulders, made an audible harrumph, and turned to follow the new path.

He quickly lost sight of the previous path and entered a part of the woods that he did not recognize. If it weren’t for the path he was on, he would be completely lost. The woods around him grew stranger and stranger. The weather changed, too. It got warmer and brighter. Even though it should have been a blustery morning in winter, it now seemed more like a balmy summer day.

He took off his jacket, scarf, and hat, stuffed the latter into a jacket sleeve, and then stuffed the whole thing into his shoulder bag. He could feel the heat leaving his body and imagined it warming the air around him. He could feel his skin and hair cooling as they dried. His mind wandered back to his school lessons. He tried to recall the various modes of heat transfer. His brow furrowed with the effort. He imagined himself triumphantly charging into the memory and capturing it. Nevertheless, the harder he tried, the less of it he had. It was like focusing on his goal made it slipperier, in spite of what he’d learned. There was convection and…

He gave up. He couldn’t remember the other two modes of heat transfer but he could recall that there were three in total.

He forgot about it and took in the view before him. The forest was all he could see in any direction. The path was the only visible sign of civilization. He closed his eyes and felt into the forest and the path. There was no menace to either one and he could hear nothing threatening in the forest but he definitely felt a difference between what was ahead of him and what was behind him. To test it, he walked a little farther on, stopped, and felt again. Then he turned around and went a few steps back, past the point he had first stopped at, feeling the woods as he walked.

He stopped again, turned around, and resumed walking down the path. It was certainly possible to go back but he could feel a difference between going back and going on. It was a gentle, subtle difference sort of like walking down a slight incline – one that he could easily ignore, but something was inviting him forward. He decided to follow the invitation.

As he walked along, he began to notice fairy creatures on the edges of his vision. He wasn’t surprised to see them. The path and forest were so strange and how he had found them was so gradual and ordinary at first that it made sense that fairies would be involved.

He’d heard of fairies and knew that they were responsible for things mysteriously disappearing and then reappearing somewhere else and other magical occurrences and mischief but he had never seen any before. Now there were fairies all around the edges of his vision but they disappeared whenever he turned his gaze to focus on them directly. It was maddening.

He felt more than heard their laughter at his frustration. This gave him pause. Laughing at someone seemed to be at odds with the good feeling he got. He felt deeply into the forest, looking for any indication that the laughter was a weapon.

He could find no hint of ill feeling. It didn’t seem to be a weapon. Maybe his knee-jerk assumption was wrong. Maybe the laughter wasn’t a form of mockery. The forest was a happy place. It held no malice. There was no sense of triumphing over enemies or taking pleasure from their misfortune. He was the only one who had negative feelings. He felt frustration and anger.

Then it dawned on him. He was doing it to himself! No wonder the fairies were laughing! He saw the absurdity of it all and he laughed a little, too.

His reaction was spontaneous and unthinking but it helped. It lightened his mood. He didn’t take himself or his mood so seriously. His mood was still present, but he wasn’t completely tied up in it any longer either. He could still feel it but at the same time he could see himself feeling it. He continued to walk but he path suddenly found himself in a clearing. There was no way out other than to retrace his footsteps back.

He looked around the open space, also feeling for his own reaction. He felt safe in it, completely secure. He could see no earthly reason for the feeling but it was definitely real. He sat down in the circle, closed his eyes, and focused on breathing completely and opened himself to whatever came up.

It was like there were two versions of him. One was completely involved in the emotions that came up and took them on their own terms. The other watched from outside. It observed himself experience the emotions that came up without being touched by them. It had no agenda or opinion about how things should go. It didn’t push for any goal or end state. It simply observed what the other part experienced. It witnessed everything in its impartial evenness. He didn’t resist anything in favor of a certain idea of what he “ought” to do and this allowed him to experience everything.

He became aware of himself as a vital, creative human being full of humor and understanding. He was vastly important but only a single mote in a vast web that stretched across all time and spanned the whole Universe. He was no different from any other part of the Universe and being part of the Universe, he was part of all there was. So “all there was” would be lessened somehow if he ceased to exist.

At the same time, he was only a small part of “all there was.” If he didn’t do something, someone else would. In a way, he didn’t matter at all and that meant that he was completely free. He was the most important part of the Universe because he was completely free but every other part was just as important. He wasn’t unique but he was important.

He let go of all thought and desire and settled into a vast emptiness in which he could quickly tell if anything came up. It was like looking out onto a vast, open field. Anything that rose up was immediately apparent. He silently observed what came up. Then he became aware that he was not alone – not just in a figurative sense but literally. Presences were all around him. Even the empty space was filled with an ineffable presence that not only surrounded and penetrated him, it was available to him. The same ineffable presence was in everything. He had direct access to that inexpressible creative potential and one of the main ways he had access to it was through himself. He had direct access to himself. He became aware of everything and took in the energy of the place by noticing and taking in himself.

As his sense of himself cleared, so too did his inner vision. It was like a fog lifted but instead of being composed of water droplets, this fog was made up of blindness. It was composed of overlapping blind-spots that not only hid what was there to be seen, but hid themselves, so that even the blindness was hidden. As the miasma dissipated, he saw and felt things more and more clearly. He began to perceive nearby shapes and eventually perceived more and more distant ones.

Perhaps “shape” wasn’t quite the right word for them. He certainly didn’t perceive them as shapes at first. He sensed only surfaces and textures at first. Dimensionality came in only after a surface popped into 3-D existence – after it was no longer limited to the flat, 2-dimensional image but had depth – after it was an object in space. Foreground and background emerged bit by bit as surface textures became objects and space was defined between them.

Eyes closed, he continued to watch as the veil of blindness dissolved. Objects seemed to have a combination of an internal glow (with different objects having different colors) mixed with some sort of external illumination, though he couldn’t tell where the illumination came from.

He turned his head back and forth and marveled as the vista before him shifted just as an image would if his eyes were open. Many of the objects coincided with trees in the forest. He looked at one such object and realized that it was a building. Fairy buildings were all around him. He was in a vast fairy city. Fairy inhabitants flitted about and into and out of the various tree/buildings. Size didn’t seem to matter. Fairies could shrink or grow as needed.

As he looked around, one fairy appeared to him over and over. Sometimes it was in the foreground, sometimes it was in the background or in between, but it always wore the same colors and after a little while, he could make out a distinctive smile that this fairy always seemed to give him. After a little while longer, he noticed that there always seemed to be a certain tone in the air when the fairy was visible and not when he was gone. It wasn’t his voice in any conventional sense – his mouth was not coordinated with the sound – but it seemed to be associated with him.

Bearhug giggled. A thrill of joy and energy ran through him. Keeping his eyes closed, he saw fairies everywhere. He delighted in their many colors and watched their comings and goings with great joy and energy. Their voices were indistinct to him at first but as time went on he came to distinguish separate songs. There were hundreds of songs sung by hundreds of voices. Each different but somehow harmonizing with the whole. The forest/city was a joyful place.

He felt honored and humbled. For some reason they had invited him into their city. Without realizing what he was doing at first, he found that he could travel within the city without moving. All he had to do was focus on where he wanted to go – either someplace he currently saw or someplace he’d been to before even if he couldn’t see it – and he was there instantly and effortlessly! He traveled about the city this way, flitting from place to place. He took in some of the wonders it had to offer and always the songs were there.

Some time later the songs changed. The many voices were still present but now they sang a single song. It wasn’t that the different songs had stopped and this new song had begun. The various songs had continued unabated. They had simply woven together into a single song.

Was it the songs or his perception of them that changed, he wondered. Maybe both. He had no way of telling. Nor did he know the words or the tune but it was unmistakably a song of greeting. He couldn’t tell how many parts there were – many more than in any song he had heard before – but somehow they all came together. He could hear each part of the song without detracting from the others. Each part was sung by at least one voice but some were sung by many voices together and occasionally a voice would change the part it sang. The parts blended together, making a musical tapestry that was intricate and beautiful at the same time that it formed a unitary whole.

