Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Experiencing Death IV: The Body at Daggett Lake

This is the fourth installment in a monthly thread, where I am looking back at the early experiences I had with death and reflecting on how those moments shaped my views and fears of it. In order to change my relationship with the concept of death, I have to understand what shaped it to begin with. Our ideas and philosophies are meant to evolve and change, to grow as our own experiences do.

My family went on a camping trip every July for two weeks. We would do a different theme every summer, exploring the sights there were to see in our state: the Finger Lakes, the 1000 Islands, underground caverns and gorges, the Catskills, the Adirondacks, etc. The Adirondacks were one of the last theme trips we took, being the furthest away, and we fell in love with them. We discovered a campground near Lake George that was surrounded by mountain called Daggett Lake. We found ourselves returning there every year and we cultivated a relationship with both the place and the other people drawn to it every summer.
We had a site we liked on the water, where we could dock our little rowboat. We had made close friends with a couple from NYC, Andy and Mary, who camped two sites down from us. Right beside us was one of the best sites on the lake, with a bit of wood attached to it. This specific summer, a lone man was camping there in a pop-up trailer. He got up early each morning and took his boat out fishing, and came back at dusk. He was quiet and not unfriendly.
We had returned from the beach for lunch and a car pulled up to our neighbor’s campsite. A woman got out, not quite dressed for the outdoors, and knocked on the trailer door, calling his name. There was a feeling in the air of disconnection. It’s a feeling I have come to know quite well, one of foreboding that something is out of place. Perhaps I was the only one who felt the change. Maybe it was my high sensitivity, but it felt important. When she asked us if he was in, my father told the woman that the man had been fishing all day every day.
She thanked us tersely, clearly annoyed that he had known she was coming, and went down the little path in the woods to where he moored his boat. The air felt wrong to me, I can remember it clearly. My parents told us to eat and we all sat down with our sandwiches and chips. A few minutes later, the woman came back up the path alone. She began pounding on the door of the camper but it was locked. She came around the end of the trailer and asked when we’d seen him last. His boat was still at the water’s edge.
I think then, we all knew something was wrong. Something had changed. There was a presence in the air around us that was unfamiliar and all the same, we knew it.
My dad told us to stay where we were when the woman asked for help. She was a bit beside herself. She and her husband were in the process of getting a divorce and they were supposed to be meeting for the weekend to see if they could work things out. She was starting to panic. We had a pop-up of our own and my dad knew the canvas snapped onto the frame and he began to take up the end closest to the road.
I will never forget the shrill wail of grief that pierced the sunlit afternoon as the man’s bloody arm became visible. All at once, the woods were altered and we knew that what was visiting with us was death.
What I remember most was the sudden silence in the woods. The woman wailed, a banshee cry of mourning, and every bird on the mountain stopped singing. Every insect in the woods was still. Even the trees paused in their seasonal breathing. Even the natural world paused in the face of death.
Others came running from all ends of the campground at the sound of her despair. Like every mother, mine immediately put herself between death and her children. The quiet old man who had been enjoying his vacation alongside us had been diabetic. Whatever had happened, he had slowly allowed himself to bleed to death in the trailer beside us, quietly during the night. He had insulin in his trailer that he hadn’t used. There were bloody paper towels and rags strewn throughout. The coroner came and took him away and the owners of the campground sat with the woman until her parents folded time to get to the mountains from Rochester.
I knew when my dad was unsnapping the end of the trailer that the man inside it was dead. Maybe it was the absence of life inside that I sensed. Maybe it was the subconscious scent of blood that lit my animal instinct. But when my dad walked over to the other campsite, it felt like I was holding my breath, waiting.
Whatever it was, we had all sensed the wrongness of what was unfolding. Like when the phone rings for the fifth time in a row, but this time, this ring, sounds like bad news. And after you answer the phone, you discover that your gut response had merit.
Our friends Andy and Mary took us to the beach while they took the body away and went through the logistics of packing down the trailer and hitching it up to his vehicle. Andy put me and my sister in a boat and we took to the water, putting a little distance between us and the other playful children whose lives weren’t touched by the darkness that day. Andy usually called us by nicknames he had given us. I was the Professor and my sister, Half-Pint.
That afternoon he talked to us in quiet tones about death and how it just happens sometimes and we shouldn’t take it on for ourselves. And I knew as he stared at the water that he was thinking of the times he had faced death, and I suddenly understood that he loved life with the gusto that he did to balance out the darkness he had seen, which took shape in the water beneath us. Andy tipped the boat, passengers and all, in an attempt to distort the shadowy form and the moment was broken with squeals of laughter.
It was the first time that someone else’s death, someone unknown to me, had intruded upon my innocence and touched me whether I was willing or not. I wasn’t yet old enough to know it wouldn’t be the last. I don’t remember the man’s name. I don’t remember his wife’s either, the woman whose life-shattering moment I was witness to.
What I do remember is my physical response to death, whether you want to philosophize about it or anthropomorphize it. Sometimes, to process through it, we need to distance ourselves from death, but time will do that easily enough for us. Remembering that feeling has helped me sense it’s nearness in my adult life. When I remember that experience, I say a quiet wish for peace for both of them, the departed and the living, and I return from the moment to experience my own life as fully as I can.

Relevant Posts:
Experiencing Death: The Unborn Baby (published May 16, 2012)
Experiencing Death II: My Father’s Father (published June 13, 2012)
Experiencing Death III: Squirrel in the Road (published July 11, 2012)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.