For the most part, nature speaks to us in whispers -- a good approach, I think, because it keeps the cows in the pasture and the reptilian parts of our brains in check. Occasionally, however, nature brings out the the trumpet and gives us a stentorian blast, telling us to stop and behold! Something important is happening.
That is what I experienced yesterday on my morning ramble. As I walked down the edge a small but well-traveled road, I was startled to discover the strangely configured remains of a small deer that had fallen very recently into the ditch, the probable victim of an automobile or a hunter's bullet. At first glance, my conditioned mind said "gruesome," and I turned away in disgust. Circling back, however, I witnessed something that was both odd and interesting. Except for a cathedral of spine and ribs that lay arched in the ditch, the entire lower torso of the doe had been taken away and reprocessed by other creatures, presumably the turkey vultures that circle this area constantly in search of their daily bread. The head and face, however, remained largely intact, with the eyes still open, staring wistfully toward the quivering sunlight. It was an eerie sight, part architecture and part animal, something that might occupy a dream but not an April morning.
This is a memento mori, I instantly thought, something placed here by the universe to remind me of the impermanence of life. Most people fear death, of course, and they turn away from anything that would remind them of its inevitability? Others, however, prefer that the undeniable realities of life and death be served straight up, preferably with a twist of good humor. We agree with the Buddhists that occasional meditations on death serve to quicken life and give meaning to our journeys. As the poet and chronicler Mary Sarton has written, "one must live as though one were dying -- and we all are -- because then the priorities become clear."
We are such stuff as stars are made of, and like deer and the stars under which they sleep, we will eventually return to stardust. Knowing that, we not only seize the day, we embrace it, point-blank and without fear. Well-served is the person who can follow Dryden's counsel in Imitation of Horace:
"Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own,
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have lived today."