Saturday, November 20, 2021

Remnants Of Life

remnants of life

The Adirondack Mountains is an amazing place to witness the natural lives of wild animals.  With 2,000 miles of hiking trails, there is ample opportunity to witness new life as well as the passing of life.  The mountains are full of the cycle of life as we witness baby animals of various species and come upon a pile of dry bones.  The cycle of life escapes no creature calling this Earth their home and there is evidence all around us of this fact.  Is it possible for death, the dry bones of an expired animal to once again be a part of the building blocks of life?  In the lives of some mountain animals this is most certainly possible and is an important factor in survival as a source of essential minerals.

Osteophagia, the eating of bones, can be found occurring in the lives of animals who either have a strong acidic stomach and or the jaw power to crush and consume bones.  For Humans, death is a dark and disturbing subject to discuss that generates feelings of pain and loss and finality of a life once lived.  For wild animals, death is a process that remains part of the living world as a contribution to the lives of creatures still walking the Earth.

A once living creature gives sustenance to insects, mammals, birds and growing plants once again taking part in the land of the living.  What animals’ lives are supported by the process of death?  You may be surprised to hear that porcupine gnaw on bones for mineral supplement during the Winter months when food is sparce, vultures consume bones as a main staple in their diets, and pregnant squirrels consume bones for the added minerals needed to create new life.

Bones that once were covered in flesh now barren and exposed, contain many nutrients, the most valuable being calcium and phosphorous encased in a secure structure that nourishes the flesh once more.  Animals of all species contribute to a living, thriving world through life and death their value is not diminished.  As a nature lover coming upon a pile of bones, at first sight can bring about feelings of sadness, remembering the once vibrant creature that no longer exists.

Why think more of their importance while living than their importance when they have expired? Does empathy and loss taint our minds keeping us from remembering life and death, each have its pertinent place?  The life of an expired animal does not end with their last breath, their lives continue to nourish the World around us taking part once again in the bringing forth of life.    Please don’t forget life exists in many shapes, sizes and forms and death is not excluded from this, it simply takes a different position and remains a part of the circle of life.

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Jackie Woodcock was born and lives in the Adirondack Mountains. She is an apiarist, lepidopterist, conservationist, teacher, writer, artist, and a co-owner of SkyLyfeADK. You can find her SkyLyfeADK on Instagram and Facebook.

16 Responses

  1. Bob D. says:

    You make a strong case for just burying Grandpa Joe (or thee or me) out in the back yard near the apple tree instead of cremation, embalming etc., all of which are energy intensive and interrupt the cycle of life.

  2. Boreas says:

    Another great article!

    Same goes for trees. Many people hate to see standing, dead trees, stumps, and downed trunks and often try to “clean them up” when they can. My small property has plenty of trees in various stages of decay, and the critters especially love the standing snags. Dead wood is home to hundreds of invertebrates as well as fungii. And as it decays further, it aids in water retention in the soil as well as returning minerals and carbon to the soil for different species of invertebrates and fungii.

  3. Joy says:

    Very nice. Thank you.

  4. Martie says:

    I love the illustration with this article, showing that dead leaves and bones often have a delicate beauty. Is that your painting, Jackie?

  5. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Bob D. says: “burying Grandpa Joe (or thee or me) out in the back yard near the apple tree instead of cremation, embalming etc., all of which are energy intensive and interrupt the cycle of life.”

    It used to be that way Bob, burials on the acreage we once owned, before death became a marketable item. There’s money in death too!

  6. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “The cycle of life escapes no creature calling this Earth their home and there is evidence all around us of this fact.”

    > But of course! Death is the commonality we all share, which makes one wonder why some think they are superior over others!

    “Why think more of their importance while living than their importance when they have expired?”

    > Because they ‘are’ important while living, and very often they have expired way before their time because of human neglect or intervention.

  7. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “For Humans, death is a dark and disturbing subject to discuss that generates feelings of pain and loss and finality of a life once lived. ”

    > Which makes one wonder….why? We should be broken-in by now as death surrounds us day in day out, whether it be from what we see on a tv screen, or a computer screen, or “at a theatre near you.” How about all of the roadkill we witness when traveling in our vehicles. Then there’s the news which is just chock full of death on a daily basis. How about the wars some of us support! All of that death! Loved ones die on us all the time, especially as we age…………….. What is dark and disturbing is not death itself, but the means which lead up to the loss of the living, much of which is unnecessary if we were but more enlightened!