The many parts wove in and out like strands of a rope. Sometimes a single strand would be in the forefront while others played various supporting roles. At others, that strand would relinquish the spotlight while another carried the tune. Each strand followed its own rhythm and timing and honored its own momentum. Some featured variations of the main tune, others focused on harmonies. Still others went a different way entirely. Each strand was a song in itself with its own rhythms and harmonies but they all blended into a beautiful chorus.

He suddenly had a sense that he was sitting in the clearing again. The song of greeting had receded into the background. A fairy emerged from the forest/city and stepped into the circle before him. It was his “friend” from before. There was a sense of movement or continual becoming about him that made him appear to shimmer. Even though no words had ever passed between them, Bearhug felt a kinship and warmth for this being and felt certain that his feeling was reciprocated. He didn’t know how he knew. He knew the same way he knew what blue and sweet were. He just knew. The fairy stood before him and Bearhug opened his eyes to see if his outer vision would match his inner vision. He saw nothing in the clearing. It was almost disappointing.

He closed his eyes again and the being reappeared. It towered over him, looking down from above, but he felt no threat. On the contrary, he felt an easy mirth and humor from the being. Laughing lightness poured forth from the fairy as if it came from an inexhaustible source. Bearhug felt that he could make even the hardest way easy.

Bearhug couldn’t quite make out its face but something seemed familiar about it. The face itself shifted from one visage to another. At times it almost seemed like he was looking into a mirror. At others, the face was something else entirely or he couldn’t discern it but the sense of familiarity was always there.

He saw more deeply into the fairy than just its appearance, too. He knew its intentions. It was as if it communicated telepathically and the thoughts formed fully and instantly in his head without words first and then the words coalesced around the thought but only after it was fully formed. There was a moment before words but after he received the thought in which he understood it without words at all.

In such moments, his understanding of the thought was more complete and simultaneously more indistinct or tenuous. His understanding was broader – he got all of the thought’s implications and all the ways in which it was connected with everything else – but the single thought itself was much easier to hold onto through the words. So he opted to hold onto the thought or his projection or understanding of the thought through the words and only remember the larger, more ephemeral implications and connections as they were implied by the words or what the words evoked.

Who can say if his memories of such things were accurate or if the words themselves were faithful reflections of the thought-before-words? Maybe the words evoked the “right” connections, maybe they didn’t, but the words made it easier to remember the message and they certainly made it easier to communicate the message with others. They provided solid handles that he could easily hold on to. Sometimes, the words were all that he could remember. At such times, he could imagine a thought to go along with the words but he couldn’t remember the original thought-before-words at all.

Regardless of the relationships between thoughts and words (or vice versa) the intention he received was that the being looked forward to sharing whatever came up and to creating with him. He (She? It?) was ready to challenge and be challenged and he hoped that Bearhug would be open too. He smiled, sharing the warmth, humor, and acceptance with Bearhug.

Bearhug got all of this through the understanding that ran between them. He wasn’t sure what he’d find within himself but he was open to considering things. The fairy was satisfied. A sense of smiling open-ended readiness (that was the best description of the nuanced blend that he got) came to him. Could the fairy “read” his thoughts, too?

The fairy gave him a knowing half smile.

He relaxed into a feeling of cozy confidence, secure that although he didn’t know what was coming, he could weather it. He searched himself and found again the emotion that had almost engulfed him earlier. It had diminished to a distant rumbling but it had never left. He noticed the feeling and also noticed himself feeling it. The emotion came back into his attention like a nagging tooth…

That wasn’t quite right. It didn’t “come back” on its own. He brought it back. He was holding on to it. It was there, in the background, like a weight in his back pocket. He was dragging it along behind him. He swung the frustration around again so it was right before him. It went from being a lurking specter at the back of his awareness to a full-blown presence in front of him. Like an ancient hunter turning to face a charging tiger, he turned into the frustration. He let it wash over and through him. He watched himself feel it. He felt the frustration and asked himself what the feeling reminded him of. There was something familiar about it. Suddenly he was in a different place.

He looked around. He was at work…

To be concluded…

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Bearhug – Part 1″ by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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A Special Spot

by Ingrid Dean

wolves-58998_1280Worried parents reported that their sixteen-year-old son was missing. They thought he had run away, but they had no idea where. When I arrived at their home, something didn’t feel right. I asked the parents more questions than usual. I asked if the boy got good grades in school and if he had any troubles he was dealing with. They said his grades had gone down recently and that he was on anti-depressants.

When the parents mentioned anti-depressants, I got a very clear thought: This is not a runaway complaint. I don’t know why the word anti-depressant triggered this thought, because usually it doesn’t mean anything to me. I know that anti-depressants are often very helpful to people, even children.

I looked in the boy’s bedroom and saw two unopened packs of cigarettes by his bed. I thought, What sixteen-year-old boy leaves two packs of cigarettes behind? Most teenagers carry their cigarettes with them, especially if their parents allow them to smoke. This was the second hint that the incident was not what it appeared to be.

I didn’t want to ask, but I did: “Do you have any weapons in the house?” The father said yes and that he had already looked. All of the cases were present. I asked if he had opened the cases, and he said no. I told him to go check. When he returned, he reported that a rifle, a Ruegar .280, was missing. I suddenly knew their son was probably dead, but I didn’t say anything. Not yet. It was the third clear thought that came through my mind.

I got the urge to take a look outside. Sure enough, I found footwear impressions in the snow that appeared to be the boy’s— and they seemed to lead into the woods.

The snow was patchy this time of year, so I called Dispatch for canine assistance. While I waited for the dog and handler to arrive, I telephoned the boy’s best friend. I asked if there were any special spots where the boy might have walked. I knew most teenagers have one. Because the snow was minimal, I knew that even with a dog, it might be difficult to track the boy unless I had an idea where to head. Sure enough, the boy had a special spot.

When the canine officer arrived, the dog picked up a scent. It was an overcast winter day. The canine handler, the dog, and I followed the boy’s scent toward his special spot. I was glad I had called the boy’s best friend for directions so that I knew we were on the right track. As we walked I realized how breathtaking this area is. The near-pristine woodlands, hilly terrain, and sand dunes of Leelanau County, Michigan, are absolutely gorgeous. The smell of the pines was pungent and pure. What a pity this young man has taken his own life, when there is so much to love about this land and life. I already knew we’d find him dead.

We continued to follow the boy’s scent. The trees opened up into a small open area in the woods. This was his special spot. We saw him. He had shot his head off with the missing rifle. I was so thankful I had trusted my intuition and hadn’t allowed the boy’s parents to come with us. The bloody scene was too gory for any parent ever to see.

Although it was hard and their grief unbearable, the boy’s parents were relieved I had found their son.

I thought about this case several times afterward. If I had treated this situation like a routine runaway complaint, the boy’s body might never have been found. Corpses are often eaten by animals—sometimes without a trace left—especially in this area of Northern Michigan known for its vultures, eagles, and coyotes. I am sure many of my fellow comrades also rely on intuitive thoughts. Most of us seldom, if ever, talk about it, of course. Policemen are expected to rely on logic and “just the facts.”

More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at www.spiritofthebadge.com.

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Sand Gets In-Between Your Toes

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by DCH Park

By Skip willits (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but it must’ve been a Saturday or Sunday. I used to work a nine-to-five job back then and I remember spending the whole day with you. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t the weekend.”

Jefferson was listening to his father. It was getting late in the afternoon. The sunlight on the floor was decidedly angled and creating shadows that stretched halfway across the room. He looked at the window. He couldn’t see the sun yet but it would probably shine through the glass soon. He shifted slightly so that when it did it wouldn’t shine in his eyes.

