The Remains of the Day

For a while now on Facebook (friend me, maybe?), I will occasionally post a “Remains of the day” post, with a picture captured on the trail of some remains of an animal that I encounter while hiking. So if you are squeamish about such things, now would be a great time to bail, as I’m about to discuss these. Just sayin’.

For those of you still here, here we go as I recap some of those encounters — never sought, but not avoided either. Every living being deserves to have their lives (and deaths, witnessed).

American shrew mole

American shrew mole (I think).

Almost always the method of demise is mysterious, as it was to me when I encountered this American shrew mole (I think that’s what it is, but I’m open to be corrected on that) in the middle of the Holstein Hill Trail on the Montini Preserve. Why had it died? It didn’t appear to have any trauma, or other obvious signs of why it had expired. So…why? I’ll never know, but there it was. I never saw it again, although I’m up on the trail almost every day.

Perhaps more easy to interpret is this scene of a squirrel pulled apart. I would guess a coyote was the predator, but it could be a fox, or a bobcat, or even a mountain lion. But as I came upon it on the Montini Preserve (isn’t it interesting that I can remember exactly where I found these remains even years later?), my guess is a coyote. Coyotes are frequently evident on the Montini, whereas it may be a bit close to civilization for a mountain lion. I wouldn’t rule out a fox or bobcat, though.

It frankly surprises me that a predator was able to catch a squirrel, as I’ve seen them scamper up trees with a rapidity that puts my sorry running speed to shame. Either it was sickly, or a predator was really skilled or lucky. I will never know which.

Then comes this mystery, but one that clearly happened not long before I happened upon the evidence. The blood hadn’t yet dried. Bright red and still very liquid, with a few feathers, clearly some bird had only recently fallen to a hawk or owl, or? Again, I will never know. But the evidence was clear — a bird of some kind was no more, felled in a moment by something hurtling unexpectedly from the sky.

When I discover tiny dioramas like this, I can’t help but pause in my determined hike up the trail and ponder on the uncertainties of life. Not one of us owns a guarantee on life, although we may fancy that we do, or at least delude ourselves toward that end. This bird no doubt thought it was doggedly in pursuit of food, or water, or nest materials, or whatever, and it was cut down in the process out of the blue. Can any one of us have more surety than that bird? Maybe. But perhaps not. Actually, I know not.

Sadly, I think I know who this next predator is. Since this gopher snake was killed, but not eaten, I suspect a misguided hiker who believed that he (almost undoubtedly a male, sorry guys, I know my gender) had encountered a rattlesnake and chose to kill it. Rattlesnakes, should they be encountered, should never be killed, just avoided. And they make it easy, since they frequently (almost always, in my experience) warn before they try to strike. They don’t want to mix it up with you any more than you do. Just take a wide berth and both get on with your lives. We don’t need more death in this world.

In the universe into which we’ve all been born — humans, cockroaches, elephants, what have you — death is the price we pay for life. Having said that, I don’t think many of us forsee our own death before being faced with the reality, whether it is a creeping but vicious disease like cancer (FUCK CANCER!), or something more immediate, like a heart attack or a violent accident of some kind.

Like you, I don’t know how I will end. Neither did any of the animals depicted on this page. It happens, and mostly it isn’t in our control, and we must accept that as part of our bargain for existing in this reality.

I just know that every time I bear witness to remains like those depicted on this page I pause, look up, scan the horizon, and try to really take in the world in which I’m still alive. I enjoy the breath filling my lungs, the heart that still beats in my chest, and the eyes that can still enjoy the light the sun brings to our planet. It is, in the end, all that any of us can do, day by gorgeous day.

Hiker Notebooks #5: Drawings

After reviewing all of the entries into our hiker notebooks so far, a few things are clear. First, you Overlook Trail hikers can be deep. Also, you can totally be artists. This next post in our series focuses on the visual artists among you — those who drew in our notebooks. You know who you are. And we want you to know that we totally appreciate you.

We begin this post with a simple message and a simple but interesting drawing. “I love this hike.” Yes, thank you, many of us do, but not all of us (I certainly don’t) stop to create art to give honor to the love you (and the rest of us) feel for this hike. Thank you for taking the time, and for sharing your artistry with us, who may not (like me) have your talents. At least we can appreciate yours. Keep it up, please.

Part of what I really enjoy is thinking of you, the artist, sitting on the stone bench at the top of the trail, looking out over the town of Sonoma, and off into the distance into Marin County and San Francisco, and inscribing your art, mostly anonymously, into a book for others to enjoy without any recognition. Thank you for that. May you keep it up.

This next submission I wanted to highlight because…well, why not? Space Turtle? Well, OK. I’m not sure I get that, but it’s kind of a really cool turtle, and if it happens to be hurtling through space, then that is totally cool. So I’m down with that. Good on you.

For now I will set aside such issues as a vacuum lacking any oxygen, no apparent means of propulsion, a complete lack of freeze-dried food, etc. I’m just sayin. But thanks for playing, it’s a cool drawing. Perhaps we can inspire other imaginative drawings, which I’m totally down for. Bring it, hikers.

This next drawing is clearly from a child (or, well, from me, but I will not claim ownership). But I love it on so many levels. I love that she saw a deer and clearly felt the special nature of that. l love it because she felt like both drawing and writing about it in the Hiker Notebook. Good on you, Kate.

I also can’t help but think that Kate will be a lifelong hiker, as many of you putting up with these posts are. We love getting out into nature and seeing wildlife (not just deer, but wild turkeys, many different kinds of birds, squirrels, snakes, lizards, etc.). We just love being out in the natural world. And I love that Kate, at her young age, is just discovering something that may stay with her for the rest of her life. It has through mine. We should all be so lucky.

In preparing for this post, I reviewed a lot of drawings, and I’m sorry if your drawing didn’t make the cut. I’m not sure that I can totally defend my decisions, so don’t feel bad. But for my last drawing I wanted to highlight this rather haunting portrait of a woman. Is this a random drawing of a generic woman? Or a love unrequited? We will never know, and we clearly are not meant to know, as no text accompanies it. The mystery is frankly much of its allure.

I’m also struck by the very spare use of lines. It frankly reminds me of Rembrandt van Rijn’s very spare etchings where he would completely capture the essence of a person with very few lines (see his drawing of his wife). I’m still astonished at this ability, wherever I see it. As someone who is…uh…artistically challenged, I’m simply in awe. I have no idea how you do it.

Just, please, keep it up. We love it. Whatever inspires you, whether it is seeing a deer or thinking of one you love or who you lost, we’re down with it. Rock on.

 

Please see the entry point to the entire series.