The odor struck me first—there was roadkill nearby. It was on the brushy roadside, a rather sizable dead skunk, its mouth frozen in what appeared to be a vicious snarl.
The dead creature and its frightening facial features were the grotesque part.
The tender part was this: Some passerby, perhaps even the driver who struck the skunk, had swaddled the corpse in a pink baby’s blanket and carefully placed the body well off the roadway.
The blanket was old and tatty, bearing stains indicative of its journey from crib to rag bag. Still, it was probably not a pleasant task, wrapping a skunk that smells no more delightful dead than alive.
So rag-bag blankie or not, the gesture was quite dear.
Maggots found the body anyway, but they had to work a little harder to circumvent the pink shroud and proceed with their dastardly calling.
We see roadside memorials to human lives lost in car wrecks— Styrofoam crosses woven with faded carnations, foil-wrapped pots with desiccated plants, and notes that’ve become illegible due to overnight dampness, the sentiment sincere but the letters runny.
Do animals mourn their lost kin? Ask anyone who has watched a documentary on the close bond between elephants or seen a pet dog sink into a depressive state upon the death of its four-legged housemate.
Holding my nose and studying the still form inside the blanket, I conjured an image of nocturnal mourners resembling in the moonlight a glistening row of piano keys, lined up to pay their respects before rustling off through the chaparral. Perhaps a few would later warn their young about the danger of the World of Wheels that lurks not far from their den and roaming grounds.
Far overhead a familiar form appeared. It was a turkey vulture, unmistakable with its knobby bare head, impressive wingspan and graceful soaring skills. Perhaps it was on a random carrion cruise when it registered the dead skunk—the vulture has outstanding eyesight and sense of smell. But that blanket must have posed a bit of an impediment.
The vulture didn’t shift into an altitude descent. It remained high and wheeling, pondering the upright two-legged being pinching her nose and a potential meal encased in something fuzzy.
When I left, the vulture might have investigated further. Till then, it was comforting to me to know that someone cared about the final rest of a wild creature, providing a jot of “dignity” before various denizens of the natural world got busy at their assigned tasks.
Glasser is a freelance writer of stories about the natural world. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.