The Making Of A Roadside Prayer
I don’t know what the statistics are for Native New Yorkers knowing or not knowing how to drive – I know Native New Yorkers who can’t drive at all and never have and ones who can and do. I got my license when I was 16 but didn’t really drive much until I went away to college in Geneseo, New York in the far western part of the state.
While I’m certain that I saw roadkill from the backseat somewhere in my life as a passenger, there was something jarring to me as a young driver seeing it from the front seat as if for the first time…or times. There was a certain stretch of Interstate 390 near my college that I traveled often that just seemed to always have dead animals just off the road and certainly the bloody bodies were sometimes on the black top as well. I found it heartbreaking and choked back breath and salt tears more than once. I didn’t know what to do beyond to keep driving despite the bloated bodies and red, fur-flecked smears.
Many years later I was in Ireland for a wedding and the day before the wedding I was told that a famous place for prayer was a relatively short distance away but the only time to go was the next day, early in the morning, before the wedding. So the next day I ventured by train from Dublin to Kildare to go pray at Brigid’s Well, a place that had been a sacred devotional haven for a long time before Christianity was ever even an idea. When I got off the train I asked the station manager for directions and he pointed me down the road and then to make a right and basically go straight for a few miles on country roads. He said it was probably a 30 or 40 minute walk. Mere steps out of the station I came across a pancaked black bird right in the middle of the road clearly run over by a car. But the body of the bird was basically dried. Thinking that the bird body could never really get absorbed back into the earth and would be continually forgotten there, I decided to bury this bird. So I peeled the bird body off the blacktop and walked the remains to a tree a few steps away and used a stick to dig a shallow grave. And I spoke the best that I could to the bird, the tree, and Brigid. And with that done I continued on my way. As soon as I made the right hand turn I was instructed to make, the exact same type of bird – same coloring, same beak, same size – landed on my right on the top of a stone wall. And this bird walked with me, not hopped, not flew. Walked in pace with me for the length of the wall 500 or 600 feet. Looking at me from time to time. I was amazed and unnerved and my senses were prickling and electrified. Here is a picture of the bird and the wall. I almost never take pictures but I had the sense that something remarkable was happening.
At the end of the wall the bird looked at me for a long time, hopped a bit closer, and then flew off. As I left the proper town of Kildare and to the countryside outside of Kildare the path was not as clear as the stationmaster had made it to be. There was no signage and there were turns to make. At every spot where I thought “I’ve gone too far. I’ve missed something. Will I miss the train back?” At every spot where I had that thought within a few steps I found a black feather on the ground. Keep walking. That feather was on one side of a cross road, take the right. And I picked up each feather and said a prayer of thanks with each one. And I made it to Brigid’s Well.
Two years ago there was a four month period here, in New York City, where I must have buried twenty birds. Birds that I came across on the street and in parks just recently dead, birds that flew into windows right in front of me, birds that landed in front of me, passed out and then died in my hands that I begged for them to live. And with each one I dutifully dug a hole and whispered prayers into their little ears. At one point I asked out loud, from deep in my heart and gut “Why me?” There was only silence as a full response.
I write about all this today to you, with all that is going on in the world, and in our country, because I came across a woman on Instagram that makes it her devotional practice to stop for roadkill and give them flower bedecked burials. And that seems to be a worthy skill in a time like this that is full of endings…being able to mark them, grieve, and make beauty with them. Read her simple words about a porcupine she found on her drive to Colorado a few days ago. I didn’t have such capacities as a young driver despite all I was seeing. To stop. And to attend in this way.
I’d make the case that this kind of remembering is an important mode in our times. It certainly isn’t the only mode but it is one that flows from the heart and gut of Amanda Stronza most genuinely. My own approach towards making Primal Derma is related by remembering the cows and using the tallow in a way that honors their life and their deaths. Maybe Primal Derma and Amanda Stronza’s work will move you towards such rememberings in this time in your corner of the world.
If this post brings up any questions or responses – I’d love to hear them and you’ll be responded to in full.
Thanks for your ongoing orders and support. I’m really grateful.
Until soon enough,