Always a Beginner: Writing and Life and Death

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When I lived in Michigan, I had four llamas.  One of them, a beautiful young gold and white one-year-old, died, and I watched one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen.  For a full day, the remaining three llamas walked, in a tight group, around and around their fenced acre, humming for their lost companion.  At the end of the day, they came away from the fence and became a herd of three.  If you’ve ever heard a llama hum, you’ll know it can be–like a train whistle in the distance–a mournful and seductive sound.  Llamas are herd animals.Bismarck

On September 16th I travelled to the town where I grew up to be with my three cousins at the funeral service for their sister who died after an eight-month battle with cancer.  In the church where I was raised, I read the Lessons and I told the story of the llamas.  I believe my cousins are walking and humming.  One day they will come away and they will be a herd of three.




I published a post here recently about a three-month-long struggle with my website and the company that contracted to rebuild it.  Websites do eventually get rebuilt and start to work again, but sometime during the long months when my blog was unusable I found myself not able to write at all.  The topic of that blog was the phoenix rising from its ashes.

The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection.   We step from our own ash heaps onto new paths.

T.S. Eliot wrote,

“We will never cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/And to know the place for the first time. . ./And all shall be well and/All manner of thing shall be well.”


And, so I sit here at my laptop, my cat beside me, waiting for the arrival of my grandson, doing what writers do–typing words onto the page, word after word, when a direction isn’t clear, when the Muse isn’t sitting on my shoulder, when there’s just me and a keyboard and a determination to walk, to hum, to begin again.


A long time ago I made a commitment to publish a blog post every Sunday.  I was stopped temporarily by the vicissitudes of technology.  I stopped myself for a few weeks longer while I travelled to bear witness in the company of people I love.  I am putting together a book of photographs from the weekend with my cousins, using others’ words–journal entries and comments from a CaringBridge site.

I am putting my own words together into sentences and paragraphs and thoughts.

I am walking and I am humming.

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8 Responses to "Always a Beginner: Writing and Life and Death"
  1. Steve Rothrock says:

    Mournfully beautiful, Dean.

  2. Audra Jean says:

    I miss you, Dean, and your llamas. You bring beauty to my life; whether reflecting on sorrow or joy.

  3. A beautiful post! I’m so sorry for your loss. I noticed your online absence. May your herd heal and reform.

  4. lisa wayman says:

    Beautiful, and now you wait for a grandson. The juxtaposition of death and life is a reminder how fragile and precious life is.

  5. Mary Clark says:

    As always, you leave me in awe of your writing, your thoughts, your spirit!

  6. This is beautifully written. Thank you for sharing one of your llama stories. Love that last line: “I am walking. I am humming.” I hope you’re surviving no thriving during this busy month.

  7. Kat Varn says:

    What a reminder of why I enjoy reading what you write Dean….

  8. Ellen Bunton says:

    I can almost hear the llamas humming.

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