Perhaps the title of this blog should read ‘Day of the Dead Deer.’ Our dog was anxious last night. He wanted in; he wanted out; he wanted in again. Hunting season is here, and the deer (who in the world ever came up with the term dumb animals?) have come down from the snow covered mountains to rest easy and put their feet up in town. Food is more abundant, and the chance of getting shot is nil. Dumb? I don’t think so.
I live two blocks from Main Street, and at any one time, six or seven deer…taking their ease and basking in the sun… cozy up along the south side of our house. Westcliffe looks a lot like a deer park. We should be charging money to the tourists who pass through. However, this morning, we learned the cause of our dog’s unease. A young doe had jumped the fence and apparently broken her neck.
The real Day of the Dead is celebrated twice. Deceased children (los angelitos) descend and reunite with their families on October 31st. Deceased adults are welcomed home on November 2nd. During Aztec times, the custom of reconnecting with the departed was celebrated for an entire month. However, on the arrival of the Spanish, the church assimilated the heathens’ indigenous practice by moving the date to correspond with All Souls Day.
The more I learn about Day of the Dead, the more I embrace it. The Spanish and I are of a like mind. If you read my last blog, you know that Mark and I just bought two plots out at the Rosita Cemetery. I’ve been a bit taken back: so many friends think that our purchase is dark, depressing and morbid. That is hardly the case.
For years Mark and I have followed the practice of driving to the county landfill, sorting our recycling, dumping our garbage, and then, when our chores were done, driving a couple of miles to the cemetery where we would picnic amongst the graves under the Ponderosas.
It gives me pleasure to think that once we’ve installed our bench under the pines, we will picnic on our own plot… have some lunch, drink some wine… maybe read a book. It will be a home-away-from-home, and when one of us dies, we won’t be planted in some sterile, groomed suburb; rather, we will be home.
To the uninitiated, all those Day of the Dead skeletons and skulls must be off-putting… macabre in the extreme, but the Spanish believe that the skeletons and skulls are just bones… corporeal things to be laughed at in the face of death. In contrast, if you believe that the soul is eternal, what is there to fear? The body may be gone, but the soul is still out there… waiting to be invited in.
Burning copal to call loved ones home.
Whereas many Anglos think of the dead as dead-and-gone, the Spanish don’t view death as the end but as a celebration of the continuation of life. To that end, they welcome the deceased family members home with incense and an altar. Typically the altar will have candles to light the way, water to quench their thirst, salt for their food, pictures of the departed and some of their personal belongings.
It’s a reunion of sorts.
Some time ago, I wrote a poem about Day of the Dead. Its title is “The Visitation.”
Dia de los muertos… / Day of the Dead… All Souls’ Day / falls the second of November. / Following centuries of custom, / Rosario kneels at her family’s altar / above which, a statue: / Our Lady of Guadalupe reigns. / Dressed in a blue gown, she smiles down / blessing those down on their knees. / The altar’s surface is crowded / with photos and food and mementos / of Rosario’s deceased father, Ramon. / His battered pocket watch, / his sweat-stained hat, and blue-bottled / Tequila call him home. / Welcomed by the candle’s scent, / the smell of sage and his favorite food / Ramon returns to love’s surround. / Time dissolves in a slow fade; / past and present hold hands. / Ramon’s return warms Rosario. / Feeling her padre’s presence / she turns on the music of her people / and dances in the memory of her dad.
Make some memories. Give us a call and join us picnicking on our plot.