Where have all the bodies gone? As I look out upon a white apparently lifeless woodland on this winter day by the Red River, I am made aware that we take for granted that we live on a living planet.
However now, as I view perhaps 14 wild turkeys strutting through the woods 50 yards in front of me, it occurs that these are likely not the same 14 I saw strutting by on this same spot a year ago. Those born and raised in broods last spring have likely grown to full size and strength by now, so that they can survive the winter. To an untrained eye like mine, they look the same.
If the young have replaced the old, that means there were 14 bodies left in the woods. Add to that the demise of deer and squirrels, chickadees and crows, and — where have all the bodies gone? Why is it that I don’t find myself walking around in the woods, kicking aside dead bodies here and there as I go; or at least the odd dead body now and then? Nature is astonishingly tidy.
Oh, of course, you see the odd one now and then, hit by a car or something, but it seems like you have to see it pretty soon after the accident to see it at all. Before long, even that remnant of nature has disappeared.
I recall I first became aware of these absences when living in the Yukon a few decades ago, a wilderness that is great moose country. My garage had a dirt floor that was used regularly for butchering and cooling moose in the fall during hunting season.
It occurred to me that this would be great country in which to find moose antlers, since they shed them annually. I looked casually for them and finally, after several years, found one rack.
As I held it in my hands, I suddenly questioned, “Where were hundreds of others?” And then, as I looked around, I realized this was a dump site and someone had recently dumped a rack they didn’t want. That was the only reason I found one.
American crow sails in and loads a few dozen yards to the right, having found something in the light snow cover. He caws to remind me that he is a long way from being one of the dead bodies I mention.
However he is one of the very vast clean-up crew, that army of “workers” that range from carnivores to carrion eaters to insects to microbes and finally to worms that plow all the remains into the soil so that all of these dead bodies “disappear” from the view of casual observers; although they never really disappear.
I am a newcomer to this whole segment of zoology that deals with the magic of disappearing bodies and I realize I have much to learn. For now, I can only ask the question, “Where have all the bodies gone?”
James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.