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This post and all other posts on our website are snippets from Firth's writings on Substack.

Death or Life or Maybe We Missed It Entirely

Death is in a strange way with modern life and its literature and art. Life in the modern sense mirrors its own strange way and is incapable of living without being incessantly reminded of death.

A light fringe of frost settled like a cape across the northern hills. The morning light alit from her antipodal work and clothed the landscape with remembrance–a rapt, genetic admixture of community and time. Light descended to invite the day to rise.

Early winter mornings are sleepy fellows among the calendar’s tired days and they often need a heavy invitation to do anything at all. The wood next to the empty furnace sits coldly as embers from last night’s fire shift mildly from the morning air ruffling down the chimney, stirring the ashes for one last dance—a memory of warmth, of re-enflamed light.

Memory in her stable wonders erupts the day and memory in her ludic day’s dance ushers the cumulative moments of our days to their beds each evening. Memory is held when memory holds. And if you listen hard enough in between her morning eruption and her bedtime, pink-inflamed harmonic you can hear the early winter’s tepid freeze impinge upon the earth, like fine untiring needles of water trickling across the coordinates, as memory and her rising light alit now fully upon her earthly work melts everything, every heart.

Under this late season admixture between autumn and winter we walked amongst the herd of cattle that were open grazing in the frozen meadow we call Mistletoe. Enclosed on all sides by encroaching forests, the meadow called Mistletoe gently undulates from all horizons sufficiently so as to conceal from full view any complete visage. Standing on one ridge, you may glimpse the next but lose the valley that sleeps below. Walking down into the valley, you lose the ridges. To stand witness to the meadow’s advantage is therefore to witness the meadow’s mystery—a living pulse under your feet but also something entirely more than that.

A lone, wild black cherry stands staunchly in her elevated heartland. She is an old, worn stump shooting new, cambial growth in three directions: north, east, and south. Under her southern trunk’s low hanging but strong members we have harvested sheep and under her northern trunk we have found peace and an afternoon nap. She has given us many moments and her memory is a loving nourishment. This morning, however, we found her surrounded by the Wildland’s herd as they munched on her cool season grasses and not-yet-oxidized, sun-yellow wildflowers. It is easy to track the herd in the morning frost for their steps and their stomachs leave a fine pathway of untiring needles of water that trickle behind them, like spring mountain streams. We walked with wet feet through Mistletoe’s new river until we landed with them, atop the hill and under the wild black cherry. Together, we watched the sun rise and together, we held memory close, for the dawn was dying and the day was soon to be born.

Death is in a strange way with modern life and its literature and art. Life in the modern sense mirrors its own strange way and is incapable of living without being incessantly reminded of death. From the morgue to the museum, death has entered the common vernacular and death has almost become cool—in vogue, even. Popular to wield, the idea of death animates the social influencer in equal degree as the fact of death occupies the undertaker. “Life and death are really one,” the social influencer or the modern artist argues, “there is no difference. This is the reciprocity of nature, the singular source of the divine.”

I heard someone recently say that when we breathe the breath becomes the breather and this process of death and integration somehow means something to someone. It was said on one of those social media videos that are short and whose shortness highlights a conversation that was much longer but not necessarily much more full. It is interesting that, to illustrate this point, we must first differentiate the breath from the breather—taken as two distinct forms in the beginning—and, even in their supposed integration—taken as the now singular life force after inhalation—the separation of these two words becomes the impact of the statement. That is if breath is implicitly the breather than what is the point? For we should not be surprised when the breather’s breath becomes anything at all but the breather—that is, what it is in the beginning, already.

Death and breath share the same space in the modern world. Perhaps, overwhelmed by the fullness of modern life, we look to death as a simpleton that is coming for the all of us. Someone that, in their good and simple way, will reduce all of the pain and complexity and annals of our ancestors into a singular moment where all we can do is to give in, to release control, to let go. Yes, this simple and well-intentioned reaper occupies not our dark dreams from those dark corners of our bedroom, but also the dreams of our very well-lit and enflamed world writ in control and progress. We want to let go; we want to step back. Maybe death is our chance. Maybe this is why we are so captivated by it.

It is interesting that, as death enters our modern, physical world, it concomitantly enters with increasingly spiritual measures the world of our intellect. We defend death’s existence like we defend a drunken uncle at the holiday table or like the spring rains that soaks our already well-soaked and manicured lawns. “He is your uncle, be kind,” we say, and “we needed this, the land needed this,” we claim as we sit on the opposite end of the table or we stand inside and keep our distance from the deluge. Death always seems to occupy the distance.

But death’s story, like your uncle’s story or like the rain’s story is now also our story and the great simpleton demands intimacy, not distance. If it is like your uncle as I have said, then it demands getting up from your comfortable chair and sitting by him and, if it is like the rain, as I have also said, then it demands going out and running playfully through the mud and conjoining rivers down your suburban streets and getting soaked to the bone. Death is about the all of us and it begins in life and it begins by loving your uncle and running in the rain.

The dawn is a time-infused explosion where the silence’s antipolarity conjoins with life’s polarity and the erupting light’s ludic dance ushers life in the fullest sense to be here, to be had, to be lived with. Yes, death must be lived with. Memory is held when memory holds and memory requires time—intimacy—not words or art. Breathe in, breathe out, if it matters to you.

This morning as we stood with the herd under the cardinal colored boughs of late autumn’s wild black cherry and watched the dawn die, we thought of life. A bull to my eastward nibbled on a calcified bone from a calf that died last year in this same spot. Perhaps, it died as it watched what we now watch. Thanks to this morning’s frost, the bull’s teeth cracked the now fragile femur open as aggressively as the coyote did last year and he ate, as the coyote ate.

There once was a calf that watched the dawn die. There once was a coyote that the calf’s life did source supply. Time passed here and by and now there is a calf that licked the calcium, by the frost, dry. Where is death? Where is life? Maybe, we missed it entirely. Memory is held when memory holds. Holds what? The bull and the calf and the coyote knew.

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