“My boss wouldn’t have allowed that…” His father was still talking. “It’s funny though. I can remember spending time with you like it was yesterday. Even from something like this, from when you were a little, tiny person, but I can’t even remember his name…”

After a moment, he continued, “You’d think if I remembered anything, it’d be his name…” He thought about it, losing sight of the here and now.

“Hm. I guess that’s as good an indication as any of what’s really important. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend with someone or trying to do something. The things you remember, the things that’re important, stand out. They come back easily and clearly, even if they only occupy a single moment in time.”

They sat in silence as that unfolded. Henry’s eyes glinted a tiny bit. They were facing each other in a drawing room. Their over-stuffed chairs were soft and inviting. Jefferson saw his dad run his hand over the upholstery of the chair arm, admiring its texture. He noticed that he was rubbing his hand over the upholstery, too. How long had that been going on?

He noticed the smell that lingered over the place. It was like a palpable thing that had, for reasons of its own, moved into the house; an invisible resident of the house, always present, never seen. His dad didn’t seem to notice.

He supposed that every living thing had to have its own smell. After all, bloodhounds had to smell something and there were two people living in the house now – his father and step-mother. Did he have a smell? He supposed that he had to. That thought bothered him. “What about that weekend, dad? What stands out for you?”

“Hm…” Henry let the conversation dangle as he rummaged through his memories. He was silent for so long that Jefferson almost said something but just as he was about to speak up, Henry continued. “Sand. I remember sand. And the smell of the ocean. What do you remember?”

“I don’t remember anything of that day.”

“Yeah, I guess you were about 1½. Probably too young. It was before we moved across country. We were still in New York. I don’t know where your mother was that day. I guess I was already doing things alone with you, even though she and I were years away from the divorce.”

He paused. The divorce had been a sore subject once, but that had been a long time ago. Henry was fine now. He had been for a long time. He had gotten used to the fact that his first marriage had failed. In fact, that failure was a vital part of his growth. The divorce itself was a part of a healing process that had led to many important insights for him. It was an early part of the process but it was an important part.

For reasons of his own, though, Jefferson had been angry. He’d nursed a grudge for a long time – long after his parents’ divorce was final. He’d fed it and it had grown. As it grew, it seemed to consume him. He’d let it grow to the point that it threatened to eclipse his whole life. But that was over now. Maybe the anger was a necessary part of his growth. Either way, Jefferson had gotten to the point where he was constantly amazed with how life unfolded.

“Anyway,” Henry went on, “we were living in New York City and I took it into my head for some reason to take you to the beach. I don’t think you’d ever seen the ocean before. I didn’t bother trying to explain it. I just said that we were going someplace special and that you would enjoy it. That was enough. That was enough for you.” Henry’s voice trailed off.

“You had complete faith in me.” He was quiet for a long time.

“You used to love water. Any water, really, but especially moving water. Do you still?”

“I don’t know.” said Jefferson. “I hadn’t really thought about it.” He thought about it. Henry waited.

“… but I notice now that I don’t associate movement with water. When I think of water, there may be waves but the body of water is still. I have to remind myself that there’s movement.

“When I think of movement I picture people dancing across a dance floor or machinery moving – or their parts, anyway. Solid things. I don’t picture moving water.”

“Maybe that’s why moving water was so fascinating for you.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“You used to stare contentedly at a river or a lake. You wouldn’t budge. You could stare at it for hours. The larger the body of water was, the more fascination it seemed to hold for you. Maybe it was the promise it seemed to carry.

“You could gaze at a fountain forever. I remember pushing you through a mall in a stroller and coming across a fountain. We watched the fountain for a while. When I tried to leave, you complained. You didn’t want to leave! You were so disappointed.” He trailed off again, remembering the baby Jefferson used to be. After a moment he continued.

“So anyway, on that day we drove to Jones Beach. At least I think it was Jones Beach…

“It was late enough in the season that the beach was pretty much deserted. I remember a boardwalk. It was still fairly new back then.

“When you caught your first sight of the ocean, you stood transfixed. You were young enough that you didn’t have many words, yet, but I could feel your wonder. It seemed like you’d never guessed that there could be so much water in the world.

“You just stared at the waves and the vastness of the water. As I recall, you finally moved only because you wanted to stay with me.

“Together we crossed the parking lot and stepped onto the boardwalk. It curved to the right, out onto the beach and around the building where they sold snacks and drinks but the building was closed.

“We must have walked over a mile out along the boardwalk. You were a little guy, so that was a long way for you but you weren’t tired. You almost danced along, watching the water.

“After a while I noticed that the sand had gotten into your shoes and socks. I sat you down on the next bench that we passed with your legs pointing straight out. Even so, your ankles just cleared the edge of the bench. I took your shoes off and they were tiny in my hand. I knocked them against the bench. Then I took off your socks, turned them inside-out, and shook the sand out of the little loops and fibers. Then, after turning them back, I brushed your feet off, tops and bottoms but mostly the soles of your feet. I remember the feel of your feet in my hand.

“I even went between your little toes and into the crevice between your toes and the balls of your feet to make sure no sand remained. Then I pulled your socks and shoes back on before you hopped down.

“You smiled at me and watched me, the water completely forgotten. After that, you wanted to sit down on every bench we passed. You even got sand in your socks deliberately.” Henry smiled, remembering. He was quiet for a while. Then he said, “It was an extraordinary moment that we shared together although you don’t remember it. I never told anyone about it before…

“…it’s been a private memory. I wasn’t hiding it from anyone. It was just something that only I held…”

He sat silently and then said with a sigh, “I never thought about it that way before – as something private or just mine. I’ve only ever been aware of the care it showed. Of the amount of care that we both had for each other. I don’t know if you knew how much you empowered my life…

He caught himself, lost in the rush of emotions. All of his airways suddenly seemed too small and his tongue rolled to the back of his mouth but his mouth was dry. Nevertheless he made several swallowing motions to release the tension. When his throat relaxed enough for him to continue, Henry concluded, “…I liked it, too.” A tiny tear formed in the corner of one eye. Henry wiped it away.

They sat together for a while, each one seeing his own silent world yet each one keeping the other company. Then Henry said, “I can’t remember the walk back or the drive home but I remember walking along the boardwalk with you and you wanting to sit down on every bench we passed and give me your feet. I remember cleaning your feet.”

After a while Jefferson said, “Thanks, Dad. I never knew.”

Then he said, “Brooke is waiting for me. I said that I would meet her.”

He got up and headed for the door. He called over his shoulder, “I’ll see you next time!” Then he was gone.

Henry sat in his chair and savored the evening. At last he got up and padded through the door and down the hall. He entered the kitchen and switched on the light. The dogs were both in their crate, eagerly sitting up and vigorously wagging their tails. It was time for their walk and they knew it.

“Okay, okay, you guys. I haven’t forgotten.” Henry opened the door to the crate and they exploded out and bounded to the door. Chuckling, he followed and grabbed their leashes and the little strap-on rosin bag that they used to carry treats and bags.

Helen would be home soon. He clipped the leashes to their collars and followed them out into the gathering night. He smiled into the dark as they went on their walk together.

###

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Sand Gets In-Between Your Toes” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 8 – Turning Into the Pain

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by DCH Park

Fort Collins Back Pain by Ryan Weisgerber, https://www.flickr.com/photos/fortcollinschiropractor/6169824610/

Fort Collins Back Pain by Ryan Weisgerber, https://www.flickr.com/photos/fortcollinschiropractor/6169824610/

“My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”
– Michael Jordan

“Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.”
– Niccolo Machiavelli

“But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.”
– Alan Watts

The other day I was coming up some stairs and overheard someone talking on the phone. What I heard was remarkable. The person was apparently celebrating something bad. I gathered that the other party had just shared something that had happened to him or her, probably expecting sympathy, blame, or some other standard means to enlarge the pain.

To her credit, the person whom I overheard did none of those things. Instead, she celebrated it. I doubt that she was trying to encourage more painful experiences with her celebration. Rather, she was remembering that there are no bad things. What she said about it confirmed that this was her attitude.

