Gratitude: the Dead Deer

One neat little trick to maintain mental health is to practice gratitude. I know. Cheezy as fork. But there is good science behind it. A great way to do it is to jot down three to five things you are grateful for every day. It’s also fun, because sometimes, to find three to five things, you have to get creative. I realized as I was doing this practice that some of what I call my gratitudes are distinctly weird and that I had a little more to say about them. So one of the things you will run across here is little mini-essays on gratitudes.

So, without further ado, here are my thoughts in being grateful for a dead deer in my life.

This is weird. I know. I’m grateful for a dead deer. It just doesn’t sound right. But bear with me a moment. Seeing the deer was a rich experience.

Coyotes probably brought it down. Distinct canine prints were left crossing the creek to the kill site. There were some deeper, unidentifiable prints, though, so a mountain lion or bobcat isn’t out of the question. I’m grateful that the dead deer reminded me that I live in a place that is still a little wild. A place where large predators roam around and do their thing.

I got to go back to the spot and see what was becoming of it several times. One leg and hoof made it across the creek and the road, onto the path into the other side of the park. The predators kept coming back to revisit the kill site. It was down to bones, tendons, and scraps of tissue very quickly. I’m grateful to have had the chance to come back to the same place repeatedly and see changes over time. How lucky am I to live where I can go into the woods, not just on rare occasions, but to revisit the same site again and again, and watch nature take its course?

Around three months later, very little was left.

The whole animal got used, down to the bones, cracked open for their marrow. It’s amazing to live on a planet where every little thing has a particular use. Where every scrap of life ended becomes life for something else.

After almost four months, all that remained was part of the skull, a strip of the spine with broken rib fragments, and two pieces of the lower jawbone. I took the pieces of jawbone home. They will remind me that life is short, and you can be taken out by a pack of coyotes at any moment. And they provide me with the opportunity to learn about deer dentition and the way tendons and muscles attach to bone.

A dead deer is definitely a weird thing to be grateful for. But I learned a lot from witnessing its passing. As I watch nature recycle this animal, I am myself renewed. Life is change.

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