Death Cycle Part 6: The Conclusion

Photography by Parker Grice
In the morning the chickadees took fright. They went scattering among the pines and took shelter there, invisible but loud. The squirrels took up the alarm next, machine gunning their screams across the yard.

The cause soon soared into view: two birds of prey, so high their colors were uncertain except for their creamy bellies; but even at that height they looked massive. One of them rolled beneath the other. They fell as they coupled, losing only a little elevation before they broke apart again. They coupled again and again, all the while tending north. When they had gone, it took the smaller denizens of the yard a good loud while to recover their composure. Only the butterflies, little fellows the color of, well, butter, seemed unaffected. They stumbled across the yard like oblivious drunkards. There were bits of cottonwood fluff in the air, a luxuriously slow snowfall.

The dead squirrel remained on the roof of the shed. As he dried, he was coming to look like a twisted strap of red leather. The flies and wasps were at him again. Each time I returned with my camera, the mosquitoes drove me away within a few minutes. The mosquitoes are clumsy this year, slow, much later than usual. It was only in the past few days that they started to bite me effectively. Mosquitoes embody the truth that you can never observe something without changing it. They were only active near the carcass because I was there looking at it, smelling delicious.

Speaking of smells, the carcass was beginning to stink. This problem had never been far from my mind. Even at our house, the smell of decay is not welcome in the yard. I realized I might have to abort the experiment to save my marriage. However, the problem was about to be solved for me.

All afternoon I worked at my desk, looking out of my basement window from time to time. No scavenger big enough to see appeared, though I heard the crows of the neighborhood as usual. At five in the afternoon, I looked out and couldn't see the carcass. I figured the shadows of the pines had made it harder to see at that hour, so I didn't rush out to investigate. When I finally did go ambling out an hour later, I found nothing of the dead squirrel except those few gobbets of jaw.

I searched the surrounding flower beds and grass and woods. Nothing. Even its smell had vanished.

What took it? It's tempting to suspect those awesome hawks, but I'll bet we'd have heard some real noise from the chickadees and live squirrels if a hawk had dropped that low. I'm pretty sure the shed roof is out of reach for the neighborhood cats, because when I first tried to set up a crow feeder I had to experiment to find a place where cats couldn't take all the meat. I'm putting my money on the crows, but I suppose I'll never know.



Show more