Death Cycle

Photography by Parker Grice
I am constantly surprised by how much I don't know. The latest case in point presented itself around noon yesterday. From the living room window, my wife, Tracy, noticed crows swooping up from the road, but she couldn't see what they'd found. The lilac bush was in the way. My son Parker and I looked out and saw road kill—a furred body with a white belly. It looked like a big squirrel, which is what it turned out to be.

If you've read The Red Hourglass, you already know I like to do experiments others might find a little macabre. The fact is, Parker and I had been looking around for a carcass for a while. People are always talking about life cycles, but we wanted to inquire into death cycles: What happens to the body of an animal when it dies? Yes, I know—scavengers and bugs and rot. But we wanted to know more specifically.

At this season, the highways of Wisconsin are strewn with the carcasses of white-tailed deer and raccoons. But we were hesitant to toss a carcass into the trunk of the car—every carcass we came across seemed like an opportunity to get run over, and then there was our concern over managing the whole thing in a sanitary way. Besides, I think there are laws about deer carcasses, designed to keep people from hunting without a license and claiming they came across roadkill.

We went out the back door so our noise wouldn't scare the crows and circled round. However, the crows had already left, probably because of the traffic. As we watched, several cars skirted the squirrel. One bumped it slightly. We thought half the head was already missing, but a closer look showed it was there all right, just a bit bloody. It had an extreme underbite, as rodents do, making it look defaced. The only real damage we could see was that its eye, the one that ought to have been on top, was missing. The crows might have removed it. The asphalt showed an eight-inch fan-shaped splatter of blood. I put a flathead shovel near the carcass and Parker used a rake to pull it onto the shovel.

We put the carcass atop the shed in our back yard at the edge of some woods. I have been using this spot as a feeder for the crows, mostly just giving them our table scraps to see what they'd eat. I thought perhaps the crows would feel more comfortable eating it there, since it's an established feeding spot and they'd be safe from cars.

Only a day has passed, and I've already learned half a dozen amazing things, involving animals I never expected. I'll tell about it over the next few days.

Warning: Both the story and the photos to come are pretty gruesome.




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