The Heart of the Fawn
After publishing my last essay I received a beautiful letter from a friend who homesteads in Massachusetts. I will share it in full, changing only the names.
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Good morning brother.
As I read your latest essay this morning, I am ever more grateful for my EMBODIED life. I'll share a little story from the homestead last night.
Ann showed up carrying a beautiful young fawn in her arms, its legs hanging long and limp. Ann had blood on her arms and tears in her eyes. The fawn had been badly injured by a dog and she and Will were called by the dog owner to take care of things. They slit the fawn's throat and brought her death to her.
Ann came to process the fawn under the maple tree. When I asked if she needed help, she said no, but she would love support. She asked that I get her turtle shell full of tobacco and dried daffodils (Ann’s totem plant) and light a small fire.
She removed the beautiful spotted hide, and pulled out the host of warm, soft organs. The fawn's stomach was full of what felt like solids, which was confusing to Ann, as the fawn was still just nursing. When she emptied it, the stomach was FULL of cheese- the doe's milk and rennet had made a feta cheese of sorts that smelled sweet.
After all the processing was complete, Will and his kids showed up and we sat around the fire. Ann held the fawn's tiny heart in her hand, and we each cut a tiny sliver off to cook over the coals. It was heart-breakingly tender and sweet, and my body is grateful to have taken this young one inside, to become a part of me.
This morning Dan showed up unexpectedly and laid another fire. We sat and cried together about this fawn and all the fawns I have been seeing dead on the roadside; we cried about the beauty of her death's honoring and the magical EMBODIED life we are living. That this kind of death/life/death magic is not unusual here, but just a part of the flow.
As I read your essay this morning, the contrast between these realities is so stark and I mourn for all the humans who will never eat the heart of a fawn.
As the red-tail hawk cries overhead, I send you my love from the homestead.
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Have you ever mourned the loss of something you never had? Can any experience in virtual reality or the Metaverse match this? Can it even come close?
A few months ago I was walking with my 9-year-old son, Cary, and a local kid in the neighborhood of my friend’s homestead. The friend pointed to a barn roof. “I saw three turkey vultures sitting on that roof last week, and a hawk swooped down and got one of them.” Every place has a story attached to it. We kept walking and came out on a road. A pickup truck crawled towards us, stopping every couple hundred feet. Cary’s friend hailed the driver, and we joined them in emptying sap from buckets hanging under the sugar maple taps into a barrel in the truck. Everyone in the neighborhood knew each other, and not only by name. The people there have stories attached to them too. They are connected by story and by gift, socially and materially.
When I visit there, I feel grief for what our society has lost, and for what I never had but knew in my bones must exist.
The point of grief is not to wallow in misery. It is to integrate the preciousness of what has been lost, so that one might value it in the future. When I grieve the death of a loved one, I prepare to treasure the brief span of years with the beloveds still remaining. When we grieve the loss of embodied life in community, we might orient toward its recovery.
People sometimes ask me about my vision for the future and the plan to get there—after all, the title of my best-known book is The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible. But I don’t have a full vision, much less a plan. I catch glimpses of both—a vision too bright to fix my gaze on, a plan too vast for me to comprehend. I don’t quite know what the more beautiful world is. I know only that it is.
None of my children had the experience growing up of holding a dying fawn in their arms. I feel sad about that, about their separation from the fullness of embodied reality. And it is OK that I am sad. Certainly I can reframe it, I can bypass it, but the sadness holds a treasure.
I have heard Stephen Jenkinson quoted as saying, “There is no story in an argument, and no argument in a story.” The reasonable arguments why humanity is better off through its ascent into the controlled, distanced, artificial, digital world, the metrics of well-being, leisure, and longevity, the economic logic of goods and services, the whole arc of progress… these present an unassailable tower of concrete and steel. But put them alongside the story of the fawn and, without challenging them on their own terms, they are revealed as a castle of shadows and vapors.
Shadows and vapors. Zeroes and ones. Bits and bytes. The internet, the Metaverse, the narratives of modernity are part of the same castle. It seems real from the inside, but for a gnawing unease, a secret sense that everything presented us as real and normal is actually fake.
The story of the fawn says, “This! This!”
I share it because it was for me a medicine story. From within the sadness rises a conviction. We seek something real, my friends.
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