tempus fugit

By ceridwen

Life after death

Fascinated to find this outside the door this morning: a cat-killed bird corpse has been the object of overnight attention by molluscs and insects (one slug advancing and an ant also present in image). Their trails as they approached and circled the food source are clearly delineated.

This is the cycle of life and death as it should be. A predator's capture, perhaps partially eaten, is being consumed by scavengers that may in turn become food for other birds and beasts. Micro-organisms such as bacteria will also be involved. Nutriments are being taken up and passed along the food chain to the benefit of all concerned.  

A book I've been reading, Life Everlasting by Bernd Heinrich, examines this natural cycle in relation to the animal world in which the death of one provides the wherewithal for the lives of others. The American author, a naturalist, was inspired to write it by a friend's request for a green burial on his private forest property in Maine, in preference to a conventional interment sealed in a coffin or, worse, cremation which adds massively to the build-up of greenhouse gases.*

Heinrich deals with the role of sexton beetles that bury the corpses of mice  in order to provide a food supply for their larvae;  blowflies that can smell putrefaction 10 miles away and whose maggots in their vast numbers actually raise the temperature of the carcase;   birds (crows, ravens, vultures) that scavenge the carrion and spread it far and wide as they fly away with it in their claws, beaks or stomachs; and mammals, such as coyotes and bears, that are not averse to carrying off bones and scraps when nothing better is available.

Green burial, sky burial, sea burial - they all provide the opportunity for our mortal remains to return to the earth and enrich it. Whatever our beliefs about an afterlife this natural cycle seems to be the best way to ensure that "death shall have no dominion". 

* Embalming fluid (formaldehyde) is a such toxic chemical that, when used, a human body has to be sealed in a sterile container from which none can leak out. Cremation requires such high temperatures that the amount of fossil fuel required annually for the purpose in the USA has been estimated as equivalent to the fuel that would used for 80 car journeys to the moon and back.

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