I think it’s apparent to anyone who has had a cat that cats saunter easily between here and the hereafter and back again. Many live cats disappear outdoors and appear days later in a closet that hasn’t been opened in weeks, their ability to walk through walls already well mastered before they shake loose of their skin.
Once they have passed on, again, it is nothing for them to slip back here and be seen, regularly, even by people who never knew them in life, napping in a favorite sunbeam or sitting in the window.
Even the most rational people have been known to settle into bed and feel the weight of a cat on the blankets near their feet, even if they have never owned a cat.
Dogs, on the other hand, though well-known for noticing the dead, tend not to spend too much time while living bothering with them. Dead dogs, being easily distracted, tend to only haunt the kitchen, if they bother with haunting anywhere. Many people report hearing the clinking of nails on linoleum or the soft silvery click of a license on a collar in the kitchen long after a dog has passed on.
Dogs don’t really feel regret, other than about not getting that one piece of steak they really wanted, and so they aren’t often ghosts. They die and things catch their attention and they are off after a new scent or a movement in the bush and, by the time they think to circle back home, there you are, dead yourself.
Sometimes a dog will haunt with you. They are loyal that way.
But I can’t help but wonder about other things. Does every living thing have the ability to haunt once it’s dead? Is there such a thing as a ghost chicken?
I admit, I laugh at the thought of a ghost chicken. But then you hear stories about how a momma chicken will throw her whole body over a brood of chicks to protect them from owls, even if it might mean her own death. And you wonder–is there something about even a chicken that might linger?
But what about a ghost jellyfish? Or a phantom amoeba? A haunting mushroom?
Some things are impossible to imagine.
I would have never thought of a ghostly tree, even though there’s something very person-y, though utterly inhuman, about the trees in my yard, always looking like mad scientist about to convene out by the creek.
But I’ve heard of just such a case up in Hendersonville, in a subdivision just off New Shackle Island Road, which I will leave unnamed, so that they are not inundated with looky-loos. Before the subdivision was built, there was an ancient oak standing in a field. Four people joining hands could barely stretch around it. It was in terrible shape. Parts were dead and parts were dying. Twice, during one spring, huge branches broke off and crashed to the ground with such force people nearby called the police, thinking the noise was some kind of explosion.
Still, it was something to see, ancient and wild, thick with leaves that often seemed to move as much with the memory of old breezes as with anything you could feel under it.
Sadly, though understandably, once it was obvious that the field was destined for houses, the tree was chopped down.
That does not stop the tree from casting shadows on the houses near where it once stood. I have been in a back bedroom, looked out a south-facing window onto a sunny back yard, and I have seen that there is no sunlight in that bedroom, as if something still blocks the light. I have heard there’s a kitchen in which you could even make out the dappled shapes of the shadows of leaves on the floor in front of the patio door. The builder, free of charge, put a tree right in front of the patio doors, so that it is now not so apparent that those shadows have nothing to make them.
And I can’t explain it. They say there are two types of ghosts. Some are actual sentient beings, who either can’t or won’t move on. Others, they say, are like memories, held in a place by means we don’t yet understand, which play out like old movies, when the conditions are right.
Who knows which the Hendersonville tree is? Either it remembers that it was once alive or that place remembers it. It’s hard to know how much of a difference there is between either scenario.