Where the Red Fern Grows

20 Sep

When I was a little girl I was enamored by a book called Where the Red Fern Grows, a children’s novel about a boy growing up in the Ozark mountains during the depression. He so longs to own two coon hounds that he saves his money for two years in order to purchase them. What follows is a tale of his adventures with Little Ann and Old Dan, two magnificent companions and hunting partners. At the story’s end, Little Ann dies and Old Dan expires almost immediately afterwards following his dear heart to heaven. A few months later a red fern grows over their burial plot. According to Indian legend a red fern marks sacred territory.

Red fern

My eight year old heart was profoundly moved by the story’s end – the fact that the dogs died one right after the other and that their burial area became sacred ground. Now at forty-four years old, I am struck by my memories of that story as I watched one of my cats follow the other to heaven yesterday.

My cat Hafiz had been battling some kind of illness for months which ultimately was determined as intestinal cancer. As I watched him lose half his body weight, I knew he was living on borrowed time and began the grieving process. Yet the other cat, Rumi had always been the epitome of health. He’d only been to the vet twice in his life. I was therefore shocked to discover that a day after I made the decision to put Hafiz down, Rumi was suddenly panting, vomiting and frothing at the mouth. I rushed him immediately to the after hours vet where they claimed he was critical but could tell me little more without a smattering of tests. As his panting subsided I took him home with me and then watched as he became lethargic, peed blood and holed himself up in the closet. My vet, the one who comes to the house felt a tumor when she examined him and thought perhaps he’d been incubating cancer all along but had been asymptomatic. Yet now he was quite sick and we realized he was going fast. In fact, in the end he was more ill than Hafiz. To keep him alive would have been cruel. And so they went together.

They came into the world and left it in tandem. And there was something deeply sacred about the whole process.

Little Ann and Old Dan…

There was also another story I latched onto as a young girl. It was a picture book called Annie and the Old One that the school librarian read to us. It told the story of a young Navaho girl, Annie who adored her grandmother. One day the grandmother told Annie that when she finished the rug she was making, she would leave Annie and go into the forest to die. Each night Annie secretly pulled a strand out of the loom unraveling her grandmother’s progress from that day in an effort to keep the rug forever unfinished. The grandmother eventually realizes what is happening and pulls Annie aside to love and comfort her but explain that death is inevitable.

Why as a youngster I was drawn to these two stories and can remember them like yesterday, I really can’t say. I didn’t lose anyone to death as a child. And yet even then I knew deep attachments were mysterious, beautiful and exquisitely painful.

I woke up this morning sobbing. But when I meditated a little later, I felt Rumi looking down on me from the after life, a much older consciousness than I ever realized or gave him credit for.


In the circle of life, there are no breaks.

One Response to “Where the Red Fern Grows”

  1. Leslie February 15, 2017 at 9:39 pm #

    Beautiful. I too had similar feelings about this book as a child.

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