The picture above is a memory, a little "movie poster" I made for fun for some of the IND blog gang after a bowling pin shoot when the temps were down in the single digits and Tam and Roberta X managed to kill all the bowling pins at the Conservation Club. Unintentionally, but literally, as they shattered from the cold. Such are memories of friends that we share.
If you've read Tam 's posts of late, you know about her diagnosis with basal cell carcinoma. As far as skin cancers go that one is rarely life threatening but it comes with it it's own special recipe for fear and pain. I wish I could do more, say more, here. To me, she's family. To Barkley she is his "other Mom", but to all of us, including so many she's not met, she is a source of great laughter, thought and the affirmation of an attitude that we are stronger than anything (but the urge for peppered bacon and molasses cookies with espresso sugar).
There will be others posting about it. One that you might wish to read is from my friend Erin Palette, and there are will be some folks in her comments as well as other friends helping to raise some money to help with costs. I also just found out that Dennis at Dragon Leatherworks who made my wonderful holster is having a raffle for a custom made Viper holster (see my upper right sidebar for the link) for folks that can donate $5.56 to Tam's tip jar.
For Tam, all I can offer is a hand when you need one, cookies and dog hair. And some words, about what really defines us. Fire and Ice. . . .
I watch very little TV, some History Channel, Mythbusters, Top Gear, Dirty Jobs, tapes of Firefly and Dead like Me, Red Green and Dr. Who. And yes, I like the original NCIS, even if I can chuckle at the science and how Abby knows everything, I'm a big fan. But once in a while I just can't resist, and in a fit of boredom, I will watch some run of the mill cop or CSI type show.
It's more entertaining than most of the TV shows out there now (I would eat a live bug without Shirachi sauce before I'd watch Honey Boo Boo). The majority of them are so far removed from actual reality that they hardly bear watching. The original CSI Vegas, though I actually liked, shelving the science and just watching the interactions between the characters which were well acted and crafted after personalities I knew very well. Once Grisom left, however I lost all interest. But from the very first episodes, the CSI spin offs were truly painful to watch.
TV is fantasy, what remains of a life is seldom so pretty and no one leans down over the "possible biological agent" victim wearing a low cut blouse playing "check the air for contaminants!" with what looks suspiciously, like an Etch a Sketch. If you don't suit up properly, to protect yourself from elements, the terrain, or a hoard of nasty biologicals, you will likely join them on the next table. But then again, there's not too many jobs where you can on occasionally rappel into work.
But it's not easy work, and sometimes one has to let it out somehow. Myself, only rarely, others -bloggers, first responders, LEO's, EMT's, openly writing about it, words that ignite, words that heal.
I thought about those words as I went for a morning walk and found the bones of a small animal out in the woods. How long had it lay here? Long enough for the bones to bleach to soft white, the flesh now part of the earth, the eyes, dark orbs of history. The shape was benign as if the creature simply stopped quietly and died, unlike other bones one finds in the wild, the animals of the tar pits, trapped in the primordial ooze in the posture of shock. Other animals dropped while running, the bones scattered by predators til the remaining pieces are simply laid out in a question mark.
These bones were in the shape of quiet sleep, as if the animal simply lay down, waiting for death to catch up, life holding on as the heart is letting go.
It only takes a few days for any animal to decompose at this time of year. It's why I've seen hunters lose good game, simply because, in the occasional hot temperatures of an Indian summer, a kill left too long can turn quickly. It's only a few days to return to bone, to the simplest components of life, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur. Only bones left, pressing into the soft welcoming earth, the soil a rich bed of late summer.
Sometimes all we find are bones, laid bare to the elements, or burned clean.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.-Robert Frost
With the right temperature all things will burn, yet bone itself stubbornly resists all but the hottest of fires. Even when all the carbon is burned from it, bone will still retain it's shape. An insubstantial ghost of itself, it crumbles easily, the last bastion of the person's being transformed into ash. Yet in that ash, remain large pieces, calcined and with the consistency of pumice, yet when held in the hand, almost seeming to posses a trace of warmth from within their core.
But even if they can not speak to me, sometimes what is left gives us a clue. Who was this person? In what manner of violence was their end? It's a world few wish to visit, yet it drives me, the mystery, the puzzle . . . . perhaps because I realize that the final mystery is ourselves.