Rather than ask why a benevolent God (or Universe or whatever) could “let” “bad” things happen to “good” people, consider that there are no bad things. There are painful things (You can substitute any emotion you want in that sentence to replace the word “painful.”) but there are no bad things. The pain serves a purpose. It leads you directly to the wound.

Consider a splinter. You might not notice it at first but as time goes on, the damaged area becomes painful as infection sets in. As more time goes on, it becomes more painful. You can bandage the splintered area and try to cushion it. You can take analgesics to numb the pain (and all sensation along with it). That way you can continue to ignore it. However, the pain is doing you a service. It is showing you exactly where the splinter is. Whereas it might have been too small to notice at first, the pain shows you exactly where it is. As soon as the splinter is removed, healing begins and the wound feels better.

On flights they always say, “Please affix your own oxygen mask before attending to small children who may be traveling with you.” It is a reminder to take care of yourself first. The message conjures images of a small child who has collapsed for lack of oxygen. The well-meaning parent is slumped over for the same reason. The parent has collapsed in trying to get the child’s oxygen mask on first and failed to do so. Even if successful, I wonder, would the child be physically able to attach the parent’s mask? Would the child even be able to reach the dangling mask?

Another common example is found in the advice we give to drivers who are learning to deal with a skid. When the car is spinning out of control, we are told, the thing to do is to turn into the skid. The same advice is given to pilots. Similarly, seamen are taught to drop anchor (and if they have sails to trim them) if they are caught in a storm. They are taught to turn their bow into the storm and “ride it out.”

Individuals who have gone through military training will recognize the advice to run toward the explosion if your unit is targeted by artillery. The “natural” tendency is to run away from the explosion but artillery marksmen find their range by “bracketing.” They deliberately fire down range of their target and then deliberately fire up range of it. That way, they establish their range and they know that their intended target lies somewhere between these two. Then they fire succeeding shots within that range, first down range of the target, then up range of it, each time coming a little closer to the middle. When they hit their target, they “fire for effect.” They let loose with everything they have on the target.

Thus, while on the battlefield, you are actually safer if you run toward the first explosion. That will ideally get you outside of the field of effect. If you run the other way, away from the explosion, you might be running directly into the next blast. It is almost guaranteed that you will run into a blast if you continuously run away from the last explosion. This is counter to popular wisdom but it is in keeping with the advice given to drivers, pilots, sailors, and those seeking oxygen masks on a plane.

The advice that runs through all of these examples is that we heal, we (re)gain control, when we turn into the thing that brings pain, fear, etc. Indeed, it is never as bad as we expect it to be and the storm, spin, explosion, or whatever, is always worst before we go into it. It is never as bad as we imagine it will be. The shortest way to the other side is straight through.

The case of the oxygen masks may seem obscured compared to the other examples, but it is an excellent metaphor. There are people who put the happiness and fulfillment of others before their own. Such people often even define their own happiness in terms of others’. They often see themselves deriving their own happiness (satisfaction, etc.) from that of others. This means that they see themselves as having to make other people happy before they can be happy themselves. Similarly, there are whole industries devoted to creating and selling pain killers of various strengths. The benefit that such pain killers promise is a resumption or intensification of the same activity that caused the pain in the first place, usually in order to continue working! In both cases, the advice is to turn away from or ignore the pain or whatever is coming up within yourself and focus on something outside of yourself.

Thus, we are in an interesting situation. In cases in which lives are not seen to be in immediate danger, we are advised in one way. In situations that are seen as immediately life threatening, we are advised differently. The advice in the two situations is directly opposite. It is also fairly uniform within them. It does not seem to be affected by culture or other factors. Which one do you feel serves you and supports your further growth? Which one would you accept as being true?

I have found that in turning into the pain (fear, etc.) I was not only able to find the center of the wound, I was able to hear it and thus to heal it. In other words, the wound itself tells me what it needs, what it is crying out for. Filling the hole, providing what is missing, constitutes healing the wound. Once it is healed, it goes away like a vanishing fog but you need to listen to it to find out what it needs. In order to listen to it, it helps to be aware of it. That’s what turning into the pain, fear, etc. does.

For whatever reason or reasons, much of society is structured to encourage us to turn away from our pain unless a life threatening condition exists. Consider over-the-counter pain relief. This assumption – that pain, fear, etc. should be taken away without your conscious participation or even understanding – is common on many (perhaps all) levels of “mainstream” society as long as a life threatening situation does not exist. Why are there two conflicting messages?

I have learned over and over in science that if there are two messages about something, either there is something(s) that is(are) not well understood or one is a lie. In the first case, what generally happens is that one situation or both are eventually discovered to be special cases. What appeared to be two situations (or messages) are seen to be one simple one. The unions of quantum physics, Newtonian physics, and relativity are good examples. Newtonian physics is seen as the special case of quantum physics where things are very large. In the same way, Newtonian physics is seen as a special case of relativistic physics wherein things are extremely slow.

Is the advice to turn away from pain a special case in which lives are not threatened? In special cases, the rules are not changed – only the values they operate over change. This can be seen in the cases of Newtonian, quantum, and relativistic physics. It can also be seen in the case of squares, which are special cases of rectangles, and mammals, which are special cases of animals. However, in the different messages about how to deal with pain, rules do seem to change. In one case the suggested rule is to turn into the pain. In the other, the suggested rule is to turn away from the pain. This would seem to imply that one of them is a lie.

(Please note that it is a lie in that it is a delaying action. The Universe is good. There is no “bad” or “evil” as they are commonly understood. There is nothing to resist. The lie does nothing more than encourage a perception of separation between you and your divinity. It slows down your personal growth or even brings it to a standstill. Typically, other forces are accepted or inserted into that separation to be supported or profited. A clever lie even furthers evolution or ties itself to a fundamental truth, the way some gristle might be interwoven into the meat. But sooner or later, the lie will be revealed and further evolution will be stymied.

If, by that point, the unwanted delaying lie has been incorporated into the fabric of what you accept as the fundamental nature of things, you may not even see it.)

By turning into the pain, you can find the metaphorical splinter that causes the infection, remove it, and begin to heal. On the other hand, if you turn away from the pain, no matter where else in the Universe you turn, you will not find the splinter, the cause of your wound. By moving into your discomfort, you move closer to the cause of your wound. You move closer to healing it. By moving away from your discomfort, you move farther away from your healing.

Furthermore, removing a splinter is hardly a life threatening condition in most cases. It would seem that the advice to turn into the pain can lead you to the center of the wound in more situations than life threatening ones. On the other hand, turning away from the pain definitely does not apply in life threatening situations. Perhaps it doesn’t work at all. Perhaps it simply delays the consequences of the wound, allowing it to become even more exacerbated and (as in the case of over-the-counter analgesics) creating an opportunity for even more profit. (“Who is gathering that profit?” is a good question.)

Nature is so marvelously constructed that pain, fear, etc. is not only acutely felt (so it is hard to ignore), it tells you exactly where to look. “As below, so above.” The truth is the truth. Understanding it in one realm leads directly to understanding in other realms. If the realms look unconnected, it’s because one or the other or both are not well enough understood (yet). In other words, their commonality is not yet understood. Their connection to each other or to the truth is not yet understood or not understood well enough.

The only thing that blocks the discovery and articulation of truth is willing blindness to what is there. That’s what pain and other emotions do for us. They indicate our blind spots. What we do, whether we numb ourselves or turn into the pain, is up to us.

When we numb ourselves, we practice being blind. Such blindness or unwillingness is often a function of belief. Wherever such belief might come from, however, it encourages us to get things backward. Rather than being open to what is there and using that experience to lead to truth and further opening, such belief defines or declares what is “true” and shapes observations to fit that expectation. In other words, such blindness leads to less openness, less truth, which is only possible because you’ve numbed yourself.

