Don't Bury Uncle Bob in the Back Yard
I loved my cat. Probably as much as my cousin, Malcolm, who owed me fifty bucks. So when she died — my cat, not Malcolm — I was unhappy. I remembered the words of Genesis. "Dust thou art and to dust returneth." How depressing. But I cheered up a little when I reread that big, black book and noticed that the author didn't specifically mention my cat, Queenie.
But, then, neither did William Wordsworth when he consolingly said, "dust thou art and to dust returneth was NOT spoken of the soul". How true, I thought. Then I noticed that William Wordsworth didn't specifically mention felines either.
What would the Libertarian manual say about this? I checked my thick, well-worn, dog-eared tome. It's OK to love animals, it says, but uh not too much. Leviticus agrees. This whole tragic topic arose when my well-mannered Calico named Queenie passed on to that catnip clovered meadow in the sky where mice are slow and dogs are toothless.
That's why I was in the backyard with Queenie under my arm and a shovel over my shoulder. Sadly, befitting my mood, I proceeded to my fig tree in the backyard. I'd plant her close to the roots of that fruit-bearing vegetable creature that would feed upon her bodily minerals. Instead of returning to dust, she'd return in the form of sweet, purple figs — the kind that long ago pleased the palates of Roman emperors 6,000 miles and two millennia hence.
After all, it was MY backyard. I had a deed for the property, which by the way included mineral rights. Then I thought of the Endangered Species Act. It wasn't entirely MY backyard anymore. Certain flora and fauna, though inhabitants of my property, were beyond my Jurisdiction. I had law abiding friends who were wary of digging worms for their fishing trips. You never know when you'd accidentally bisect one of your backyard tenants! And that's a crime.
And moving up to larger species, if I whacked a toothsome alligator by the back fence, the State would have my hide, not the alligator's. And there must be a long list of such species hanging on to survival by fingernails; all of whom could put me in the pokey.
Ah the State. They are ubiquitous; a word invented by some harassed Libertarian to describe the State's universal exertion of political authority. (See "universal" doesn't work, neither does "multiple" — that's why Libertarians who respect verbal precision need "ubiquitous".)
Everywhere we turn we find the visage of the State staring at us. Commanding, controlling. Alexander Pope, an 18th Century man and a great Libertarian, said it best.
"Vice is a monster of such frightful mien, as to be hated needs but to be seen."
Then he gets to the point that we libertarians understand.
"But seen too oft, familiar with her face we first endure, then pity, then embrace."
I like to think he is talking not about sin, but about the State's encroachments. Legal creep. A law here, a law there — mostly well intentioned. We endure, then grip, then embrace the bars of our cage.
But that night such weighty matters drove sleep from my bed. Because instead of sweet dreams of Jessica Simpson flying me to Cannes as her publicist and personal masseuse, I envisioned my backyard full of dirt-digging, diesel-powered excavators looking for Queenie's 13-pound carcass. The Corpus Delicti — the incriminating evidence the State would use to lock me up. The ubiquitous inquisitional State must have rules banning backyard burial, I thought. (Don't snicker yet! Wait 'til I give you some data.)
That very next morning after a bracing, caffeine-laced coffee, spiced with a shot of bourbon, I called the Mayor's office. After grasping the general topic — backyard burial — a polite aide to the mayor sent me to the appropriate municipal office.
I thought it better to start with a hypothetical case instead of Queenie, now happily chasing slo-motion mice. So, I described to the lady my mythical Uncle Bob. He lived with us, I explained, and was getting on in years. And one day, hopefully, decades away, Bob would swap his denim Alabama emblazoned shirt which he wore 5 days a week, for the fluffy wings of an angel. (I threw in the Alabama shirt as a sop to a favorable decision. If the mayor's aide wasn't a BAMA fan, she wouldn't be the mayor's aide.) And it was Bob's wish to be interred in our backyard, I explained. (I didn't mention the fig tree, but it did occur to me that IF there was an Uncle Bob, and IF they let me plant him in the backyard — and IF I laid him next to the fig tree — well, can you imagine the figs!)
My expert on municipal code interrupted my story of Uncle Bob's final wishes to say, "No Way"! She said it in a five-minute monologue, which translated into those two short words. She admitted I could apply for the privilege of turning my half acre lot into a single tombstone cemetery — but even if permission was granted for this exception to the code — the county and the state also had to be convinced.
I answered with the single word, "Why". The city's concern, she informed me, was what she called proper maintenance of the grave site.
But isn't that up to me and Uncle Bob himself, I thought. Why were the civic authorities taking on this grisly role of advocacy for this deceased Alabama fan? There were legal questions, too, she rambled on. What if I sold the house — does Uncle Bob go with the property — like the Tulip bulbs in the backyard garden along the fence? What if the neighborhood changed and a builder put up a condo? What would become of my mythical uncle then?
But I broke in on her legal lecture. "I have a confession to make," I declared to this well-informed minion of the state.
Evidently she also had a sense of humor because her comeback to me was, "I hope it's about a small animal". I hastily told her, "yes, yes. My cat, Queenie — I had laid out beside the fig tree". No problem. But there were size limits, she said, and if Queenie had been a dinosaur, a woolly mammoth, an elephant, rhinoceros, even a horse — well, there could be a problem.
I didn't ask why. I just focused on that dinosaur and imagined the lush produce of my fig tree.