“Here it is. Here’s what Danny wanted so badly to return.”
I’m shooting an interview at the home of Myke Chutter, a biologist who could pass for Robert Redford’s younger cousin. He’s clad in jeans and a vest in the drizzly Pacific Northwest afternoon, standing outside his backyard shed. In his weathered palm, he’s gingerly holding a circular calcified stone.
“I researched the stone and discussed it with scientists familiar with bone and rock and we concluded that it was a concretion composed of carbonate rock that had formed around a seed material much like a pearl forms around a grain of sand. It is possible that the seed object could have been a small piece of bone.”
The artifact is a long way from its original home. It was retrieved by a young 28 year old Daniel Northcott from a Mayan cave, in the heart of the Yucatan penisula. Dan (Myke’s nephew) was on a mission to travel the world, documenting his perspective, shared by mystics and sages, that all of life was one brilliant, evolving organism. He called his expression of the theory “orbicularity.” Dan also loved to collect souvenirs from his travels as a way of staying connected to the place, and the gods. This was his intention when gathering the “bone” even though he was warned repeatedly by the local guides.
‘People who take things from this sacred cave, they become sick.’ ‘But I want it so bad,’ replied Daniel, who perhaps not ironically, recorded the entire event.
Daniel took the bone. 8 months later, he was diagnosed with leukaemia, a bone cancer. After a year long battle with the illness, which he also documented in unflinching detail, Dan died on June 20, 2009.
“Do you think the bone had anything to do with his illness?” I asked Myke, on camera.
“Do I think the bone caused his illness? No, no I don’t think that,” said Myke with a laugh. “But I do believe Dan thought there was a connection, and I know he wanted to return the bone. He never could find it.”
Near the end of his life, Daniel lamented that he had misplaced the artifact. It wasn’t until a year after his death that his mother and sister Erin Northcott found it in the storage locker. Perhaps out of respect, or a little superstition, they gave the bone to Uncle Myke “the scientist” for safe-keeping.
In his will, Dan asked his sister to take his 1000+ hours of footage and finish his film. “How will I know what to do?” she had asked. “You’ll know. A team will form around my work, and you’ll know what to do.”
Through a series of synchronistic events, Erin ended up in the production office of Elevate Films, based in Ojai California. Founder and CEO Mikki Willis was in tears after viewing Dan’s rough edit of clips he was able to finish, under the title “Roam.” Erin and Mikki struck a pact to complete the final version of the film for Dan, including the return journey of the bone back to its original Mayan home. The new title: Be Brave.
Mikki had asked for me to join the team, which is why I now stood, camera in hand, while Myke rolled it between his fingers. Part of me wanted to touch the bone as well. I wanted to reach out and feel the texture, to determine if I could detect anything…different. Then I could walk away, content that it was nothing more than a fossil. But I didn’t.
“It was beautiful ceremony, Dan’s burial. Just up the road actually,” said Myke, with a trace of sadness in his eyes.
My brow shot up. “Dan’s buried up the road?” I asked. “Can we go seem him?”
“Well, sure!” said Myke. He dropped the bone back into its leather case, and placed it in the shadows of his shed – to be retrieved once more when he would pack the following morning and board a plane down to Mexico to join the rest of the family.
We drove in his car, through the mist of the forest, until we emerged at Royal Oak Burial Ground. We cruised past the typical headstones and burial plots, some with wilted flowers, others with a fresh offerings.
At the top of the hill, overlooking the ocean, was the designated “green burial” area. Myke parked and we walked to the edge of the trees. The earth was a quilt of various native fauna: ferns, flowers, and the occasional mushroom. I noticed immediately there were no neat burial plots, no headstones. No way to identify exactly where Dan was buried.
“If I remember correctly, he’s about here somewhere.” Myke motions to an area in before us, in the shadow of a sapling. “This is how they do green burials. There’s no coffin. No boxing up the body so the bugs can’t get at it. Just a cloth, that’s it. The decomposition process is much faster that way. It’s what Dan wanted.”
Myke grew quiet, studying the ground as if he could peer through the soil.
“Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. You know, all that stuff.”
As we left the burial site, Myke showed me the large plaque that sat on the edge of the ground. The names of the dead were listed one on top of the other, typical names like “Elizabeth” and “Joseph.”
“Dan had a symbol he created, which was 8 circles all inside of each other. It was his way of capturing the theory of orbicularity. He actually wanted it for the burial stone, but they wouldn’t let him. So he did this instead.” Myke pointed at one name in particular that was hard to miss.
00000000 01 23 80
“If you turn the infinity symbol right-side up, you get the number 8.”
We studied the etching in silence. 8 circles.
“That was Dan.”
Finally, Myke turned and headed back to the car. I snapped a picture and followed soon after.