How open are you to possibilities outside of the things you expect and assume? How do you find your blind spots? Do you turn into the pain or do you turn away from it?

###

More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Remembrance of Times Past

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by DCH Park

yorkshire-terrier-171701_1280Charlie Girl was Fitzwilly’s pack mate. Along with their three humans, they formed a pack. It was small, but it was good. Fitzwilly was also known (at least to himself) as Doggie Chi. Those who knew him as Fitzwilly didn’t necessarily recognize him as Doggie Chi. It wasn’t impossible to know him as both but he didn’t push his Doggie Chi identity. It wasn’t that he was trying to separate them. It was just that most people saw Fitzwilly as being very different from Doggie Chi. They saw them as two separate beings, even though they weren’t.

That was often the way of assumptions, he knew, especially hidden ones or ones that aren’t seen or looked for. Things became obvious (or hidden) in support of those assumptions. Trying wasn’t necessary. Things just happened, although practice might be needed at first. Nevertheless, Fitzwilly didn’t see himself as two separate beings. A busy day of playing fetch, eating grass, and sniffing butts seemed to be in perfect alignment with the transcendence and wisdom of Doggie Chi but people tended not to see it that way.

“People are weird,” he thought to himself, not for the first time.

He laid on his cushion in the sun and watched the youngster, Charlie Girl, sniff around the fence for the hundredth time today. Sometimes she would pounce on the ball and chase after it – that he could understand – but sniffing the fence around their enclosure was beyond him.

Maybe it was because he was so much older – he was almost five and she was only two. Maybe his advanced age accounted for his different attitude. After all, he wasn’t a puppy anymore, but he had never sniffed around a fence, either. Fitzwilly suspected that more than sniffing was going on. He suspected the differences between them. They were both in the same pack but they had differences that sometimes seemed to outweigh the similarities.

For one thing, Charlie Girl was much bigger than Fitzwilly was. He didn’t weigh more than ten pounds. She had to be about thirty-five pounds or more. He was a pure bred Yorky from a breeder. She was a mutt from the animal shelter, probably a Whippet-Pit Bull mix – what one of their humans sometimes called a “Bull Whippet.”

She was definitely pretty, with the sleek lines, long legs, and deep chest of the Whippet line and the bigger head, broader face, and soulful eyes of her Pit Bull heritage. She was fast, too. She’d only met one other dog who could even keep up with her and that had been a full blood Grey Hound.

Her favorite game seemed to be to goad other dogs into chasing her around the dog run and then to take off, easily out distancing them with her speed. She really loved running. She bounced along with a goofy smile on her face and wind of her own making blowing through her ears and short hair. Sometimes she ran when no one else was around, just for the joy of running.

In his mind, Fitzwilly thought of Charley Girl as “The Puppy Wonder.” It was a bit wordy, but it captured her true essence. She wasn’t a puppy anymore but her enthusiasm was very puppy-like. It was undiminished. When something got her excited, she had the uncanny ability to share her excitement so that others got excited just by watching her.

She wasn’t jaded, either. Many of the things that had excited her as a puppy excited her as an adult. Her love of running was an example. That she was part Whippet might be part of it, but she never seemed happier than when she was running free at the park or running circuits around the house.

She was beautiful at such times. She wasn’t ugly at other times by a long stretch, but watching her enjoy the simple act of running was freeing. Just by watching her people felt like they could run, too. They felt like they could fly.

She was like that. Not for the first time, he noticed that her infectious enthusiasm was winning. People and other dogs wanted to help her because of it. They behaved as if the more they helped her, the happier they would be themselves, as if their happiness and hers were linked somehow.

Fitzwilly snapped back to the present moment. Charlie Girl wasn’t sniffing around the fence anymore. Instead, she was creeping up on the ball as if it was some unsuspecting prey. She pounced on it, trapping it between her forepaws, butt in the air, tail wagging. That tail literally whipped through the air. It was a dangerous weapon and although Charlie Girl didn’t see it as such, Fitzwilly had learned to avoid that tail the hard way.

Fitzwilly lounged in the heat of the sun, his head between his paws, ears erect. He turned them forward and back, like a wolf’s ears, to follow different sounds. His ears and his eyes showed the only movement. He appeared to be dozing but he was actually alert. He thought again about the name he’d given Charlie Girl – “The Puppy Wonder.” It seemed to fit. She was definitely a puppy. At least she was compared to him. He looked at her again. She was contentedly chewing on the ball. He remembered her energy and liveliness. She took joy in the smallest things. Everything was a wonder for her. Of course it was, he reminded himself. She still had the exuberance of a puppy. A thought came to him – was that the source of her power? Was she powerful because of her exuberance?

He thought about it. It seemed natural and right somehow. It was also ironic because most folks got the idea that in order to “grow up” it is necessary to become serious and boring but not Charley Girl. She was just as joyful as she was when she was younger. Her joy was irrepressible and it made folks smile. Was she a joy because everything she experienced was a joy? Everything was a wonder? Did pure joy lead to power?

If so, that implied that power didn’t result in happiness, rather, happiness led to power. He realized that the age-old question of whether love or fear was better, was merely another way to ask the same question. The use of fear supposed that there was no connection. If there were truly no connection, it would make sense to try to get even a tiny bit more joy out of a situation even if it meant that another suffered mightily. If things were truly separate, it would only make sense to increase personal happiness at anyone else’s expense. No one else’s suffering would matter.

But life and reality indicate otherwise. They indicate that everyone is connected. In order to inspire others, it is necessary to recognize and honor connections. It as simple as that. That’s what sharing joy can do. In fact, joy wants to be shared. It’s paradoxically made bigger when it’s given away. The Puppy Wonder makes people happy and that inspires them to help her. Helping her makes them happier.

He mulled it over. He thought about true joy. He felt into the quiet unfolding of self and how it forms a conduit through which the unknown passes into the familiar. He felt into that process of passing into the familiar. He noticed how it acts and what it touches and changes and how it is changed itself. He remembered the power of joy. He had seen it change lives. It had affected his own life and he was richer for it.

When he first met Charley Girl he had been miserable and depressed most of the time. He had been brought all the way across the country to a strange house full of strange smells and a puppy with a tail. He laid about back then, almost never ate, and projected an air of general sadness. He managed to be miserable on the trip cross country and felt isolated in this strange, new house. But all the new things made it hard to be depressed and the puppy was irrepressible.

She was easily three times his size and could squash him if he wasn’t careful. He soon learned that she certainly wasn’t careful so he had to be. She sat anywhere. And that tail! The ghost of a smile flitted across his face and then it was gone.

The Puppy Wonder felt genuine joy in everything. She was happy upon seeing another, making a new friend, or the erratic flight of a butterfly. She didn’t judge anyone. She felt joy in them. And she shared that joy, too. It wasn’t just that she was happy. Her happiness was infectious. And as it spread, it naturally increased. That was how she inspired people to help her.

One day, he noticed that she always got more praise than he did, in spite of the fact that he was smaller and cuter. Passersby would begin by cooing over them both. Sometimes they would make louder noises over him initially. This was especially true of the women and girls for some reason. But Charley Girl got praise, too. As soon as he started barking to draw more attention to himself, he was forced to the ground or his mouth was held shut.

Maybe the humans didn’t want to hear it explained to them. Maybe they objected to all the barking. But for whatever reason they reacted badly when he chastised them for praising Charley Girl. Nevertheless he didn’t stop barking. He was compelled to redress this injustice somehow. He couldn’t let it go so he kept barking but his angry protests didn’t seem to matter. They kept praising Charley Girl.

One person they walked by most mornings wore a uniform and had dog treats in her pocket. Whenever she was there, they would stop on the corner and greet her. Charlie Girl would sit quietly, watch her with those big eyes, tail wagging, and get a treat, which she would crunch and gobble down immediately. He would stand his ground and bark and bark and bark until his human forced his head down and he would never get a treat.

