I'm not sure why it would surprise anyone: I hunt. I write about hunting in a way that deeply examines why I hunt and how I justify and/or rationalize killing. And I have always had really vivid dreams.
Hank, who rarely remembers his dreams, is often blown away when I wake up and tell him where my mind has been. I dream crazy stuff.
Now, I write about this topic with some trepidation, because I know somewhere out there is a brainwashed PETA activist who's ready to tell me that dreaming of death is my subconscious's way of expressing guilt for my crimes against animals.
And I have wondered about that myself, particularly when the dream includes seeing my beloved cat Giblet - who is, at this second, dozing on my desk to be near me - dead and skinned. No getting around it: That's a pretty unpleasant dream.
Or maybe it's just a reminder that we all die eventually, and that we're all made of meat.
Most of my death dreams involve hunting. The more I'm hunting while I'm awake, the more I hunt in my dreams. While sleeping the other day, I snatched a Eurasian collared dove out of the sky, then held it in my hands and tried to figure out what next, given that - oopsie! - dove season was over, not to mention snatching from the sky is NOT a legal method of take for doves. (I have a deep-seated fear of breaking rules.)
Sometimes my death dreams seem really random. One of my more memorable ones recently involved me simultaneously saving some rats and killing others. (I kill animals for food, but I will go to ridiculous lengths to save a spider from getting washed down the bathtub drain. Hey, I don't eat spiders; nor do I think they should die just because humans invented big enameled tubs that bugs can't easily get out of.)
Before I go any further, I have to apologize to my mother, who might find this disturbing.
So, in this dream, I was going to be executed. I'm not sure what I'd done to deserve the death penalty, but that was irrelevant because I was going to die.
Here's the weird part: I was not remotely upset that I was going to die.
But I was absolutely freaking out because the method of execution was going to entail eight minutes of intense pain. I was shrieking for my mother. "MOM! MOM!! MOOOOMMMM!!!" That's something I probably haven't done, awake or asleep, for a good 40 years.
The last thing that happened in the dream was that Hank came to me, touched me on the shoulder and told me that the courts were intervening and that I would not be executed by the eight-minutes-of-pain method - they were going to come up with something else. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and woke up. Hank was touching my shoulder, telling me it was 5 a.m., time to get up.
So where, you might ask, does such a dream come from? As with all dreams, I can pick out bits and pieces from all over the waking world, evidence that my brain is processing lots of stuff.
Eight minutes of pain? My greatest concern when hunting. I hate it when I don't make a quick clean kill. (And like most humans, I can whip myself into a frothy mess anticipating pain.)
Not being concerned about the fact that I was going to be killed? Hunting has made me reflect on death a lot, and it has helped me understand that I probably won't be able to choose the time, method and reason for my death: I could be eaten by a mountain lion, or hit by a bus, or my heart could simply stop one day after a long and happy life.
Execution? Yeah, I've covered those. I witnessed one when I was a reporter in Virginia, and it isn't what you'd expect at all. They don't head for the lethal-injection gurney looking defiant and spitting profanities; they just look small and scared. Like they want their mommies.
The irony here? I was aware of it even in my dream: I think California's death penalty is a joke, because the appeals process is endless. Far, far more death-row inmates die of natural causes than get executed here. And there I was in my dream, appealing to the courts. Tsk tsk tsk. The hypocrisies that I loathe the most are my own.
If there are any professional dream interpreters reading this, though, you're probably wondering when I'll get to the obvious: In dreams, death is a symbol of major change that you're trying to adjust to. Like ... your boyfriend writing a book, going on book tour and appearing in newspapers, magazines, radio shows and TV shows all over the country.
Voila! Dream demystified.
I know. You're probably looking at the screen now the way Hank looked at me when I told him about that dream. It's OK. No need to call a doctor.
But, seriously. At the risk of incurring deafening silence: Am I the only hunter (or farmer) out there who dreams often of death? Or am I just the only one crazy enough to write about it?
© Holly A. Heyser 2011