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.

Please take a moment to share my work on social media. Agree or disagree, the more who read this the bigger the opportunity to share with others, and promote meaningful dialog. It would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

JEBWizard Publishing ( is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services.

Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at or 401-533-3988.

Trail Tribulations: Deciphering Trail Descriptions

funny hiking quotes
© Greenbelly

I am a big fan of hiking. Some might call it an addiction and, with what I’m going to share, you might agree. But I hope you find it useful enough to join us in our shared misery/ecstasy.

Where else can you experience the thrill of a bear encounter and the possibility (no matter how slight) of being a bear’s meal?

But that is a minor consideration. Almost every time you see a bear, it is a fleeting glimpse of the hind end running away. (The almost part was deemed necessary by the bear’s lawyers, sometimes food is scarce.)

The real challenge is not if you should hike, but where you should hike.

The most confusing part of hiking is reading the trail descriptions. They come in three varies; easy, moderate, and hard.  Despite these simple-sounding appellations, they require some translation and dissection.

Trail descriptions involve several elements, elevation, terrain, and distance. I’ll explain each in context of the trail description.

Elevation gains happen where the trail is mostly straight up, with the occasional descent to give back the hard-won elevation. At the moment, it seems like a pleasant respite. It is not. Because on the way back, when you are exhausted, sweaty, muddy (more on this later,) and considering throwing yourself off a cliff, this will be a section you have to climb up on the way down. It is all part of the diabolical joy of hiking.

The elevation gain, which may seem gentle at times, is not. Despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, as you climb higher in the mountains measurements stretch out.  And there is one consistent  aspect of every trail in the world, the last half-mile is always steep and muddy.  Even when you’re coming down, I think they change out the trailhead once you’ve started up the trail. It’s the only logical explanation.

Terrain descriptions are notoriously inaccurate. Some rocky sections mean all rocks. May be muddy when wet means always muddy. There are sections of some trails that have not dried out since the Jurassic Period.  Some sections require scrambles means hanging off the edge of a cliff.

In a nutshell, the terrain will give you the experience of an enhanced interrogation session.

Distance is deceptive.  One foot at the trailhead becomes a yard at 3000 feet. This is borne out by the signs placed by the US Forest Service. If the sign says 1.5 miles to a waypoint, it works out to be 2 miles or more. NEVER BELIEVE THE SIGNS. They are like spectators shouting at marathoners in the 20th mile. “You can do it! Push, Push!” Easy to say when you’re sitting in a folding chair drinking a beer, not so for the guy actually running, or in this case hiking a mountain.

Combining these elements together you have a trail description which tells you nothing.

There are no easy trails. There are easier trails which are dependent on your own ability to tolerate pain.

Each of the descriptions—easy, moderate, or hard—are relative to the person who wrote them. I’ve often read of a trail described as easy, and it was not. It was clearly written by a sado-masochistic person trying to make up for his (and it almost always a him) inadequacies by pretending to be superior.

The opposite is also true. Trails described as hard are often written by people who think getting out of their car to walk into Dunkin’ Donuts constitutes strenuous exercise.

So how do you know what to hike? Just do it. There are easier trails and harder trails and you will know them when you see them.

I can sum them up as follows.

Easy trails are like when a doctor says, “you may feel slight discomfort.”

Moderate trails are when the doctor says, “this is gonna sting a bit.”

Hard trails are when the doctor says, “Hold him down.”

Here’s a word about roots, rocks, and other inhabitants of the trail.  They move. Roots and rocks adjust themselves to be in the perfect position to snag your foot just as you attempt to jump over a stream, a rock, or muddy section. While they appear dormant and in a fixed position, they are not.

They hear you coming and maneuver for their chance to strike.

On a positive note, when you do get tripped by a root—and it is only a matter of when, not if—one of two things will happen, you will fall forward or backwards, each has pleasant possibilities.

Falling forward, a sharp rock will rise out of the ground allowing your shin to absorb the force of the fall. Or, if for some reason, you miss this safety feature, a sharp-pointed yet deceptively flat rock will position itself so your knee can absorb the force of the fall.

Falling backward is even better. Since the shin is no longer available, your butt will absorb the fall and it will feel like you have as many cracks in it as the San Andreas Fault. Or a certain anatomical aspect of your butt will land on a sharp pointed rock with the precision of a cruise missile. For those of you of a certain age, your next colonoscopy will not require anesthetic, for the others it will be an eye-opening experience.

And just like the nuclear trigger in our military arsenal, roots have a failsafe mechanism in the event you’re able to avoid being snagged by one. The roots manage—perhaps aided by the Elvish folk who inhabit the woods—to subtlety snag your bootlaces until one has come loose. Then, just as you try to step forward, you’ve tripped yourself into the cascading process of falling.

