Not long ago as I was walking through Grant Park, I saw the body of an animal lying in the grass about thirty yards ahead of me. It was still, and I assumed it was dead. From that distance I thought it might be an opossum, but as I drew closer I realized it was a raccoon.
Yep. Dead all right. I approached and saw a cloud of flies hovering just above its fur, with many more crawling around on top.
A breeze stirred, and a terrible stench reached my nostrils. I maneuvered to the other side of the raccoon, so I could get just a little closer while staying away from the odor.
There appeared to be a wound on the raccoon’s side, but I wasn’t sure if that was related to the cause of death or the opening salvo of the flies. But I wondered how it met its fate, and said a brief prayer of blessing for this creature’s life and for its family.
the next day
The next day I stopped there again. At first, I thought park personnel already must have removed the body, because I could not see it as I approached. About ten yards away, though, I saw its remains, and was amazed. The raccoon was completely flat. Its upper side was stripped away, and all its organs either gone or shriveled. Only the tip of its tail would allow a casual viewer to know it had been a raccoon.
The stench was gone, and I drew close. What I saw amazed me: it was as though I was gazing upon an entire, tiny ecosystem. The bulk of the work had been done by flesh flies. They were no longer there as a cloud, but handfuls of them still worked diligently on the carcass. They were joined by blowflies and blue bottle flies and a house fly or two, each staking out its territory. A black wasp was feasting in the general region of the raccoon’s former brain, and black ants were entering from the side. In two locations were massive deposits of small white eggs, probably flesh flies in the making, or blowflies.
There were no signs of predation from fox or coyote, both of which wander through the area. This marvelous work of deconstruction was performed entirely by insects.
everything is sacred, even the flies
Thinking about it now, I wonder why I didn’t offer a blessing to the flies who were beginning to feast. It is so easy to care about creatures that appear cute or funny or majestic or fierce, and to ignore or even think poorly of creatures that appear ugly or slimy or foul or opportunistic (as if we humans aren’t opportunistic). That raccoon’s death meant life for the flies, and their feasting in turn helped to break down the carcass and return it to the earth.
Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac, “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.”
The raccoon and the flies reminded me of this truth. Everything is connected. Everything has a special—and I would argue sacred—role to play in the ongoing drama of an evolving world in a dusky corner of an ordinary galaxy in a universe too vast and awesome to comprehend. Integral ecology: all is interconnected; all is sacred.
This post is about the circle of life, involving awe and wonder and knowledge, so spans both the teal and the gold areas of the singing wilderness spiritual map.