The wheel of life turns in the backyard

May 23, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

My family has a dog named “Holly.”  She’s a friendly mutt.   Loyal to a fault.

Image by Erich Vieth

Image by Erich Vieth

A big raccoon took up residence on or in our garage recently, and Holly didn’t like it at all.  Our neighbors often saw the raccoon on our garage roof.  We often heard Holly’s barking, thanks to the raccoon.

We live in the middle of the City of St. Louis, and we know that there are lots of raccoons running around.   The City Animal Control told me that if we trapped a raccoon, they would come by to pick it up.   By the time I got around to setting a trap, the neighbors mentioned that there was now one big raccoon and several small ones.   As I was setting the trap near the garage, I could smell the smell of death.  Even as we were trying to trap a raccoon, at least one of the raccoons had already died.  I really do wonder how they can survive in a congested urban area, but the do, often enough, anyway.

The next morning, my children excitedly mentioned that we had caught a large raccoon in our trap.  raccoonIt looked like it weighed 15 pounds.  I called the City Animal Control, and they indicated that they would come out and take away  the raccoon.  I didn’t ask where they would take it, as I assumed that I was essentially dooming the mother raccoon to death, and possibly dooming the babies too (by taking away their mother).    As I mentioned above, even as we waited for Animal Control, we were smelling the smell of death whenever we were in our garage.   It was getting stronger by the hour.

The next day (today), we still couldn’t find any dead raccoon baby, but we did find that there were flies all over the garage, so the raccoon body was apparently nearby.     window-fliesNature, red in tooth and claw.   But I’m not done yet.   This mini-life cycle started with a human family who wanted the companionship of a neotonous wolf (Holly), who got upset at the raccoon, who had been deprived of her natural habitat by the humans.   At least one of her dead babies was being eaten by flies.   Now what about the flies?   You’ve all heard the joke, “Why did the fly fly?”

Answer:  “Because the spider spider.”

This afternoon that joke became incarnate, right in the corner of my garage.  Though these macro photos didn’t turn out in the sharpest focus, you can clearly see that a spider had caught one of the flies in a web and was making a meal of it (there’s also a piece of leaf in the foreground).

image by Erich Vieth

image by Erich Vieth

If only we humans ate spiders, this cycle would be at its end (or a beginning), but it gets all the more convoluted from here.  For instance, 90% of the cells in your body are “aliens,” most of them are bacteria that allow us to digest our food.  Without them we would die.   And while I’m pointing out connections, consider that parallel universe of fungi living under the ground.   Two weeks ago, I saw an eruption of mushroom (their fruiting bodies) in the front yard.  Without this fungi, most of our plants would die. img_6679

It occurred to me today that, right here in the middle of a major city, whether or not I’m aware of it, nature is churning away, doing its thing in an entirely amoral way.   Except for us humans, they say.  We supposedly have a “moral” sense that is not anchored to our animal-ness.   Or are we spinning elaborate intellectual webs in coming to this conclusion?


Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Environment, Human animals, nature, Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Alison says:

    It is fascinating, really. Even the gross stuff. If you do find the dead thing, let the kids see it and ask questions. After I read "Stiff" by Mary Roach, I followed up with some reading on forensics, and am now (finally, years later) halfway through "Death's Acre", about the body farm she mentioned in "Stiff".

    As intricate as individual creatures are in life, it's fascinating to see how they continue to be an important part of their environment after death. There are certain changes that take place after specific amounts of time, certain creatures who live only because others die, and also have schedules to keep.

    Yeah, it smells awful, and probably won't be pretty, either. For the kids, though, it can be an amazing learning opportunity.

  2. Danny says:

    I thought the punch line was, "because the spider spied her."

  3. Stacy says:

    Our moral sense IS anchored to our animal-ness. I recommend the book Good Natured by Franz de Waal. He finds the roots of morality in animal behavior (which is not to say that animals are "moral", just that our moral sense has evolved, and proto-moral behavior can be seen in other bright, social critters.)

  4. Stacy says:

    Off topic, but–Reading DeWaal really changed the way I look at my fellow humans (and other animals). I think it's made me more tolerant. So much of what we do and feel I now see as animal behavior–and we don't judge animals harshly, do we?

Leave a Reply