I always thought crows, ravens, and other carrion birds were cool (as did any teenager with too much black eyeliner and a copy of The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe). It wasn’t until I moved to Delaware, though, that I fully realized how awesome they could be.
Picture traffic, backed up for blocks, because of what appears to be a black plastic bag perched on a dead skunk. People honk, inch forward like they’re prepared to grind this strange tableau into gritty street pizza, but it doesn’t move. Then, the bag turns out to be this:
“I invite you to count the number of fucks that I give, sir. This will not take long.”
One of the most amazingly ridiculous-looking animals ever to grace asphalt, just gruffling on a sun-baked skunk butthole. And, even in the face of a line of hulking, honking cars and infuriated drivers, it still doesn’t move.
I aspire to such a profound level of shit-not-giving. Truly. People who claim an immovable object is just a theoretical construct have never met a turkey buzzard.
A bit later on in life, after I’d had some more experience dealing with death, I began to relate to carrion birds, beetles, and other eaters-of-the-dead in a completely different way. They’re psychopomps to me now, in a sense– things that escort the dead to their most final of resting places. The idea of being buried always made me feel claustrophobic (I blame one too many Victorian horror stories about being buried alive), and the idea of cremation always felt slightly uncomfortable for reasons I still can’t quite put a finger on. Being left out in the open air and eaten, though, is strangely comforting.
If it was legal in my country, I would want something akin to a Tibetan sky burial. I would want those I was leaving behind to have whatever rituals would give them closure. Then, once those were over, I would want my body taken somewhere beautiful, cut apart, and left for the wildlife.
Death and burial is still a squicky subject for most people in the U.S., to the point where I’ve even been insulted for my viewpoint on it. One of the things I began to do with my artwork was treat these animals and their role in the cycle of death and dying as almost totemic things of beauty, something whose presence should be welcomed. In an age where people pay for heavy duty preservation, lead-lined coffins, and concrete vaults, they are a reminder that absolutely nothing lasts forever– not even in death.