Laugh of the Ghost

I’ve been thinking of my dear departed mom.  Her birthday would have been next week.  I wrote this shortly before her passing and am reposting it in her memory.  She died about 8 months after I wrote this piece.

On a distant hill, through the blackened night forest of the new moon, the cries of a pack of coyotes can be heard. Part yip, part bark, mixed with mournful howls the coyotes are likely celebrating a kill. In the past, I have set off in anticipation of locating these creatures, but they always seem to be one hill away through the darkness of the night. Like a laughing ghost, the coyotes are visible to your soul but never your eyes.

It is with mixed feelings that I listen to them bellow, scream, and yip. They celebrate life over the death of another. It is the way of the wild. Life and death are intertwined. The end of one life means the continued life of another. It has been that way since life was formed on this planet.

I, like other observers of the nature, am reticent to interfere with such events. I think I understand my position in the universe of the natural world. Sometimes I observe, sometimes I record, and sometimes I participate in the natural order of the living things on earth. Understanding your position in this universe is not the same as understanding the whys and why nots of the natural world. As a human I am limited to my views of three dimensions. I know not what other plants and animals can experience, but I suspect it is far more than we realize or are capable of experiencing ourselves.

Humans are remarkable at emotional survival. We remember the pleasant events, and choose not to pay attention to those events that are unpleasant. Consequently when something really bad happens we are shocked. We celebrate life, as we should, but most of us really don’t think too much about death. We don’t have to. We are insulated from death most of the time. When we consume another animal it often has been killed by another. Interestingly, we don’t consider the consumption of a plant as death to another living being at all.

Recently I learned my mother has cancer. My thoughts are consumed by her situation day and night. She has had surgery, and we are hopeful that this is the end of it. But we really don’t know. When you really love someone, you really want to know. But like the call of the coyote, that knowledge is always one hill away.

My mother is nearly 80 years old. She has lived a rugged, but valuable life. At the age of 78 she joined a group that provides direct support to women who have been sexually assaulted. In the last year she has worked as a volunteer for over 1000 hours. She was designated as volunteer of the year by the Women’s Crisis Center in Horry County South Carolina. In this way she is celebrating life.

On this dark night, I hear the coyotes call. With mixed emotion I share the celebration of the coyote. I think of life and I think of death and I am mindful that they are absolutely intertwined and that we cannot celebrate one without celebrating the other.

With each mournful howl I remember that coyotes at night are like laughing ghosts. They are visible to your soul, but never your eyes.

And with this I pray for my mother.

My mom with me, 1954.

  • Emily Brisse

    Beautiful, Bill. She sounds and looks (oh, that photo) like a lovely woman. Peace to you in this darkening season.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you Emily. And peace to you, your husband, and your son. May we all celebrate life one day at a time with a vision towards a healthy planet for years to come.

  • Ratty

    I often hear the call of coyotes around here at night. I’ll be reminded of this story the next time I hear them.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thanks Ratty. The call of the wild is something we should all pay attention to.

  • Guy

    Hi Bill

    A beautiful post and a lovely photo. So many of my own memories reside now in old black and white snaps I could really identify with this moment and these words.

    “I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief.”

    from The Peace of Wild Things
    Wendell Berry

    All the best

  • Montucky

    When I hear the sounds of the coyotes or wolves I also think of life and death and what it means, and that I don’t make the rules.

  • Wild_Bill

    Yes, beautiful words. Although not totally true. Canines, especially express grief.

  • Wild_Bill

    Yes, we do not make the rules. And when we break them there may be hell to pay. Something humans have not figured out yet.

  • Teresa Evangeline

    As awareness grows of how very conscious all living beings are, including animals and plants, we are going to be forced to rethink how we live on this planet, at least I hope we are. I came to a fuller understanding later than I want to admit. It’s almost painful some days to remember my own callousness and also how very aware I am now, which causes another sense of pain. The beauty of life can almost knock me on my butt these days. And for that, I’m very grateful. Your photo with your mother is sadly beautiful. And this is a wonderful piece. Thank you.

  • Wild_Bill

    Age certainly brings wisdom for some and you would be certainly be included amongst those who are most aware of our planet’s sensitive nature. My mom was one tough woman. Had a lot of heart ache and pain in her life. I get my strength from her, no doubt about it.

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