animals, essay, Existentialism, Philosophy, Science

Reflecting Upon a Dead Squirrel

The carcass is on the left hand side of the road. It is well preserved and largely intact save for a chunk of flesh by the ride side of the groan directly in from of the leg. It seems that the impact of the hit as opposed to the crushing of the tire did this creature in. It is a brown squirrel.  It is a common species in suburban Northern Illinois. More often than not the squirrels seen around this area are grey and considerably skinnier, but the brown bushier ones have been extant in the area for a greater part of my memory. I am driving in my car on an errand, I am down by the University and I see students and professors walking about and interrupting traffic with their divine academic imprimatur. I was about 50 meters out from the stop sign on the corner leading to the main road through the university complex. The side of the street on the driver side of my care was populated by the engineering buildings. This was the location of the squirrel carcass.

The carcass, as mentioned before, was well preserved and fresh. Rot had not yet set in and there were no insects or scavengers partaking of the spoils of mortality. The mouth is slightly agape and there is no noticeable swelling of the tongue, again indicating fresh death. The fur is mostly light brown but there are also streaks of blonde and red hair near the underbelly and around the tail. The claws are relaxed and dangle at the wrist of the front limps, the small black claws that from the perspective of a cat or another squirrel must seem formidable. From the perspective of the young adult male human-being driving the automobile the claws just comes off as macabrely darling.

The tail is perfectly pristine. The hairs are long and rigid and there are so many so close together as to give the illusion of being enormous in relation to the body. The tail is light and is softly jerking about at the whims of the afternoon breeze brought on by the coming of a thunderstorm system. It is the abdomen and groan, as mentioned earlier, that show the most obvious signs of mortality. The impact caused a small patch of flesh to tear. The bloody raw flesh within is exposed and from within the bowels are excreted some of the bowels of the creature. The innards are pink and brownish and look quite inflamed and bloated. The entire specimen is quiet obviously a dead squirrel.

Presumably after I leave the body will decline into steadily more and more rotten state. Presumably the flies will come and eat what they can before the females lay their eggs in the flesh of the carcass. The crows, ravens and buzzards that comprise the avian scavengers of the area will certainly come around and take their share. Ants will no doubt stake a claim to part of the carcass, slowly dismantling the structure of the muscles and the sinew and the skin and trucking it back to the mound entrance to the hive where it would be consumed by the community. Bacteria, which have really been there the whole time but are now fully liberated to satiate their eternal appetites, do their job putrefying and liquefying the remains.

As the maggots hatch and go about their jobs as the cleaning crew of the outfit it seems fitting to take a moment to reflect about the ultimate destiny of the corpse of that once was a brown squirrel. In the mind of some the body of the squirrel and its essence of thought and action as a squirrel are one and the same in making up the totality of the “squirrel” as an existentially coherent object.  For Atomists like Democritus and Titus Lucretius Carus all beings, things, and matter could be reduced down to a most basic unit of substance: the atom. These atoms are what make up all things and what connect all things in a great unity of matter and existence

 

Sic rerum summa novatur

semper, et inter se mortales mutua vivunt.

augescunt aliae gentes, aliae

inuuntur,

inque brevi spatio mutantur saecla animantum

et quasi cursores vitai lampada tradiunt.

 

[ Thus the sum of things is ever being renewed,

and mortals live dependent one upon another.

Some nations increase, others diminish,

and in a short space the generations of living creatures

Are changed and like runners pass on the torch of life. ]

 

For others there is no essence of a thing per se so much as there is a summation of the material parts that leads to a being that consumes energy and expends energy and occasionally provides energy to other beings, in short a functioning being whose form we have given the label of “squirrel”.

In a purely material and scientific sense (the sense that I find most enlightening and interesting) the history of this being known as “squirrel” is long and complex and I will only summarize it here. The earliest distinguishable genetic relatives of what we now know of as a “squirrel” appeared in North America 30-36 million years ago. The earliest squirrels, such as Douglassciurus jeffersoni closely resembled their modern counterparts in every way except for one: they lacked a zygomasseteric system. This was an arraignment of a system of muscles in the jaw and skull that characterizes many modern rodent species save for the New World Sciurus squirrel species’ of which this carcass is an example.1 Specifically the species Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, first described and named by German physicist and naturalist Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben in the year 1777.2 He most like spent his life eating nuts, seeds, lichens, and even bark. He looked to be of breeding age, but it could never be known if the creature had ever successfully, or even unsuccessfully, procreated.3

                        The squirrel has come to symbolize many different things in many different human cultures and traditions. To many indigenous American civilizations, especially in what would become the Eastern United States, the squirrel represented gossip and lies along with cleverness and brashness. The Pine Squirrel Clan, Onawanik, of the Menominee and similarly named tribes of the Chickasaw are examples of an entire culture associating itself with the creature whose remains I am now contemplating.4 A squirrel teamed up with a moose to save Cold War era United States from the Soviet menace. It could even fly. The squirrel I mean, not the moose. He appears in internet memes with enlarged testes and in stone on the lawns of millions of English and American family’s lawns and in paintings especially from the Northern European Renaissance. It is an ideal of swiftness and a clichéd representation of youth and vigor, a character used as an analogy of neurosis and anxiety. He is one of the few rodents that mankind does not have a natural aversion to. It goes real well roasted with a rich vegetable stew and a piece of corn bread.

But first and foremost it is a dead squirrel.

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