Friday, September 11, 2009


On September 5, I received this email from my friend Tom who is playing guitar below:

Ann’s Falcon
 18 "There are three things that are too amazing for me,
       four that I do not understand:

 19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
       the way of a snake on a rock,
       the way of a ship on the high seas,
       and the way of a man with a maiden.

Proverbs 30;  18-19

Tomorrow, at 3:30, some of Ann’s loved ones will gather at Remember the Maine Park, a county park just outside of Vernal, kept up by the local Lions Club.  The park is at the base of a tremendous sandstone cliff, I’m guessing about 400 feet almost straight up.  On the cliff are two painted inscriptions next to a giant painted American flag.  The inscriptions exhort passersby to “Remember the Maine” and “Remember Pearl Harbor”.  Decades ago, painters dangled precariously from ropes, hundreds of feet up, to create them. The cliff is a beautiful tan, burnt to a rust red in some places, and streaked with dark brown “tiger stripes”.  It will serve, to me anyway, as a giant memorial stone for Ann. 
In the grassy park below it, I will open a little cage, and a young male kestrel (“sparrow hawk”) will fly away.
I don’t want to reach too far for an over-hyped metaphor.  I don’t want to be glib about Annie’s life or death.  It may be true that when our loved ones die, that they experience a release and a freedom that is very like the flight of a hawk.  Some of us may take comfort in the thought that Ann is watching us, like a falcon hovering high in the sky.  But I don’t honestly know where Ann is or what she experiences anymore, and I am not going to speculate.  I assume she is with God, and that would be indescribable by definition. 
But I think that the love that these people have for Annie has bound us together, and this last ritual will help us remember.  Every time I drive by Remember the Maine, I expect I’ll think of her.  When I see a falcon in flight, perhaps it will remind me of her.  And in thinking of her, maybe I will attempt again to be more compassionate and loving towards those of us left behind by her death. I will try to remember her cheeriness, and what it was like to be hugged by her.  As well as the times she became angry with me, and in fact all the parts of the complex person she was.  I don’t want her to become a little tin angel in my memories;  I want to remember her as the real woman she was in life, with all that includes.
I do think that she would approve of us remembering her and honoring her with this event.  One of her deepest convictions was that we humans had an obligation to care for our non-human kinfolk, as God’s creatures worthy of dignity and love.  This little falcon was injured, and rather than write it off, and just euthanize it, Denise has helped it to heal, so we can return it to wild freedom.  We are intervening in the life of this little creature, on its behalf, as Ann and the UROMP “dog people” did when they have attempted to rescue cats and dogs from pain and death.  By doing this, we are showing a compassion that is quite beyond this little bird’s ability to comprehend.  That’s how I see it, anyway.
Aldo Leopold wrote a little treatise called “On a Monument to the Pigeon”, a chapter in the book A Sand County Almanac.  It was about the extinct passenger pigeon, and people’s regret at the death of a whole species.  He wrote, “To love what was is a new thing under the sun, unknown to most people and to all pigeons. … In this fact…lies objective evidence of our superiority over the beasts.”  In a similar way, we love what was, when we remember Ann’s sojourn on Earth.
A kestrel is a good animal to compare to Ann.  Like her, they are diminutive but powerful little beasts, dapper, tidy, fast, self-confident.  Fierce when it is called for.  I could carry the analogy too far, but I can’t think of a better bird to represent her. I will send it forth with my blessing on it’s little feathered head.  May it find a mate, and raise up many fledglings to carry on its line.  And though I will not confuse the bird with the woman, I am sure that I will never look at kestrels the same way after tomorrow.    

The kestrel in its cage before the release.

Tom shared a few more thoughts with us before the release:

I was introduced to the kestrel a few days ago. Denise put me in the mew, and this little bird flew back and forth past my head.  I tried not to flinch.  Obviously, he was not enjoying the experience.  I know that my friend Denise was doing this on the theory that it was doing me (or the kestrel) some kind of spiritual good, and perhaps it did. 
Denise said (and I hope she doesn’t mind repeating) that the kestrel had no given name.  She didn’t know this bird very well, but that was okay, because she felt she didn’t know Annie that well.  I told her, and repeat for all of you, that I think that was the experience of most of Ann’s friends.  People were instinctively attracted to her, liked or loved her immensely, and noted again and again how much attention, respect, and compassion she gave them.  She was intensely interested in the lives of others, yet she did not reveal that much about herself.  Only a few people were notably successful at finding out that much about the “inner Ann”.  So don’t let a feeling like that bother you.  I am quite sure that she loved you all.
I came up here last night to think, and watched a lone bat that was fluttering in the twilight, nailing insects on the wing. I looked at the “Remember the Maine”, and “Pearl Harbor”, and thought about how for me, the cliff will also remind me to “Remember Annie”.  I returned again with Mark this morning.  I noticed a group of vultures soaring past the American flag.  Soon, there was an impressive kettle of vultures, maybe 15 or more;  I suspect they have a night-time colonial roost in the canyons south of here.  Mark heard, then spotted, a golden eagle crying from the Witbeck pastures.  Violet-green swallows (or is it white-throated swifts?) rocket around the cliffs at warp speed.  If you walk the trails that lead into the riparian woods over there, you find lots of plants, lots of insects and birds, lots of life.  It is a beautiful place to remember someone.  Someone suggested that a memorial stone at one of the Vernal cemeteries would give Ann’s friends a place to visit, if they wished to think about her. 
Well, I am designating the cliff at Remember the Maine as the official Ann Schaffer Elder Memorial Stone. The Board of Geographic Names can take it up with me personally, if they don’t like it.  I know that many of us will pause to remember a great woman when we pass it.  Just to be clear, I know that this little bird is not Ann, though we release him in Ann’s honor.  And I don’t think her spirit will be here anymore than it is at my home, or your home, or in the Andromeda Galaxy. Ann is everywhere and nowhere to me now.  I trust that she is with God, and is not only at peace, but is well and happy.  We hope to stand in her presence again.
And now, little bird, though I my patriarchal blessing is a little rusty, I trust it will penetrate the pet carrier you are in.  May you live long and prosper.  Fly off and find your mate, raise up many fledglings, and may your descendents dominate Dry Fork Canyon for many generations.  And may you find a warrior’s death in defending against a great horned owl.”
The cat carrier had to be almost upended before the little falcon would come out.  He flew in a widening circle, forcing some of us to walk completely around the pavilion to keep him in view.  He landed on a cottonwood at the edge of the park.  Later on, he flew quickly upward, ascending to a ledge on the lower face of the cliff.  That was the last we saw of him.


Denise said...

That is such a moving post. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Gaelyn said...

Wow,it's like magic.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

wow Loran, What a neat way to memorialize someone. I know that when George and I die, we want our ashes (hopefully together) strewn over a waterfall, maybe Fall Creek Falls here in TN. I don't want any morbid service--but want people to have a celebration of my life.

What a wonderful tribute to Ann.

Janie said...

That sounds like a wonderful memorial. We can only hope Ann and those who loved her can find peace.