Death Never Takes a Holiday

If nature tells us anything about life, it’s that it is plentiful, varied, ingenious, while most often being short, brutal, violent, but mostly just plain strange.

The reality is most things die because something else consumes them. The food chain, from the bottom to the Apex, is a supermarket of death and digestion. Whether you are a single-celled amoeba, a multi-celled plant, a bee, a bird, a snake, a ferret, a coyote, a wolf, a bear, a lion, or a human, something more often than not benefits from your demise.

Even if “natural causes” adorns your death certificate, whatever the natural was still got you and, even if you are committed to the fire, be it on a conveyor belt in a crematorium or a Viking ship burned at sea, the ashes will feed some organic creature regardless of how you got there.

One might consider this a bit of a pessimistic outlook on things. I disagree. I think it shows us that life, at least the biological aspect of it, is a continuous cycle of creation, degeneration, and regeneration.

We humans like to consider our self-awareness evidence of something other than a mere biological reason for life. Cogito Ergo Sum as Descartes once said. We believe ourselves to be the only creature who contemplates the meaning of life, and this proves we are more than another variation of evolution.

I’m not certain our self-awareness is unique among all the living creatures on the planet, let alone the universe.

But back to the realities of the dog-eat-dog, or creature-eat-creature, world.

I came upon an article about a large fish called a Giant Trevally. This fish has developed the ability to hunt seabirds. Not just those placidly floating (marinating) on the surface, but also any bird foolish enough to be flying at a low altitude over the water. Watch here.

Then there is this gem of evolution, Toxoplasma gondi. A parasite that lives in the brain of mice. Here’s the twist, while it thrives in a mouse’s brain, it can only reproduce inside a cat.

So given a mice’s natural inclination to avoid cats, how can this be successful? Simple, the parasite alters the mouse’s brain. The mouse, which would naturally flee from the odor of cat urine, now runs toward the source of the aroma and is promptly consumed.

The parasite, now safely ensconced within the cat, gets all romantic and stuff, breeds away, and is promptly expelled out the other end of the cat where other mice, not yet crazy, consume the delicacy.

And just so you know, this parasite is successful at invading other hosts as well. Some scientists believe as many as three billion humans are hosts for the little bugger. And while it is mostly harmless, it does argue for the obvious deficiency of cats as compared to dogs. And, while the data is incomplete as to its effect on the human brain, it may actually explain the Q-Anon phenomenon and a few other political beliefs.

Think of it this way, almost every day sharks attack, kill, and consume fish which itself had consumed smaller fish which had consumed other living creatures. This pattern is repeated by every living creature on the planet.

Some of these creatures, through no fault of their own or any innate evilness to their existence, seem naturally repulsive. A rattlesnake for instance—snakes being the ultimate victim of religious persecution—instantly strike fear into anyone who encounters one.

Death is, among other things, relative.

Joe Broadmeadow

If one has ever seen a rattlesnake stalk and kill its victim, it can give one shivers. But it is not evil. It is not cruel. It is nature, which is neither cruel nor evil, just deliberate. A rattlesnake killing a mouse—mice seem to be a dangerous niche to occupy on this planet—is similar to a meat packing plant killing a cow and producing steaks. It’s just we humans have found a way to limit our personal exposure to death in the food cycle.

Snakes hunt in the wild, we hunt in supermarkets.

When you think about it—as I sometimes do—it is likely by the simple act of walking you accidently kill ants, spiders, or other crawly things. And you do this every day. There is even a religion, Jainism, whose practitioners go to extreme lengths to avoid killing anything including insects. They tread very carefully.

The existence of death is a necessity of life. Nothing can live unless something else dies, be it a cow, a chicken, a pepper, or a sliced tomato. What was once alive is now digested.

Even death offers a food source. A decaying body of some creature to us may seem grotesque and disgusting. To microbes and ravens it is a buffet of the most succulent kind.

Death is, among other things, relative.

So what can we learn from this? Two points.

First, death may be something we wish to defer as long as possible, but the world is full of the demise of creatures every moment of every day in violent and often bloody encounters.

Second, dogs are clearly superior to cats.

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