It seemed to go on this way forever. Each day they would stop to say, “Hi.” Charley Girl would sit quietly with her tail wagging and get a treat. He would bark at her, calling attention to himself, and get nothing.

Then, one day, he decided to try something different. He was tired of watching Charley Girl get all the praise and the treat. He sat and quietly wagged his stubby tail just like Charley Girl. It worked! He got a treat, too!

That was interesting. It didn’t change his attitude with everyone. He still barked at them, especially when he felt insecure and wanted to assert himself. But this one person with the treats didn’t react well to the barking. Instead, she seemed to respond to a silent greeting.

He decided that this person with the treats was OK but that didn’t change how he treated others. He used his excellent memory to recall that she was special whenever he saw her and treated her differently. He remembered that she was OK, a friend. The others continued to be treated as if they were threatening strangers instead of friends.

Granted, he wasn’t always castigating them for their own good. It was a big city, full of strange people, and he was a little dog. The humans towered over him. He could be forgiven for barking at them occasionally, he thought. He was just telling them to back off and respect his space. Did it matter that he was barking out of fear? Did it matter that he barked much more often than “occasionally”?

A bird flew into their yard and landed for a moment on a branch. He was bright and chipper and very formal looking. His little bird head wagged from side to side in rapid movements as he surveyed the yard. Then he flew off again. Fitzwilly didn’t bother moving from his spot. Charlie Girl never even noticed.

One time, they were walking with one of their humans along some trails in the park. No one was around, so the human took them off of their leashes. They came across a dead bird on one of the little wooden bridges that the trail went over. Charlie Girl sniffed at it and ran off. Fitzwilly took more time with the bird.

It was squashed flat and mostly dry but surely there would be some muddy moisture in it to make smells, he thought. Being a rat dog by lineage wasn’t easy. It gave him a natural tendency to fight nasty rats. That tendency didn’t go away just because there were no rats to fight. Anyone or anything strange would do. That’s why he would often bark at people – at least, that was his excuse.

That was also why he grew his hair long. Without it, he looked like a tiny Chihuahua. With it he looked bigger and fiercer. It provided good protection from imagined teeth and claws.

That aura of fierceness was also created by the way he smelled. Completely separate from the fact that rats, his ancestral enemy, often smelled pretty bad, so the way he smelled could provide camouflage, he liked smelling bad. When he smelled like soap and flowers, he didn’t smell like himself, at least not the self he wanted to be. He didn’t smell fierce. When he did smell bad, he fancied that he smelled fierce.

So he had literally jumped in excitement when he came across the dead bird. He ran up to it and rubbed his face in it, thoroughly mashing the smell into his fur. His human predictably ran up, hands waving in the air, and yelled to get him to move away from the carcass. He ran off before the human could touch him, but not before he had rubbed in a good smell.

He trotted off happily while his human grumbled something about having to wash him.

After a while, he noticed that Charley Girl was following a pattern. She would stop – sometimes it was at a tree or some other plant, sometimes at a big rock or a pile of dirt – and sniff it curiously. She would keep sniffing until their human caught up with her or something else had captured her attention. Then she would normally run off, tail wagging.

What did Charlie Girl enjoy so much, Fitzwilly wondered. He went up to a plant that she had smelled and tried it. He watched her to see what she was doing. She was at another plant, smelling it before taking off again. He sniffed at his plant. He marveled at what he smelled. It was like the whole world opened up to him. He smelled earth and leaves and the rain from a day ago or so. He could smell how long ago it had rained. He smelled the moisture. He smelled something else, too. He smelled the plant. He could smell if it piqued his curiosity or not. He could smell if he wanted to eat it or not.

He had had no idea! He marveled at how powerful and sensitive his nose was. He smelled some more. He moved his nose around the plant to get different angles. There was something else. What was it? He sniffed at it, trying to figure out what he smelled.

Then he suddenly got it. Urine! He smelled urine! Other dogs had passed this way and they had left their urine behind. They had left their whole life stories behind in their urine! He could sniff their urine and tell. He could smell what they’d eaten and how old they were and how healthy they were. He could smell if they were tired or not or if their feet hurt. He could smell if they were big or small. He could smell their attitudes – if they felt friendly or afraid or isolated. He could tell so much by the smell.

The wooded path suddenly took on a different dimension. It was as if it was suddenly deeper. It seemed to glow and sparkle with various colors, many of which he’d never seen or even imagined existed before. The path opened up before him in a wholly different way. He had so many options available to him. All he had to do was choose something and sniff.

Part of him cried for those who could never smell things this way. Part of him lamented that he’d spent so long not smelling things, that he’d spent his whole life up until then in a flat, grey, two-dimensional world, devoid of smell. But mostly he was overwhelmed by the sense of possibility. He vibrated with it.

He laid on his cushion in the sun and remembered with fondness his first discovery and early forays into the wider doggie world. He didn’t move from his cushion. The sun shining down was too warm and delicious. He remembered the simple power of taking joy in life and what it had brought him in his life and he smiled.

###

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Feeding Time

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by DCH Park

doggy-635408_1280Fitzwilly and Charley Girl came back inside with their person. It was morning time and they had just gone outside to relieve themselves. It was still dark out but the cold air hadn’t penetrated their cloaks of warmth, yet. They were still toasty in their cores. That was a benefit of being speedy. Now it was time for food!

As soon as their leashes were unsnapped, they happily scampered to the crate in the kitchen. Charley Girl was the bigger of the two and she was part Whippet, so she generally got there first. Sometimes on a turn she ran so fast that her body went one way while her paws went another and she hit the ground but that never slowed her down much. In fact, Fitzwilly wasn’t even sure she felt the hits. She always seemed to scramble to her feet right away and run off. For his part, Fitzwilly was a Yorkshire Terrier but he was plucky. He didn’t give up, not that he would over such a short distance.

Once they got there, they climbed inside, turned around, and laid down on the blankets, waiting for their person to feed them. He was maddeningly slow. Sometimes he was slower than at others though Fitzwilly wasn’t sure why. It was clear that he moved at human speed, not dog speed. He slowly walked from the door to their crate, retrieved their bowls, and filled them with food. He didn’t know why the human took so long but he wished he would hurry up.

When the food was finally sitting in front of them, they had to wait again for the command to eat! It was torture to wait. He could smell the food. Fitzwilly occasionally looked up to see what the human was doing but mostly he watched the food. He could imagine how good it would taste and how it would feel in his stomach. He only glanced up to let the person know that he was waiting. It didn’t occur to Fitzwilly that the person was waiting for him to look up.

Once he began eating, he lost himself in his frenzy. He was consumed in a symphony of teeth and tongue and swallowing. He didn’t even waste time chewing, like Charley Girl did. He simply swallowed the food whole. He felt that it was important to eat everything he could as quickly as he could so that no other dog could. Never mind that he and Charley Girl had separate bowls and separate food and there was no other dog around. Nor did he know that there were dogs who had food in their bowls all the time and ate only intermittently. All that he saw was the food right in front of him.

After he gobbled his food and licked his bowl to get any crumbs, he made it a habit to inspect Charley Girl’s bowl, too. Usually there was nothing there but occasionally she would miss something or wouldn’t eat. Then he would feast, assuming the human didn’t remove the bowl before he was done.

He forgot himself completely when he ate. He wasn’t aware of anything but his food. He didn’t remember himself at all until after he was done. Only then did he become aware enough of himself again to have any hope of becoming Doggie Chi. He didn’t bite or growl or anything like that but he wasn’t conscious of himself, either.

Lying down afterwards, digesting his meal, he speculated on the difference between his own behavior and that of Charley Girl. Her behavior was not inconsistent with the exuberance of The Puppy Wonder but his behavior was most definitely different from the enlightened awareness of Doggie Chi.

