Nature Notices Death

(Article is by guest writer James Jarrett. See bio below.)

I wrote the following on May 20, 2020 about two months after the COVID-19 Pandemic reached the US. Now, as the vaccine continues to provide widespread relief from infection, these insights are proving more difficult to attend to. Nevertheless, they still feel just as important.

A few weeks ago during our COVID-19 quarantine we found a baby bird dead on the mat outside our back door (photo at left).

This death was almost certainly committed by one of our two cats who “will be cats.” As is often the case with these feline “offerings” the baby bird was allowed to lie there for a while until one of the humans was made to get the shovel and bury it in the back yard.

What may seem like a routine (if somewhat unpleasant) event among cat owners would have ordinarily remained so for us too. But these two other creatures would not let this death pass by unnoticed.

However “natural” it may be for predators to kill prey; however “circle-of-life” and integrated Nature’s food-chain; this mama and daddy Cardinal bounced around the Photinias along our back fence for about three days endlessly cheep, cheep, cheeping. Proclaiming the death of their baby to anyone paying attention (photo at left).

It is anthropomorphic to suggest that these avian parents felt the human emotion of sadness–that they were mourning the death of their young. But at some level weren’t they doing just that? Though silent at night, they kept vigil during each day. Cheep, cheep, cheeping. Even after their baby was buried in the ground.

During these COVID-19 times, death is more present in our collective awareness. Funerals delayed. Cremations on the rise. Bodies housed in refrigerated trucks awaiting final disposition. Families and friend groups held in suspension from the normal rhythms of grief and ritual and memorializing their dead.

In addition to the too-many lives claimed by COVID-19, people are still dying of cancer, heart disease, renal failure, and all of the other causes of death–including suicide. How many people will die of COVID-19 who are never actually infected with the virus? We will probably never know that total number collectively, but I suspect Nature notices every death.

Everyone dies alone. And Nature notices every death. Funerals may be delayed. And Nature memorializes every death. Grieving may be suspended and complicated by quarantine and other necessities of survival. And Nature mourns every death. Death feels like the end. And Nature continues producing new life.

Surrounded by so much death and charts and statistics and terms like, “acceptable loss”, we each remain connected with all living things. And we owe it to ourselves, to our loved ones, to complete strangers all across the world–and also to baby birds–to pay attention. To notice death when it comes near. To speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. To memorialize the life and the love that is ebbing and flowing all around us. Our survival depends on it.

We are all connected. We are in this together. We are each other. We are Nature and Nature is us. Nature notices death. And Nature invites our increasing awareness of everything that is happening. We are doing it to ourselves. We are being transformed by it. And we will continue to thrive through it. That’s what Nature does.


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Bio: James Jarrett lives with his partner Katie in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. They have six children. A licensed attorney and former church planter, James is endorsed by The Humanist Society as a Chaplain and Celebrant supporting people full-time in Hospice care. He posts poetry, articles, and random thoughts on his blog Becoming Human.

2 thoughts on “Nature Notices Death”

  1. Please please don’t allow your cat to roam freely outdoors and kill birds. This is despicable (or ignorant) behavior on your part. Instead, do some research on the number of birds that are killed each year by these unnatural predators and you will see the decline in number of birds, especially songbirds, partially caused by this irresponsible behavior of humans letting their cats outdoors. This was a sad tale that proved nothing but how cruel some human cat owners can be.

  2. “Had Mother Nature been a real parent, she would have been in jail for child abuse and murder.” ~ Nick Bostrom ( In Defence of Posthuman Dignity, Bioethics, 19-3, 2005 )

    “Mother nature is a brutal bitch, red in tooth and claw, who destroys what she creates.” Ernest Becker ( The Denial of Death )

    “I wonder if a sillier and more ignorant catachresis [contradiction in terms] than ‘Mother Nature’ was ever perpetrated? It is because Nature is ruthless, hideous, and cruel beyond belief that it was necessary to invent civilisation. There is no conception more fallacious than the sense of cosiness implied by ‘Mother Nature’. Each species must strive to survive, and that will do, by every means in its power, however foul—unless the instinct to survive is weakened by conflict with another instinct.” ~ John Wyndham ( The Midwich Cuckoos, 1957 )


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