I find beauty in organic decay where others may turn away in disgust from it. There is something mathematical, concise, and absolute in the breakdown of matter that appeals to my morbid nature and dark humor. It is the final battle, the last hurrah, of the living against the ravages of time. We are all deteriorating and we will all disintegrate until we disappear.
We live in an older neighborhood filled with mature trees that stand as a beacon to all the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks in the city. There are dozens of crows that valiantly protect their territory from the sneaky red-tailed hawk. There are blue jays that asshole their way around our backyard, running off the robins, cardinals, wrens, and finches that dare peck for food among our grasses. The chipmunks ensure that we face great peril while mowing or gardening by digging multiple large holes all over the landscape. The squirrels provide us with hours of entertainment as they chase and dance amongst the branches, performing acrobatic feats of sheer amazement over our heads. We even have wild rabbits that enjoy dandelion snacks as we watch them. They are domesticated enough that they allow you to stare at them and may even give you the side eye but they are wild enough to bounce away a few steps if you get too close.
It is somewhat jarring when I encounter the dead prey of another. We have disposed of numerous leftovers that were forgotten by the sneaky hawk that likes to feast on our deck. I also collect the larger feathers of the birds that duke it out mid-air. My favorites are the blue or black ones. I did get a little teary when the five baby robins born in my fern were quickly reduced to two and I thought I was possibly the culprit. Maybe I watered too rigorously even though I tried really hard to not disturb them.
I was a photographer for over twenty years and it is not uncommon for me to capture the carcasses that have been left behind, or the carnage enacted upon a not-so-fresh cadaver by a wake of vultures. I have even shot the iridescent rainbow feathers of a dead pigeon frozen to the sidewalk, its body stiff with rigor mortis and ice.
Recently I encountered a dead squirrel while powerwalking my way through our neighborhood. I wish I could say it was roadkill but it wasn't smashed flat, and it was nowhere near the street. It was on the sidewalk, next the perfect green grass of a meticulously manicured lawn. It was unequivocally dead for sure.
Although I wish I could say that it looked to be a peaceful death, something about this particular corpse didn't strike me as such. It was partially degloved, as in skinned. I am not a stranger to the necessity of skinning an animal after hunting but this was not...that.
Something, or someone, had peeled this poor thing like a banana, starting at the tip of the tail and going forward to its head. Whatever it was, it didn't finish the job. The fur remained intact but inside out, enclosing its upper body and shoulders. I have a hard time believing that another animal did this. It was too neat, too precise, and too clean looking to have been another creature. There were no bite marks, no flesh torn with teeth, and no mess.
Of course, I took pictures. I couldn't help myself. It was disturbing.
I won't share these images but I did post a video on my Facebook and my Instagram pages asking for any further information as to what kind of critter would do this.
I didn't get a single response.
I see its remains every day when I take my walk, and I have shot several more pictures as it decomposes. Eventually, something did get ahold of it and rip it to shreds, though I don't know if it was a lawnmower or another animal. I found the skeletal tail was still in the same spot but the rest of its body was scattered in pieces down the length of the lawn.
Today I write about it because I doubt there will be an answer as to how this poor squirrel was treated. No self-respecting hunter would just leave their trophy on a residential sidewalk to rot. No wild animal should be able to resist eating the flesh, let alone peel it with such exactitude.
Of course, this led me to suppose that something more sinister was at hand. Do we have a budding serial killer in our midst? A young person that wanted to torture a small animal? I know it is dangerous to let the mind wander that way but it is a reality that exists within humanity. This is a telltale sign of something ominous and it is also a common trait among sociopathic children. Maybe my imagination is running away with itself due to too many Netflix specials or true crime podcasts. It would be easy to dismiss away because of that. I also write horror, an occupation that consists of thinking about very terrible things.
But dismissing these kinds of moments is exactly how sociopaths go undetected until something really heinous occurs, isn't it? How many times have you read or heard a news item and the reporter will say something along the lines of "they were always a troubled child," as they go on to relate the current tragedy?
Maybe my pictures will one day just be a part of my odd collection of imagery that my kiddos will have to deal with after I die.
Then again, they may be the first clues of something menacing and evil in our tidy neighborhood of mature trees and fluffy animals.