Now a word about bugs. They are one of the constancies of hiking. Even if no one wants to hike, bugs will come with you. There is a progression to your tolerance to bugs. First, they are annoying, then the are infuriating, but, like attaining Nirvana, if you hike enough and swallow enough bugs (again, when not if) you come to consider them bonus protein.

Now before you get disgusted by such thoughts, I am sure many of you eat oatmeal. How you manage this I do not understand, but you do. You realize people once used oatmeal to hang wallpaper, right? You’re eating wallpaper paste so you have no room for haughty superiority.

I think those little gelatinous sacks frog eggs come in that appear in murky ponds every spring likely taste like oatmeal. Bugs taste better, require less preparation, and offer themselves up willingly.

Bugs are just an underappreciated food group

Mount Pierce looking toward Mounts Washington and Eisenhower

Despite all of this. once you reach the summit something magical happens. The spirit of the mountain infiltrates your soul, erasing and easing all the pain of the effort. You see things most people never see. You look out on a vista of nature undisturbed.

It makes it all worthwhile.

Reaching the summit is better pain relief than Ibuprofen. Something those of us who’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail called Vitamin I. (But just in case, have some Ibuprofen to wash down with your celebratory drink at the trail’s end.)

This intoxication—or temporary insanity—lasts just long enough to carry you back down the trail and then goes dormant. After the muscle aches fade, and the mud is washed from your clothes, and the bruises have faded, it re-emerges and whispers in your ear…

“Let’s find another trail to hike and another mountain to climb.”

Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson


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Noticing Things

I grew up in Cumberland, Rhode Island, where we were fortunate enough to have a world of fields and streams and woods to explore to our heart’s content—or when we got hungry, whichever came first.

The streams offered us the chance to catch sun turtles, snakes, crawfish, and frogs. The ones we called Leopard frogs—because of their color, we didn’t know their proper name—were the most difficult to catch. Shaped like an arrow, only the most stealth-like approach allowed you a chance. The slightest movement drawing the frog’s attention, and they shot across the bank in what we saw as prodigious leaps. Or they would dive beneath the green water plants and hide in the mud.

Sometimes, we would work up the courage to reach into the mud, usually on a dare. More often, one of us would point out the myth of poisonous water moccasins—also known as Cottonmouth snakes—lurking just below the surface, waiting to kill us. There were none, but the common water snakes were close enough to make us wary of dying a horrible death on the banks of the stream. 

Plus, we couldn’t be late for dinner.

But the interesting thing is it seems I notice more wildlife here in Cranston—our new home — then I ever did in Cumberland. Back then, we had the usual rabbits, skunks, and squirrels. I don’t recall ever seeing a deer or a raccoon. Now, I see them all the time along the bike path winding through this semi-urban environment.

We even have turkeys wandering in and around the houses on the street.

In Cumberland, there were robins, blackbirds, and sparrows in the woods and the occasional pheasant. We feared the pheasants. They had a habit of waiting until you were right upon them before bursting into flight, the wings thumping like machine-guns as we scattered and ran in the other direction.

The pheasants left as they filled the fields over with more homes, doubling the population of the town. The Cumberland of my memory was a small town where everybody knew everybody. I’m not sure if that is true today.

But in Cranston, the species of birds and wildlife seem limitless.

I put out a bird feeder. It serves as entertainment since I’m not much of a TV watcher. To be honest, we watch a few Netflix or PBS series, but only at night and just for a couple of hours.

I’d rather watch the varied species of birds, looking for the new and unfamiliar. Cardinals, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Blue Jays, Robins, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Pileated woodpecker, Bell’s Vireo, Gold Finch, Common Raven all these and more flit between the trees, the ground, and the feeder, competing for the seed.

I do not discriminate against any creature—feathered or otherwise—gathering seed from the feeder. But I confess to engaging in interspecies schadenfreude, that delicious German term for taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. Here, it is watching the squirrels’ frustration, unable to penetrate the brilliant squirrel-resistant (nothing is ever squirrel-proof) design of the bird feeder.

I enjoy watching their gyrations trying to get at the food, then surrendering to defeat. It reduces them to looking up from the ground like common street beggars, gathering the scraps of seeds knocked loose by the birds.

It is these simple things in life that give me the most pleasure.

We also host a resident rabbit family. Two fat adults and at least one small baby. There are likely more babies—these are rabbits after all—but I’ve only seen one at a time.

I go between watching the rabbits and glancing skyward for the many hawks—Red Tail and others. I have mixed feelings about what I might do should one make a dive for the rabbits. It is all part of nature. Who am I to interfere?

