Archive for July, 2010


I was walking along the road a week ago and surprised a raccoon mother and her baby. The mother ran across, and the baby hobbled after, but immediately collapsed on reaching the other side, rolling in the dust and crying. I thought that maybe its leg was broken, but it didn’t even try to get up when I got near, and it continued to cry for hours. I later found out that it was rabid from those brave enough to get close and see the foam. One week later it is still here, although all that is left are most of the nearly clean bones and a pile of fur.

I know what happens to things that die. If you are not alive, then you are eaten, first by your own juices and soon after by bacteria, fungi, insects, and scavengers. I just didn’t expect it happen to happen so quickly. It is July, and everything alive is living, eating, and dying (and then eating the dying) at a rapid pace.

Myself another scavenger of sorts, I picked out the skull and neck vertebrae for my collection, leaving behind the rest of the bones still strung with tendons. I am not squeamish; I don’t feel sad for the raccoon, but that small butter tub that held my find was on my mind all day until I brought it back that night to the kitchen to clean it.

Cleaning means boiling. There was no noticeable flesh, but it still stank of rot, so I took out the soup pot and let it simmer for an hour. Tiny maggots rolled around in the water, and the dirt sank to the bottom. My housemates looked at me strangely.

There was no part of the process that bothered me particularly. I drained off the maggots and dirt, let the bones bleach in the sun, and cleaned the soup pot, but I felt nauseous for the rest of the night. It wasn’t that the bones constituted some sort of overpowering momento mori; even in its most concrete state, death still seems a faraway abstraction at this time.

This is the same nature that gave Wordsworth his daffodils. The rotting raccoon is the soil before it is soil, and the daffodils before they are daffodils. If Wordsworth had meet the raccoon in his wandering before that field of daffodils, would they smell the same?


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My first attraction to the outdoors came from the experience itself; tiny toads the size of my fingernail, the perfect hideout provided by the base of a pine tree, strong winds that would nearly knock me off my feet. My experience was, and still is, highly sensory, but without the burden of worrying about my impact. I pulled at bark until I reached the soft white pith of the tree flesh. I stomped on as many ants as I saw and kept inch worms in jars until they turned brown and died.

When I was small I was told of the evils of pollution and deforestation. We were urged to “save the rainforest,” but these things seemed to have little impact on the tiny ecosystem of my backyard, so saving the rainforest became a vague mantra against an evil that was both distant and unstoppable. As a human being, I was at fault for this evil, but as an individual, I accepted no responsibility. From then on, nature in my mind became an ongoing tragedy of problems caused by my mere existence, with an ending as inevitable as the fall of Oedipus. This made my relationship with the rainforest, and the rest of the planet, for that matter, a very complicated one.

How does one live believing they taint everything they touch?

I don’t think you can. Not without some kind of delusion or distraction. There is always work to do and dinner to attend to, and the shades can always be shut. Even walking around outside can be a scenic diversion. I pick up pieces of plastic and garbage from the side of the road- the detritus that litters the grass and clogs the creek, and call them beautiful.

The Buddhists say that all of life is sorrowful, or, what is good for one is bad for another. I can eat knowing that my day will come, but l keep getting rain checks.

As an environmentalist of the modern age, I can manage my guilt with a list of problems. No more flailing my arms, list problems and solve them! I started my list.

But after all this, I don’t know that it is really useful to always think of myself as a problem. Too much focus on the problem (and by extension, the solution) does not help me understand what is around me. To believe I can just list the problems and fix them assumes I will emerge thinking I can fix my problems and still remain an exception to natural order.

I would like to participate in life, even if it means someday it won’t be my turn to eat.

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