Feeling full and satisfied, he laid his head down between his fore paws and his eyelids drooped. While his body dissolved into the familiar rhythms of sleep, he pondered the difference between the way he was when he ate and the practice of being aware that led to Doggie Chi. There were definitely two different practices. One focused on being aware. The other emphasized a particular goal and suppressed everything else.

The gathering sense of relaxation continued to mount. His thoughts slowed down as he did. Why did he descend into his animal nature at such times? Why did he forget himself? Was it just a habit? Wasn’t it natural for higher forms like dogs to evolve toward something finer, more divine?

He imagined his ideal dog, with soft fur, slim, strong tail, and keen nose, towering over other dogs. He imagined himself as that ideal dog and smiled to himself as sleep overcame him.

Some time later, he resurfaced into his final burst of wakefulness. He groggily continued his train of thought. He reminded himself that base animal behavior was completely concerned with getting food, shelter, and warmth – the things of survival. But surely he had progressed beyond that stage…

…hadn’t he?

As the last remnants of conscious awareness disappeared, he was left with this final question. No one, however, could say if he knew its context any longer.

Then he was sound asleep.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Feeding Time” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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The Big Storm

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by DCH Park

monsoon-390944_1280Kiran woke to the sounds of rain and wind. He was still a little guy – much smaller than he would be as a full grown human – but it was obvious that the storm was a bad one. It had been raining for seven days and who could tell when it would end? Through his window he could see that the sky was dark and grey. Thick clouds hung very low and an unbroken pall hid the sun. There was rain and mud everywhere. It even obscured the roadway as water flowed over the roads. He guessed it emptied into the river. They said on the radio that the reservoir was completely filled. He eyed the hills above the town nervously.

He ate a hearty meal of crackers and peanut butter which represented the last of his food. “At least,” he thought to himself ruefully, “there’s plenty of water!” He quenched his thirst with a long, deep drink of cold water, relishing the feeling of refreshment and aliveness that sparked through him. Then he busied himself packing some clothes and rain gear, still tasting the water in his mouth and relishing the sensation of wetness.

“How ironic,” he thought.

He would have to seek out shelter at the nearby school. It was on a hill so it probably wouldn’t be flooded. The various animals and humans from the town all knew to go there in an emergency and this was shaping up to be one. He remembered how strange the sky had looked just before the storm. It had been green and clouds had slowly filled the sky, blotting out the sun. Then the rain started.

He brought himself back to the present moment and finished packing his pack. The school promised plenty of food, blankets, and cots. Surely the different creatures from the town wouldn’t eat each other. There wouldn’t be a need to hunt because there would be plenty of food. Besides, they needed each other. The storm made that abundantly clear. He doubted they would fight but he wasn’t sure. He would have to go to the school to see.

It was just as well. He had been getting a little anxious waiting for the storm to end. There had been nothing to do about the house. This way, he could get out and maybe help others. He finished with his bundle, made sure all the lights were off (even though the electricity had gone out the first day of the storm), blew out the candles, and strapping the pack on his back, headed into the storm.

It was wet and blustery but not as bad as it had been a few hours ago. Then the wind had raged and rain blew sideways. Now it was still windy but it wasn’t as windy as it had been. He could negotiate the walk to the school.

Crossing the road was another matter. The water wasn’t as swift as some rivers that he had seen but it was fast and muddy and the road beneath it was slick. He had to walk carefully so that his feet stayed under him. When he finally reached the other side, he sighed with relief and was glad that he didn’t have to cross more streets on the way up the hill. After crossing, he was on the same side of the street as the school and an unbroken sidewalk led up to the school property. The raised sidewalk was relatively clear since rain spilled into the street.

When Kiran got to the school, he was checked in and someone showed him to the cot that was assigned to him. He dropped his dripping pack and headed out to the communication center to see if he could help anyone. He quickly found a group that was headed out and attached himself to it. Apparently Lion had gone out by himself some time ago to rescue a stalled bus.

The bus had been headed for the school when it had gotten lost a few hours ago. Apparently it had gotten swamped or stuck in the mud. Lion had gone out to rescue the bus passengers, which apparently included some children, but no one had heard from him for a couple of hours. The rescue group that he joined was composed of Wolf and a few of his pack-mates and Frog. Being amphibious and a keen observer, Frog naturally led. Wolf and his pack-mates were content to follow Frog. Kiran was, too.

Frog had noticed the direction Lion had headed off in, so he knew which way to start in but moved slower and slower the farther they moved into the storm. It wasn’t that the storm itself was fighting them. In fact, it was gentler than it had been when Lion had gone out. What slowed him down was that following a trail through the storm was hard. It would have been impossible to make any progress at all if they didn’t know the general area that the bus was going through.

None of the others complained. Nevertheless, after a particularly long stop, Frog turned to the others and admitted that he didn’t know which way to proceed. Wolf said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take it from here. With all this rain, smells are pretty faint, that is, the ones that haven’t been washed away completely, and you have to get your snout really close to anything to pick up a scent but we have eyes and there are a few of us. We’ll find him and the passengers, including the little ones.”

With that the wolves spread out, being careful to keep each other in sight while they searched for any clue. There weren’t many wolves in the group but they separated to increase their search area as much as possible. Without a further word they swept first left and then swung right, covering the entire field.

Finally they all came back to the porch they were using to get out of the worst of the falling rain (though it did nothing for the wind or splashes) and Wolf said, “We don’t know where he is. We’ve looked everywhere.”

Kiran said, “We can’t give up on him! He wouldn’t give up on us!”

Frog replied, “No one is suggesting that we should but what else can we do?”

Kiran said, “I don’t know.”

They all sat, cold, wet, and miserable, staring at the rain in silence. After a while Kiran said, “Let’s spread out and listen.”

Wolf said, “We listened, too, of course. We heard nothing. Besides, the roar of the rain and the wind and the thunder makes it hard to hear anything.”

Kiran said, “Is there anything else you can think of? Anything else to do?”

“I can’t think of anything.”

So they formed a circle around the porch and spread out. As each one sat down in the rain, he closed his eyes and concentrated on the sounds that came to him.

They sat that way for a long time, listening to the sounds and rhythms of the rain and the wind. They got soaked through and Kiran gave up all hope of keeping even his underwear dry. They accepted this in stoic silence. They sat and listened some more.

When they were shivering and so chilled that hypothermia was looming, one of Wolf’s pack-mates raised his paw to beckon them over. They silently gathered around him and he said, “Do you hear that? It’s faint but I can just make it out.”

Kiran listened. He could hear nothing but the other wolves could. Wolf said, “Good job, brother!” He loped off in the direction of the hills. The others followed, happy to be moving because of the measure of warmth it promised.

As they followed the sound, it grew louder. Eventually even Kiran could hear it. It was definitely Lion roaring to be heard.

They eventually found a deep ravine but could see no bus. The roaring was definitely coming from the ravine. Kiran looked at it. He could see signs of a recent mudslide, which wasn’t too surprising given all the rain. He said, “It looks like the bus fell or was washed into the ravine and then was buried in mud.”

Frog said, “How do we get to them?”

Wolf said, “We dig them out!”

So they started calling for Lion. Once he had indicated the best place for them to climb out, they started to dig through the mud. Luckily it was relatively soft and a lot of the water had drained out of it so out was fairly solid.

Still, it was hard and dirty work. When they reached the window and had pulled the youngsters and other passengers and Lion to relative safety, they felt like celebrating. They did a quick headcount and after verifying that everyone was present, they headed back to the school. When they got there, everyone was dried off, given a blanket, and hot soup to eat. They could feel the warmth spreading through then as they ate.

Soon they felt much warmer and the children felt gratitude for the efforts of their rescuers and the rescuers felt grateful that they could help everyone feel more secure. It was the best time ever even though the children couldn’t hear a thing. They were nearly deaf from all the roaring.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”The Big Storm” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Free As A Bird

by Ingrid Dean

by Menke Dave, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

by Menke Dave, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

My mother, whom I loved dearly, passed away at the age of sixty-two. She was a lifelong smoker, which severely impaired her health during the last ten years of her life. She suffered through several strokes, open-heart surgery, and other major health problems. Eventually she was homebound; connected to a thirty-foot air line and nasal cannula.

