archives, wisdom

Bones and Trails of Existence.

{Photo credit: Megan Novikoff}


We go for a walk. Me and him. Side by side. Then turns — follow and lead.

We go for a walk. The wind shows up. Sometimes pushing. Sometimes pulling. Jumping ahead, then behind. Hiding and seeking. Whipping, then whispering.

We go for a walk. I’m never alone. Rabbit, Tree, Deer, Cholla, Sky, Bird, Rock, Sun, Flower, Cloud, Moon, Rain… keep me company. They gather, watch, play, chatter, dance, laugh, sing.

We go for a walk. I come back with bones and an owl feather. And I wonder if anyone will want my bones when I’m gone.

Searching for meaning in the remnants we leave behind. Animals don’t have collections of knick-knacks and valuables, personal items and furniture, mounds of paperwork and legalities — to be inherited and/or discarded by the next in line, or by the person who takes a fancy to an oddly-shaped vase or an oversized floor lamp at a secondhand store, its history carried into the dust, reclaimed by the air into which it is swept.

But their bones — once removed of flesh, picked clean by hungry creatures, and their skin and hair, after the birds have taken what they need for nests, decays away from the remaining remnants of rotting flesh — their bones remain.

Bleached white in the relentless sunlight, with only a hint of dried flesh still attached here and there, they become a shining sculpture in the glistening light. Their position has been altered and intimates new meaning — fresh discoveries, yet the significance of their existence remains.

And I wonder, quixotically, if they shiver at night with no flesh or fur to shroud them.

I walk past the mound of horse bones and choose a few each time my path leads me around this pile. Careful never to take all of anything, so trails remain, and continue to add shape and consequence to the existing landscape. At first, the disfigured horse, his rotting flesh buzzing with flies, was a disturbing and depressing sight. But I think he lived a good life.

Grazing free and wild most of the time, occasionally in proximity to another horse or two, they would meander about together looking for fresh places to graze. He was fed and cared for, and I like to think he wasn’t lonely, but felt content in his lot.

He was old, and he went the path we all go.

After he had been picked mostly clean, his smooth white bones started to stand out against the brown earth and sharp rocks, and his form, though shifted from its original structure, radiated a vibration of grounding beauty and earthly magic, talismans of connection from the mundane to the mystical.

So I take them — I take the bones — and hang them from fence posts, dangle them from tree limbs so they can sway in the wind, mount them on the sides of buildings, their sternums becoming tribal masks protruding from earthen walls, windows to another realm, and attach vertebrae to rebar posts making woodwind sounding chimes.

Sometimes I wonder how I would feel to know my dismembered skeleton was hanging on a fencepost or decorating the side of a barn. Perhaps a random feather or gear from an old bicycle incorporated between my ribcage for added connotation. Maybe my fingers hold a faded papier-mâché flower, or a dried up cholla stalk shaped like a yearning. My jawbone a totem to guard against evil spirits or whatever random magic it would be called upon to represent.

Is it sacred or sacrilege? Is it reverence or disrespect to display the parts of a deceased creature this way? I mean no harm. I am attracted to these vestiges of life on the trail. They call out to be used and remembered, evoked and considered. And yet, I’m not sure how I would feel if a loved one or myself were displayed in such cavalier a manner. I think it would make me sad. I think it would make me long for what was lost.

Is this why we bury our dead? So we are not constantly reminded of their passing?

Is this why we mark their graves? So we can be sure not to forget? We can remember when we want to. When the need seems imminent.

But creatures teach us so much about loving and letting go. About life and death. So I take their bones, and I arrange them. Display them. Let them work their magic. I close my eyes and walk with the owl feather, switching it from hand to hand, I hold it up, and feel Wind catch it — willing it to teach me to fly.

Our discarded possessions feel so much less valuable than the bones these animals leave behind. Vulnerable and exposed, their trust in this life is their most valuable possession. Our most valuable lesson.

So I am getting used to the idea. Of my bones, through their bones.

And I hope that my bones will whistle in the wind, and shimmer through the sunlight. That I can leave you pieces to rearrange however best it serves you. The wings of a butterfly, the shell of a turtle, the yellowed and faded photographs… are all bones we leave behind.

And I hope, when you see the bones I’ve left you, you will remember that I love you.

You will remember that I love you.

You will know it, in your bones.


Finding beauty, even solace, in the everyday, multimedia artist Melanie Zipin composes her songs and stories from the material that surrounds her. Taking an early departure from her inner-city roots, the high desert of New Mexico provides ample space and vantage point for such an introspective watcher, as she leads the reader from the small tales of local folk and everyday occurrences up to the mountaintop for reflection. Her writings urge the reader to celebrate the underdog, even when they are lost, knowing that the human spirit can be rebuilt with dragonfly wings, crisp fallen leaves, and the lone call of a coyote. She has one son, and lives with her husband far from the concrete jungle, thankful for every drop of rainwater that sustains them, in a house they built from hand-piled mud, where she makes art and music, and writes and writes and writes.


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