Personal Perspective: Caroline Hunt

Assistant Editor-in-Chief Caroline Hunt explains her relationship with oxen and learning to overcome childhood burdens.

I have been in an “ox” phase recently.

By this I mean, quite simply, that I have felt a sense of intense cosmic connectedness to that animal.

I felt this connection first at the beginning of last summer. In a dream, I parked my car and, quite suddenly, an ox appeared by my side.

As I write this, I feel an immense grief for my bovine friend. Nearing 20 times my weight, the gentle creature took on the lightness of a labrador as it trotted beside me. Its massive horns and strong, ginger-furred, forehead worked as my guide.

I had an appointment to get to, so we had to move fast. Our journey took us through the different climates and sceneries of San Diego, places I have known since birth as my home. The sleek hills of Rancho Santa Fe morphed into the sea-walled-in sands of Solana Beach, the daisy fields of Encinitas and the red bluffs of Del Mar and Torrey Pines.

A panic overcame me as I realized there was no way for my ox and me to get to the appointment on time. I thought about going back to my car, but I knew that there was no way an ox would fit inside even my spacious 2013 Honda Pilot. I knew I needed to leave my ox behind. So that’s what I did.

When I woke up, I was overcome with guilt. I couldn’t explain it, but it clung to me.

A few weeks after I said goodbye to my ox, I brought the dream to my therapist. We pored through books, searching for symbolic meanings of oxen.

Oxen are, to be somewhat crass, castrated bulls. They are domesticated draft animals that seem to stay on the back burner of history. They have, for centuries, taken on the heaviest loads of mankind.

These “beasts of burden,” as they are often called, seemed suddenly to me to be the unsung heroes of our ancestors. I studied Han Huang’s Tan-era work, “Five Oxen,” Peter Christian Thamsen Skovgaard’s 1874, “Two Oxen Pulling a Cart,” and the Egyptian Middle Kingdom’s “Model of a Man Plowing,” in which a peasant is posed at the helm of a plow pulled by two oxen.

The ox from my dream, I determined, was a subconscious manifestation of my dad.

My dad died when I was eleven years old. Complications as a result of long-term alcoholism. But in many ways, I lost my dad long before that; I had been grieving the dad I knew since the day he lost his job when I was six, since the day I moved out of my childhood home when I was eight.

This brings me back to the ox, to my beautiful, tragic beast of burden. I realized that alcoholism was my dad’s burden, one that he was unable to overcome. My dad was born May 8, 1968, a Taurus, the sign of the bull.

But more than that, what has perhaps cemented the ox’s special place in my psyche, is the connection I drew between myself and the ox.

If alcoholism was my dad’s burden, he was mine. For years I carried with me the responsibility for taking care of and worrying about my dad, no matter how inconvenient. I would let my dad come over to my mom’s, sister’s and my apartment and try to fix my bike, to let him feel like a dad again.

My dad and I were both beasts of burden. The difference between us, though, is the fact that I have learned, very gradually, to shed that burden. The summer after he passed I felt this odd sensation. There was grief, but there was also freedom. I biked around my neighborhood because I could. I climbed trees because I didn’t need to bring anything with me. No 3,000-pound ox, no guilt, no burden.

That is not to say the burden is gone. I still work through grief, but I also feel pride.

A mere month after my dream I went on a Spanish immersion trip to rural Costa Rica, and on one of my last days there, I learned about the significance of carretas, or “oxcarts.” They have come to symbolize the hardworking spirit of the country and the strength of its people. I saw one of these carretas, painted with intricate patterns and drawn by two ginger and white oxen. I stroked their horns and foreheads in a sort of trance.

I know my dad would be proud that even though he could not, I have not let myself be a beast of burden.

That’s why I’ve been in an ox phase. I hope it never ends.

Photo by Anna Opalsky/Falconer

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