My father had passed away, so Mom lived alone. Basically all she could do for entertainment was read or watch television. To give her something to do, I bought a bird feeder and birdhouse and hung them in the tree that stood in front of her kitchen window. Her favorite pastime soon became sitting on a stool in the kitchen to watch the birds—some days for hours at a time.

She enjoyed watching the many different birds that came to the feeder. Her favorite were the chickadees. They were always so busy and happy—and they traveled in groups. Whenever I came over for coffee, Mom would tell me how she loved the chickadees best. During one of our last conversations before her death, she told me that she wanted to be one of them—she was tired of being tied down and wanted to be as free as a bird. This was early November.

A few days before Thanksgiving, Mom became very ill. She did not want to go to the hospital because she felt she would not come home this time. I basically forced her to go to emergency; where she was admitted into the hospital.

My nephew, Jason, had come down from Marquette to go deer hunting with me. Jason was only fifteen and never had a father. He had a difficult life, so as his uncle, I acted as his father figure and had gotten him addicted to deer hunting. When Jason arrived I told him that his grandmother was very ill and that we probably would not go hunting. Jason was disappointed but said he understood.

We went to the hospital and visited Mom. Before I went in the room, I spoke with a nurse who was also a personal friend. She told me that my mother was failing and that she would probably pass away in three to seven days. Jason and I then visited with Mom separately, for about an hour apiece. When I spoke with Mom, she said worriedly, “Ken, this time it is different. What is happening to me?”

Although I tried to make her feel better, she told me she thought she was dying. She then asked if I was going to take Jason hunting that day. I told her no. It was windy, dark, and miserable outside. We would just stay in town and then come back later in the afternoon to visit her again. Mom insisted I take Jason hunting, stating it was her wish that I do so and that I was not going to disappoint him or her. She told me point blank to leave, go hunting, and that when we came back later we had better have a deer hunting story for her.

I hugged and kissed Mom good-bye and left, promising to do as she asked.

I told Jason that we had been ordered by Grandma to go hunting. Jason was happy about this; even though I told him her situation was dire. Jason loved his grandmother—and he would be sad when she died—but her death had been expected several times during the past few years. We agreed to follow Mom’s orders.

When we reached the woods I sent Jason down the trail by himself, to a deer blind I had prepared for him earlier that fall. To make him feel better, I told Jason I was also going to hunt, but that I wanted to stay near the car. After he was out of sight, I sat on the hood of the car, thinking about Mom and our life together. I did not get my gun out as hunting was the last thing on my mind.

I had parked the car in the middle of a small field. After about an hour, the weather abruptly changed from dark and dismal to bright and sunny with a light breeze. I spotted a lone bird flying across the field toward my car. As it came closer, I was amazed. It was a chickadee, about the size of a robin, which is huge for this type of bird.

The chickadee flew right to the car and landed next to me on the hood. It then flitted around the car, perching on the hood next to me several times. It would not leave. Eventually I found myself talking to the bird. The situation was extremely odd; the size of the bird, the fact that it was alone, and that it was so friendly and unafraid.

After a time, I heard a motor and saw a truck coming down the road. I recognized it as belonging to my best friend, Charlie Willour. I instantly knew why Charlie was there. Mom must have died.

As Charlie drove up, the chickadee flew in front of my face and then left. Charlie got out of this truck and gave me the news I expected hear: Mom had died about one hour earlier.

I knew my mother had visited me for the last time. She had come to say good-bye and to assure me that she was happy and at last as free as a bird. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that freedom for some does come in death.

More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at www.spiritofthebadge.com.

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Charley Girl Acts Smart

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by DCH Park

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Picture by Chelsea Nesvig

He pulled the container of eggs out of the refrigerator. It had been a little over a week since he’d hard-boiled and peeled them but he figured they would still be good. He didn’t expect that Thanksgiving would adversely affect the eggs. He thought they would still be there sitting in the refrigerator after they were done eating turkey. He was wrong.

He opened the container to find slightly discolored eggs. A reddish tinge seemed to be spreading on them. He guessed that it was some sort of bacterium. There was a whitish, watery liquid on the bottom of the container, too, and he noticed an odor of ripe decay.

That didn’t stop Charley Girl, though. If anything, the odor of over-ripe eggs made her more frenzied. She furiously wagged her tail and danced about. All of her attention was focused on the eggs. When she wasn’t dancing, she sat expectantly, sniffing the air. She tried to be good and sit still but she was too excited. A whine occasionally escaped her lips as if to remind him that she was there – as if he could forget her.

He remembered that one theory held that the first dogs ate garbage. The theory suggested that that was how the barrier between humans and dogs was first breached. But however it had been first breached, it had been. Since then both dogs and humans had made progress. They were fed things that were not rotten now but dogs in general seemed to sniff out garbage and were known for putting their noses in unpleasant things, although to be fair, people sometimes ate pretty rotten things, too. He remembered a description of cheese that characterized the dairy product as rotten milk. And wasn’t there a bacterium that was used in cheese-making that was responsible for body odor? And so-called “dry aged beef” was really rotten meat.

At any rate, on more than one walk Charley Girl had apparently reveled in smelling where garbage bags had been and even eating things from off the street or that had been found in the woods and she definitely got her share of fresh dog food. He could only imagine what a truly hungry dog would eat.

He let that thought recede back into the mists it emerged from. In the present moment Charley Girl was very excited over the eggs. There were three eggs in the container. He looked around. Fitzwilly was nowhere to be seen. He was probably in another part of the house doing doggie things.

He decided to give the eggs to the dogs if the bacteria would wash off. They were slippery but as he rubbed the first one under the water, the redness came off. He smelled the egg. He broke it open and smelled the inside. He didn’t want to eat it but it seemed to be okay. The bacteria didn’t seem to have penetrated into the egg. They seemed to be confined to the layer he’d washed away.

As he ran the water and washed the rest of the eggs, Charley Girl got even more excited. Fitzwilly must have heard the commotion because he came running.

Charley Girl snatched the first egg out of his hand and ran into the nearby dog crate just as Fitzwilly came down the stairs. There, she consumed the egg greedily while Fitzwilly’s attention was focused on the remaining eggs.

There were two eggs left. He gave one to Fitzwilly, and called Charley Girl. He hadn’t quite decided what to do. He had some vague intention of splitting the remainder somehow but he wasn’t sure how. She outweighed the smaller dog by factor of over 2 but he had nothing to measure the egg with.

He needn’t have bothered. Charley Girl stayed in the crate, eating her egg and sniffing pieces of it out of the bedding. He turned back to the smaller dog. He was attacking the egg with comedic gusto. The egg was almost as big as his head. It was certainly bigger than his mouth. But that didn’t stop him or even slow him down. He bit it in two, revealing the yolk, and proceeded to eat the white half. He saved the yolk for last. Was he “saving the best for last” or eating the part he liked most first? Fitzwilly gave no clue but he stripped the egg white from around the yolk, leaving the naked yolk on the floor along with scraps of white. He ate the yolk in one massive bite and looked up at him licking his lips. There appeared to be a smile on his face.

He called again and Charley Girl still refused to come so he gave Fitzwilly the third egg. He ate it greedily and quickly. By the time that Charley Girl came out of the crate, there were only scraps of egg white left. Fitzwilly licked them up off the floor while Charley Girl was sniffing around, getting oriented. No doubt, she could smell the eggs but she wasn’t sure where the smell came from. Fitzwilly finished “cleaning up.” Charley Girl sniffed the air then went over to where Fitzwilly sat and smelled the smaller dog’s face. Fitzwilly smelled hers.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Charley Girl Acts Smart” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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