Of mice and mortality

The summer I spent as a camp counselor in Colorado seems more like a vivid dream than any real and true experience I could prove. One throw-away camera worth of memories at a time I felt I needed to test the tethers and assert my independence.

I lived on a squeaky metal frame bed just big enough for a sleeping bag In a canvas platform tent on a burnt-out mountainside. I went by a different name, and walked each morning past a horse pasture to a little log cabin. There were bears.

Each afternoon, dark clouds would gather and there would be time for rest. On the days it didn’t rain, I would retreat to a hidden spot with a rock, big and moss-barnacled like the back of a breaching whale. I would sit on the rock and listen to music and stare at the sky. When it rained, I spent time alone in my tent, reading and feeling heart sick.

At some point, a small mouse died not far from the tent, just off the path where I would walk a dozen times a day. I first noticed it when its soft brown body was still plump. I thought about moving it, burying it under a pile of leaves. I didn’t. Instead, I watched it transform from a creature of flesh back into a piece of the earth. It was a slow process, and I remember a second sadness when I could no longer make out the mouse shape on the ground.

Maybe it’s strange, but in the near decade since that summer, I’ve often thought of that mouse. It served as a sweet reminder of my own mortality. I don’t know quite what made me want to share that memory. Maybe the passing of fall and the tendency to look at what rests among the leaves. Or all the moments since that I’ve frozen with a photo, when this mouse will only ever exist as a nameless creature from a time that doesn’t even seem like it belonged to me. In the telling, I feel I’ve resurrected it a bit. Enough that maybe you would imagine its existence and spare a moment to think of something so small and beautiful. Sometimes that’s the reason I write.

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