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Bare bones (05/02/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

"I'm blue to the bone," an old country song goes. We have bone-dry, "Bony Marino," our mother's nose, chilled to the bone, tired bones, and a bone to pick. If you have the latter, pick a wishbone...it will get you in far less trouble.

Come as you are to the rigors and creature comforts of life. The prettiest packages aren't always the most charming gifts. Beauty isn't rewarded with longevity. Consider the enchanting mayfly. Even if the insect survives a ravenous river trout attack, a mayfly's life span is usually only hours or a few days.

These fairy-like beauties emerge in spring, from underwater rock beds, from a larval stage which may last several years. During a "spring hatching," the mayflies make their way to the water's surface to dry their wings, as they break free from caddis shell cocoons, made of pieces of twig and leaf.

The drama unfolds as the glip! glip! of trout pluck their prey from gurgling water. It's a sight to behold, the emergence of the mayflies, and their gauzy, sea green, iridescent wings. The fact that the river trout have been feasting on mayflies for centuries hasn't put these gems, fresh from a river's vacuum of liquid energy, on any endangered species list.

"Bones, them bones, them dry bones." I believe that animals are keenly aware of a death experience. A horse is spooked by a bare skull, or any bones, on the ground at its path, rearing up in fear against emotions man can only reckon. (Walk a mile in my hooves!)

As a mother elephant anguishes and cries over her dead calf, doomed to a pile of bones, sorrow seems apparent. She must be coaxed to move on with the rest of the herd, and often lingers for days.

It's all in the bone structure - whether we are homo sapiens, marsupial, mammal, prehistoric, alien, or elf. (The proof is in the cadaver.) The only bone I've broken is my tailbone (left with nothing to wag.) With Parkinson's, it seems that my feet are always two steps behind my intentions.

As a young girl, I had a bone of contention against the skeletal composition of the wide, blank, clone faces of Holstein milk cows, their mindless chewing, back when my bones carried considerably less fat, more muscle, and abundant spunk. Out on my two aunts' and uncles' farm near Bethany, kids were not allowed near the barn at milking time. It riled the bonehead cows!

As we peeked in the barn door anyway, in balmy evening air, all at once turned steamy sweet and putrid, chains clanged and hooves nervously retorted. Sometimes, trying to be quiet is the loudest noise one can make. A mournful beller or two was our cue to hightail it back to the wide open spaces of the lush green lawn, its apple orchard and overflowing garden plot.

As I write, navy beans are soaking in a kettle of water, preparing to simmer with the ham bone from Easter, for succulent soup, to put meat on our tired bones. If we were dog folks, the bone would have been spoken for by now.

When our bones turn to dust, the stark white of all skeletal remains is indisputable, a link between all races and species. Are the bones of our ancestors, put to rest with their bone china, rising to the surface of cesspools in our own backyards? No matter. When they left this earth, their souls broke away from flesh and bones and soared.

Bone for bone..."We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike," Maya Angelou has noted...a bona fide statement. 


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