The use of physical evidence to build a theoretical model of a given crime or accident scene involves a number of sciences, the chemistry of death, and the engineering of the body. Even in the cold quiet of the wood, I stop and survey the scene, making mental notes in my head. How long had it been laying here? Bones, especially ones that have burned, do not give up a time of death. For that you need to trace the extent of decomposition in volatile fatty acids, in muscle proteins and amino acids, all which are normally destroyed in a hot fire. Even in the woods, simply surveying my environment, my brain sifts through ideas, time lines and theory based on simple white bone.
So often, while fire and EMS valiantly does their work, I wait quietly in the wings, waiting to do mine. Skin almost blistering in the heat, hoping to get close enough to see a clue before its burned and gone, a time line of life and death lost to the flame. Fire doesn't just destroy paper and combustible evidence, it's disruptive to the analysis of bone trauma, especially separating fragmentation patterns resulting from perimortem trauma, such blunt force, projectile impact, etc., from those resulting from postmortem heat and fire modification. Fire suppression, though necessary, even if there is no chance of life remaining, also does its damage. The sudden cooling of hose streams fracturing or spalling bones that are hot, especially if they've gotten hot to the point of delamination of calcination, can cause harm that may or may not be salvaged in a laboratory. Then there's mechanical damage, direct hose impact, falling debris.
The tiny pieces of life's remains that still can speak to me are drowning in water. I stand helplessly by the scene, like a person watching a too late rescue swimmer, knowing the outcome, yet hoping for something from which I can put the dead to rest. I wait, too close for safety, not wanting to turn away, as fire roars right up against the night stars and the deep dark spaces. Wait, while the ice, the silent ice, drips from the trees, melting in the heat of the flame.
They can tell me a story.
It is usually not a story that would make a good television show, and it rarely can be wrapped up in a neat sixty minutes, but it is a story that needs to be told.
Today, so that others may learn, I craft another story as I watch a small fire, tended to warm a house surprisingly cold after a front came through. I watch the flames twist and sway in their age-old dance. As humans, we are more than our past, yet we seek its comforts, seeking life and connection with another. Seeking answers. As I do, gazing at a flame in a fireplace that warms something deep in me, something stirring in memory from the ashes as I go back to my work. Back to bones that will tell someone their story in front of the morning fire, as my own heart does, beaten and darkened by soot, containing in its core, one small piece untouched, that will smolder back into life with just the right breath on it.
Dreams in front of a fire. Entwined with well being, warm from a meal, sipping a Guinness, watching skin play in the firelight, warm noses snuffling against a neck glistening with the heat, a salt lick of nourishment. Not speaking, future or past. No promises. There might be no future, time and fate has changed that for all of us, but there was the present. This fire, this moment. Too soon, perhaps to be be only the past, gone up the chimney with the pinion smoke as the night recedes and soft dreamless sleep on the rug comes creeping in as that fire dies, though the embers remain
Life is ice and fire. You can't always control the outcome, whether you can save another, or even save yourself. What you can do is take what remains from the ruin, take that which brings you joy and move forward and live, battle scars and all. For me, is not the glamorous drama one sees on TV, done for the excitement, the money or the time off to go to the opera. You do this work because you want to, for no other reason. This was a mission that was not assigned, simply a garment of duty one felt compelled to pick off of a bare floor one cold morning when you stood alone with your soul.
That fire burns bright in you, exposing what is strong and good, what is still useful. You can not save every heart, but you can save your own. A heart diligent in its task, even if wounded in battle. Diligent perhaps because we've learned through our experiences, that life is precious. We will all be hurt, we will all die someday, but we will not all truly live. In doing this, with the small tools we have, with the minds God has given us, we do our part to see that perhaps just one person inherits more than the wind and the dark. In the saving perhaps we only save ourselves but that, sometimes, is enough. In that, no matter hard the duty, I live fuller, breathe deeper, and sleep with peace even as the shades of my night are sometimes singed with regret from those things I could not save.
It's time to put away the tea mug, and my thoughts. The scent of ancient woodsmoke remains in my hair, waiting to be breathed in deep, thankful to be alive so that I may speak for the dead and treasure that which remains. Life is a risk, never a possession, love and live accordingly.