Who almost certainly did not call himself (or herself, I could not bring myself to quite that level of examination of the deceased, gender identity is complex enough while you are alive, and moot afterwards) northern, or short-tailed, or Blarina brevicauda, or anything we would understand. Almost certainly he, or she, spoke one or more languages of his or her own tribe and clan, and maybe a trading jargon among the smaller predatory species, and a bit of the victims’ vocabularies—speaking a little grasshopper or mouse would be advantageous, you would think; enough to read sign.
There are so many vocabularies, finally. We don’t think about this. We are a self-absorbed species. I guess all creatures are self-interested, for understandable reasons, but maybe the whole evolution thing for us is to find a way past that, you know? Can it be that this ostensible dominion, as we called it, leaning on the authorless Book for moral legitimacy, was not about authority and power and control and shepherding and corralling as it was slowly coming to grips with how much we don’t know? Like shrews: You have to admit that for all the things we know about shrews we don’t know hardly a thing. Their kings and visionaries, their sagas and nations, their spirits measured not by our sense of religion and prayer but by theirs. What a frontier!
And here lieth one, himself or herself an unknown country. The sucklings loved, the songs sang, the stories told in tunnels beneath the flowers, the sidewalk; all of this and so much more utterly beyond my ken, and I thought I was subtle, foolish mammal that I am. But maybe this death is more than only terrific news for the recycling crews in the grass; maybe it is an illuminatory event. Isn’t that possible? And not just for me and you but for all of us? Ah, it’s so easy to sneer, but how much more interesting to not; to ponder a world made billions of times more dense, wild, riveting, astounding, webbed; a world like it might have been imagined, once, beyond our own imagination; or still is being imagined; perhaps by us. Could it be that every time we say god we’re talking to our secret selves?
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author of ten books, including, most recently, the novel Mink River.