7 Rites to Perform Upon Finding a Dead Animal

 

The dappled fawn tangled in a line of barbed wire.
Stop pedaling your bicycle. Dismount and quietly guide it to the wet, harried fur splayed out in the nodding grass. Notice how the round, damp eye still reflects a sky full of lazy clouds. Feel the tender dropped weight of the split hoof freed from its impartial snare. Before tucking bright dandelions around her body, count thumbprint spots weaving a milky efflorescence, a blooming blueprint.

The dusty pine siskin smashed against your window.
Attempt to intercept the body before your toddler understands what has happened. Having failed that, console his hysterical tears. Kneel and page through each soft, stacked feather. Point out the small clutching feet before placing the body in a secluded tree fork. A pot of geraniums will also serve. Return in two months to claim the papery skull.

The bloodied squirrel staining the snowy road.
Keep the dog back. With a gloved hand, carry your quarry to a roadside fir, perhaps its own home tree. Leave it stretched out, belly down on a low bough, to freeze into a season-long embrace.

The hump of porcupine on the yellow line.
Pull over. Even if it’s just barely dawn. Even if you’re headed to the airport. Dodge semis if they come. Choose your grip carefully, then gently drag the prickly hummock into the woods. Pile new clover near his mouth. For your troubles, you may lightly tug on a clutch of quills. You may bundle them with crimson thread to sit on your dresser. You may prick your finger occasionally, to remember their bite.
The truck-flattened spiral of snake.
Squinting, you need only transfer the stiff scroll of it to a smooth rock in the sun.

The trespassing chicken killed by your dog.
Do not fault your friend’s wild instinct. Retrieve the hen but resist grabbing her prehistoric feet, however naturally handlelike they seem. Instead, gather her warm, feathered body close as you wrap her in a fluttering plastic bag. Inter the bird on the refrigerator’s highest shelf until she can be plucked and roasted for dinner. Bury her bones in a shallow grave beneath the cottonwoods where a lucky raccoon might find them under a waning moon. 

The young grizzly bear, splayed on a slope of wildflowers
.
Approach slowly. Although your nose tells you this animal is not merely napping, it’s still a grizzly bear. After you’ve called the park rangers, after you’ve traced the soft curves of its thick ears, after you’ve decided its silver-tipped fur is the precise color of winter wheat…then, then you may lower your head and weep.


Kathleen Yale is the author of the award-winning children’s book
Howl Like a Wolf!, which combines natural history, animal behavior, and imagination to engage children in creative play.

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Kathleen Yale is the author of the award-winning children’s book Howl Like a Wolf!, which combines natural history, animal behavior, and imagination to engage children in creative play.

Comments

  1. If you are a native person offer some sema by laying it (not throwing it) with a prayer for the spirit’s travel with vegetation on or near the spot of loss of life (I like to use a white pine if nearby).

  2. This is beautiful. I am not alone in wanting to give more than a passing glance to the body of an animal now gone to the Earth alone. I have felt sadness and gratitude for a animal dead before me. Thank you for sharing this peice.

  3. Greetings! I will be participating in a “Sober Café” event in February, a venue friendly for recovering alcoholics. May I have permission to read this piece with proper attribution of the author and the journal?

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