On Jumping Mouse, vultures and me

At the end of his children’s classic, ‘Jumping Mouse’, a retelling of a Native American story, the poet Brian Patten vividly describes the transfiguration of the little desert mouse, hero of the story. Like the hero of all good stories,but unlike his timid kin, Jumping Mouse is a brave explorer whose curiosity pushes him to see all of his world, the American prairie. So he discovers rivers and frogs, flowers and dying buffalo, and, eventually, the Sacred mountains and the eagle.

The story ends:

And then in the middle of his back Jumping Mouse felt an odd sensation, and up above he heard the noise an eagle makes. The Spots were coming to him now. He felt the rush of wind as huge wings came down from the sky and a bird descended on him. He was terrified as he felt the claws grab round his body, and then he did not mind at all. He felt himself being lifted from the ground.

The next thing he knew, Jumping Mouse was beginning to see again. He saw colours and shapes, and shades of light, and all the time he was rising higher and higher. He laughed! O he was sure he had wings! He was sure he could fly! It was wonderful this feeling! This rush of the wind! He felt that like the eagle he had a beak, and claws and perfect sight.

[…] Out on the Great Plain he saw the buffalo thundering along. And there was the frog by the Great River! Jumping Mouse felt so happy and free. He shouted down to his friend the frog, and his voice seemed changed. ‘Hello, Brother Frog,’ he called, all the time rising higher and higher.

And the frog looked up from the river and shouted: ‘Hello, Brother Eagle!’

(Jumping Mouse by Brian Patten, George Allan & Unwin Ltd., London, 1972)

Ever since I first read that story, aloud, to my small children in 1972, I have wanted, like Jumping Mouse, to, at the end, soar as an eagle. Achieving this, without the intervention of a god or magic, has seemed at times well beyond me. Like my unfulfilled ambition to be born Italian so that I can wear a white suit with impunity, it seemed beyond the capability of an ordinary human.

But now, I think I have cracked it. Historically, in the North American west and central plains, many Native Americans disposed of the dead by building wooden platforms on stilts, on which bodies were laid and left to decompose and be consumed by birds. That’ll do for me! I realise that eagles don’t eat carrion, but I’d settle for a vulture – they soar, don’t they?

A Native American Sky Burial

I realise also that Jumping Mouse was alive when he was taken by Brother Eagle, but I would have to be dead in this scheme. But to me what matters is the essence of the thing, being eaten by a soaring bird, not the timing of the meal.

Putting this plan into action presents certain practical difficulties. I cannot find anywhere in Europe with an even ancient tradition of sky burial. The Zoroastrians at times used the practise, but I have no connection with Zoroastrianism or Iran. Neither have I connection with Tibet where it is practised even today.

I do, though, have some, small, meso-American Amerindian ancestry, and they share common roots with the First Nation peoples of Canada. That’s close enough for me.

On enquiring I find that sky burial is no longer allowed in Canada or the US. Apparently if offends against all kinds of health and safety legislation. They trump my somewhat remote ethnic requirements, apparently. So, it’ll just have to be done clandestinely.

My plan: Get my body while still alive to Canada, to some under-populated province with lots of open wilderness and more than a few vultures. Find a susceptible relative with a spare room, a pickup truck, some basic platform building skills and a general disregard for pettifogging restrictions. Then wait for my final breath. Then, in a few warm days, and with a fair wind, I’ll be off and soaring.

Footnote: ‘Jumping Mouse’ is still in print. More details >> here.

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