K. Mennem 6:15 p.m., May 21
One morning when we were living in Louisville, Kentucky for two years, my daughter, Daisy, and I took our Malamute, Buddy, for his daily walk. It was early November and the leaves had already changed into their dying colors and had begun to gather around the callous trunks of their creators. The leaves would remain where they had fallen, like shameful evidence of a difficult life, until the brisk north winds came to sweep them away down an infinite number of vacant streets that seemed to have no names.
Halloween was behind us and Thanksgiving was approaching and in December so was the snow, Daisy’s birthday, and then Christmas. Fall and winter were different than the ones I was used to in Southern California; our trees (I’ll never not feel that I, as a native San Diegan, am not an ingrained part of the beautiful California geography as well as it being a part of me; even California’s name, I sometimes think with pride, is big and wonderful!) only seem to change their colors slightly, as if indicating a slight mood change like embarrassment or irritation, and their leaves, for the most part, stay on stubbornly all year around. Without their leaves, I wondered if the trees that actively participate in autumn find it hard to breathe during the cold months, and I also wondered if they didn’t desperately look forward to the nurturing green warmth of life that spring would eventually exhale over them.
Buddy, as he always did, pulled aggressively on his leash as I walked behind, restraining him. The persistent tension on the leash between us fulfilled his breed’s instinctive and incessant need to pull. Buddy walked energetically in front of us enthusiastically smelling the same bushes, fences, and trees along the sidewalk that he’d smelled the day before as if they were now suddenly fresh and brand new.
The previous evening Daisy and I had watched Disney’s Fantasia, one of our favorite movies, and it rested there fresh in her mind. We were discussing one relatively insignificant thing or another when, out of the blue, my daughter uttered these words: “The dinosaurs are all dead,” she said sadly, looking at the ground as we walked, “because the other dinosaurs made them drink mud.”
This was Daisy’s interpretation of the Fantasia segment that depicted the reign and then the extinction of the dinosaurs as Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” underscored the drama and beauty of that particular piece in the film.
Daisy’s statement will always stand out as one of the most profound things she has ever said to me, and in recognizing this I didn’t want to spoil it by explaining to her that the concept of totalitarianism exceeded the average dinosaur’s extent of cognition, so I just said, “Yeah, I know, Daisy. It’s really too bad, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Daisy sighed, nodding her head as she thought about peasant dinosaurs being forced by their imperialistic counterparts to consume mud until they died.
Maybe, at that moment, it wasn’t even the words she spoke but the way she spoke them that affected me so deeply. At not quite yet four years old she seemed so wise and so full of sadness; the dinosaurs’ departure from our planet was only one of a thousand heartbreaking inevitabilities she was unable to prevent but still harbored enough compassion to mourn the loss of.
Oh, Daisy, my darling and sympathetic daughter.
One of Daisy’s Christmas presents that year was a copy of Disney’s Fantasia 2000. I was hoping it would inspire her to think of and then say something delightful. Alas, the newer version, although beautiful to watch as well as listen to, provoked nothing substantial from her … but she and I still have our whole lives ahead of us for her to think of other things to say that will cause me to smile and then immediately afterward experience an aching sense of love and kindred satisfaction that will last forever.