    • JB says:

      Charlie, your ruminations (and this article) remind me of the words of Lionel Basney, theologian, poet, environmentalist, Adirondacker:
      “Outrage, after all, is a human gift–something we may nobly feel in defense of a redwood, but not something the tree will feel for us.”
      …He goes on to critique anthropocentrism and back-to-naturism alike: “We cannot live as whales or birds live; we only become more dangerous when we try. Our best efforts, submarines and airplanes, are among the most dangerous things we have ever made. There is an odd sense in which trying to see nature as just an extension of ourselves (as a Deep Ecologist might say) is not very different from insisting that anything we do (as a technological apologist might say) is just an extension of nature.” (That is not an easy pill to swallow.)

      Obviously, with “outrage” and easy ideology out of the picture, there is a need for some arduous soul-searching and complex meditations. And the best minds, like Basney and Kierkegaard, or Moses and Laozi, all seem to have come to similar conclusions: there are no simple answers, nor any intelligible answers at all; the absurdity of life can be reconciled only by faith, and by faith alone–faith that there is a purpose beyond understanding. Only when we lose faith can we truly destroy ourselves.

  8. Charlie Stehlin says:

    I never heard of Lionel Basney until now.

    “trying to see nature as just an extension of ourselves”
    > We’re the only species that destroys its own kind JB. We’re an anomaly in that regard. If you look at it, without really having to strain your brain (not you per se, just generally speaking) man is essentially evil, he’s going to do things that fit his best interest….is the root of many of his own problems. The mirror image as I always say…is frightening!

    “there is a need for some arduous soul-searching ”
    > Yep, but where do we begin? Faith? In what? Fiction? In a religion that tolerates war & lies?

    “there are no simple answers, nor any intelligible answers”
    > I’m no different JB. I have more questions than I do answers, but I will say this….I know right from wrong & there’s no convincing me otherwise!

    • JB says:

      Charlie, I think that you would enjoy Basney. You are strongly echoing his ideas; the three sentences that literally preceded my quote: “It is we who pose the danger; and this is because we know our own needs and are able to bend other species to our uses. No germ in its happy destructive business in the blood (so far as we know) is aware of what it is doing. If we know our own dangerousness, further, we also know, or at least could know, how to make a culture that would preserve the world.” …And he goes on about morality, faith, etc,.

      (Jackie, sorry I did not reply to your thoughtful response to my comment, I was unsure if you had meant to send it to directly me rather than here, and it has since evaded my mind during the busy holiday. I lost a beloved pet several months ago as well, and I know how that feels. Your understanding that love is powerful and unconditional is true wisdom, and something that leads to me think that you would enjoy Basney as well. The several sentences that immediately followed my quote: “We must insist on nature’s independence of us–its independent glory as a Child of God. The divine plan that includes nature includes, and therefore transcends, us as well. We are back then with the metaphor of marriage. You cannot marry your own foot or your own idea. You marry another creature of God.”)

      I highly recommend his one and only book: “An Earth-Careful Way of Life: Christian Stewardship and the Environmental Crisis”. He is one of those modern Christian thinkers who remained in (extreme) obscurity until his death 20 years ago. I just got the book for my brother as a birthday gift.

      I discovered him utterly by accident after reading his brief poem “In the Adirondacks”, which absolutely blew my mind. It would be awesome if Almanack/Explorer somehow managed to find a way to run it. I could probably post it here, but I don’t want to disparage his copyright, his estate or the literary journal that published it. Here’s a link to somewhere where you could theoretically read it if you were resourceful:

      (But a word of warning: his writing is complicated and nuanced, and only suited to contemplative and patient souls who are willing to live with the big questions and mysteries.)

      I think that people in general pass Basney off because of the religious themes in his work, which is a shameful mindset because it automatically precludes most of the civilized world from thinking about hugely important ideas. I personally do not identify as Christian, much to the chagrin of some of my closest family and friends, but probably my absolute favorite writers–those who resonate with me the most–are strongly Christian: Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis, Basney, and others, some yet undiscovered. It seems that Christian thought is healthier for the environment, in contrast the prevailing mindset of modernity that has gotten us to the point where we need to protect it from ourselves in the first place.

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