They happened upon it last year in the Spring, already the land calling the fur and blood, fat and gristle, back into it, lapping hungrily at life. She had died on one of the trails crisscrossing the property, circled up, and taken her final good breath. They told me about her because there should be some benefit to having a witch for a wife or a mother and one such is that we know how to tend the dead.
Which we do.
From their description, she sounded pretty far gone—the fox, and so I sensed we should not interrupt the ceremony between her and the land as they were in the thick of their alchemy. A Summer passed and in Texas, the Summer is just as, if not more, likely to strip you down to the bone. It did her. So they brought me her bones later that Autumn, my beloved, and my two boys.
Fragile skull and teeth dulled with age but still with enough of a grip to grab. Delicate slivers of leg and exquisitely curving ribs shaped like needles and colored like the Moon. They brought me her bones because again – a witch for a mother and a witch for a wife should know how to tend the bones, how to keep them and sing to them, and how to bring them back to order. I do and I did.
They are familiar to me now, these fox bones. I know her kits still live on the land not that far from where she left her life, now they are grown foxes themselves with dens of their own. My father catches sight of them in the gloaming from time to time and my mother hears their conversations. I whisper to the bones. Stay safe, keep your younglings on the land right where they are, where no bulldozer or cedar eater threatens den and the season’s litter. This is what I speak and sing and the bones listen.
It is Ancestor Time. Bone Season.
I am building the big altar that will take pride in place in our living room. Marigolds are hanging gracefully on either side, providing a frame of color and scent as they dry on their strong twine. Monarchs, those little Ancestor Angels that come out at the same time of the year as our Beloved Dead are circling about the Milkweed we planted earlier in the season, some preparing to journey even farther South into Mexico, some Wintering in place here.
I do not have the bones of my Ancestors. I have instead of the ashes of two and dirt from the graves of countless others. Graveyard dirt. Good medicine for a certain kind of spell. It is bone dust not just of my Beloved Dead but of so many other creatures who live and die, their lives held in the firm and fragrant arms of the soil.
I don’t need the actual bones to get started and have a conversation. In my experience the Dead are always keen to speak to the living, it’s just a matter of learning how to listen.
I go to work out. Holding a plank pose for a minute, then another. Now with one leg suspended in the air. Now doing a pushup. Folding forward, holding my arms just so as my hands describe floreos in the air. Skin and muscle hugging my bones. Bones that, as I pass through the 41st gate of my life, feeling stronger than ever. I hear my Ancestors in those moments. See them in the parts of my body that move with a remembered grace that I know does not belong only to me. I see them too in the places that bend and creak and sputter in protest, those flashes of pain are also not mine alone.
See? Always speaking to us.
It is the Hunter’s Moon tonight. The animals that made it through the Summer now have thickening pelts and full bellies. Bright eyes under that golden moon – the better to spy you with. I know some good hunters and have the privilege of calling several of them family. Men and women who grieve every life they take, who work with every part of the creature they cull, filling their freezers and the iceboxes of others with meat for the Winter and tending to the bones too. They are witches of a kind themselves as they care for what usually remains unseen as it resides under fat and muscle and fur or otherwise deep in the earth. The unseen that so often ripples out and makes itself be seen in myriad forms. The invisible hand that brings the marionettes to life so that they may tell us a tale. Bones are like that. Their presence makes movement, makes the story, a possibility
We honor them by seeing them, keeping them strong and supple, speaking and singing to them. We honor them by listening to what they need and what they would have us know.
They ask us to remember.
She is on that Ancestor altar now, the Vixen, a messenger running the tree line that separates the realm of the living from the realm of the dead. Red tail flicking like fairy fire in the mist. It is the Hunter Moon and I am tracking her but make no mistake, she is hunting me, calling to me with her Fox song. Asking me to listen. And so I shall sit down in the dark morning hours and do exactly that. hunter’s moon, hunter’s moon, hunter’s moon