Another deer story

by jexmas on July 10, 2010

I am walking down the wooded hillside adjacent to the office building where I used to work. It is lunchtime and I head down to the water’s edge, as I often do, to get some fresh air and take in the gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay. Today, about half-way down the hill in a stand of small oaks, I am surprised by the body of a deer lying in the long grass. The animal must have just died because its body is intact, as if it had lain down and simply gone to sleep. I wonder how it died and imagine it was peaceful because it is how the animal looks.

Over the next several months as the summer slowly cools and darkens through fall to winter, I stop to look at the deer’s body every time I walk down the hill. I become fascinated by the process of decomposition and the role played by the insects and birds. Over time, the deer’s body bloats and then collapses and, as the skin shrinks away from its frame, its bones are exposed. All the time while this is going on, the ground beneath the deer’s body is damp and the blades of grass flatten and turn brown as if clearing a workspace. I am watching entropy in full swing.

Eventually, and actually in a remarkably short time, a rich, green, lush thicket of grass grows up over where the deer had lain. If there is anything left of the deer, it can no longer be seen. Its body has disappeared as the nutrients are absorbed back into the soil, offering nourishment and energy for another round of life.

This process moves me profoundly. When I am dead and lying in the grass, this is what I want to happen to me. I will truly be returned to the earth. My cells will sink into the soil and the nutrients from my body will feed other living things. My energy will become energy in another useable form. I am amazed at this highly efficient, highly sophisticated, yet absolutely inevitable function of nature if it is allowed to take its course. I suppose I have known this all along, but I have grown up in an environment that does not like these natural processes to happen to humans. We are put in boxes or are incinerated, probably because the smell of death and decay is hard to bear, although interestingly, it is not one of the memories I have of watching the deer decompose.

So now I have a plan. If I have enough strength just before I die, hopefully when I’m close to 100 years old, I am going to crawl far out into the woods, pull a few leaves over me and die with the precise intent of being returned to the soil over time and with the insects and birds helping me.

I know what you will say: fat chance the way things are. I understand, not the least because there are so many people in the world and if everyone died like that, it would be unmanageable. Having my ashes scattered is an okay second, but I like to think about the deer sometimes because it makes it possible to imagine an easy, natural, regenerative death when it was something I could not imagine before.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Katy H July 10, 2010 at 11:20 pm

No one would notice you on a slope of Mt Tam…I’ve just seen the exhibit on mummies at the Palace of Legion of Honor. Could that be a third choice?


Katy H July 11, 2010 at 8:39 am

I retract my question above; mummification is the exact opposite of your desire.


jexmas July 11, 2010 at 9:01 am

Yes, Katy, mummification is the stopping of energy. Transformation is what appeals to me…


Jen July 12, 2010 at 12:43 pm

I’ve contemplated a similar demise, and have heard that it’s possible to pre-arrange donation of one’s remains to a body farm for research purposes, including covering the cost of transport, and to specify in what environment to be left to decompose, and be studied, including in the woods, on the dirt amid leaves and grasses. Apparently it’s also possible to specify a preference for the backseat of a car, but that’s a far less romantic visual, isn’t it?


jexmas July 12, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Thank you for the info…I’m very glad to know this may be an option…hopefully not for a long time to come!


Doug Vanisky July 17, 2010 at 11:23 am

This is a beautiful post.

BTW, in some ancient tribal cultures, elders would walk off into the wild and away from the tribe when they felt their time had come.


jexmas July 18, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Yes, I love that…and the tribe is very respectful of the way their elders wanted to die.


David Curtis July 26, 2010 at 12:29 am

Tonight my best friend’s sister gave me a vial of his ashes. You could put them on your hillside and watch them feed the weeds because I’m not sure just what to do with them.

I can hardly tell you have an accent.


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