I wonder if it is just the stage of life I am at because I now notice these things? Perhaps back then, I didn’t notice the things that surrounded me because I hadn’t learned to see them. Perhaps it’s more a matter of gaining insight into all the world offers that has opened my eyes.

Since you are under “house arrest” anyway, now might be an excellent time to turn off the computer and the TV and watch the actual nature show in your own backyard. You might be surprised what you see.

Stay well.

P.S. For those of you who’ve enjoyed reading my books, stay tuned for some exciting new releases coming this summer. And for those of you who haven’t read my books, what’s keeping you? You’ve got plenty of time on your hands. Click the link and read away.

Do Snapping Turtles Eat Bikers (the pedal kind)?

The first of the annual snapping turtle hatch has begun along the Blackstone River. Each spring we come across many turtles digging holes and laying eggs, but the giant snapping turtles are the ones I like. Gnarly, black/grey, with remarkably long necks, they make their way from the murky river to a spot in the sun, patiently dig the hole, deposit the eggs, then wander back

Without a second thought of how, or if, the eggs survive.

Most do not.  Raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, all have their turn at finding and digging up the nests.  The egg-laying takes place over two weeks. Over the next few days, there are grey/white eggshells everywhere.

It’s a wonder the species survives.

But they do. Beginning in late August or early September, those nests that remained undisturbed erupt with life.

IMG_6622 (004)As evidence of the perseverance of nature, we came upon this little guy trying to cross the bike path. Usually, I defer to nature. It is not for me to decide if this turtle survives or dies within hours of hatching but, I made an exception.

My reason for interceding in the process is simple. The bike path is not a natural barrier to the turtle’s march to the river. The trail is the domain of dangerous, if goofy looking, predators; hordes of Lance Armstrong wannabes zoom up and down the path festooned in the most ridiculous bike racing accouterments. It is a drag queen bike race of the fashionably challenged. I bet the advertisers adorning stretched and strained material never expected that kind of publicity.biker

Fixated on maintaining the balance of their stitch-straining bulk squeezed into the neon fashion nightmare, they’d crush the turtle without a second thought.

Just once I’d like to see them hit a full-grown snapper. There, I’d leave nature to its course.

It would give me great pleasure watching them launched into the air. I know turtles are carnivorous, but it might be too much to hope the saga would end with a bale (the name for a gathering of turtles) devouring the biker.

In my imagination, the trees would be swarmed by a murder of crows (another excellent group name) waiting patiently to clean the bones.

It hasn’t happened yet, but there is hope.

Absent any air-borne bikers to watch, I picked the little guy up and took him to the marshy area along the river, far from the dangerous bike path of death.

I don’t know if he or she will survive the winter, but I hope they do. I hope they grow big and healthy and robust.

I hope they develop a taste for bikers.  That would be a great example of evolutionary progress.

Nature: The Ultimate Entertainment

I had the opportunity to walk through the old Rocky Point Amusement Park grounds the other day. The last time I walked this area I was likely 9 or 10 years old. The nostalgia for the lost rides, shore dinner hall, hotdogs, and cotton candy, of course, came flooding back.


Some of the supports for the gondola ride stood rusting in the sun. Wrapped with the vines that will ultimately bring them crashing down, they will return to the earth over which they once stood.

Humans are great at building temporary things. Our intelligence and skills take the elements of the earth and converts them into towering monuments to our abilities. Yet, given adequate time through the unending process of living organisms, the earth will reclaim each of these.

Humans must work to maintain the things we build. The earth just has to continue on, patiently waiting for us to abandon these things as we so often do to once again reign supreme.

The 10-year-old me would lament the loss of the merry-go-round, the games, the Ferris wheel (named after its designer George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.), tilt-a-whirl, and myriad other rides. The memories of outings to places like Rocky Point, Lincoln Park, and Crescent Park invoke such powerful memories.

Although they pale when compared to the magic of the Magic Kingdom, my memories of these places keep a warm place in my heart. I think I prefer them to what Disney has become, although I suppose each generation feels the same of the origins of their childhood memories.

I wonder if Walt Disney himself would regret the destruction of the natural vistas to create artificial worlds filled with people losing their appreciation of this planet?

The half-a-century older me is glad the area is slowly returning to its natural state. It is a sign that we do have the potential to make sound decisions in our care of this planet when we chose to leave nature to itself.

Building ticky-tacky little houses all looking the same as we paved paradise would have made someone wealthy in the short run. (Aren’t you glad I put those songs playing in your head so you will hear them all day?) This Earth would still wait patiently for the moment to send out that first shoot of a vine or tree.


A shoot that would begin the inexorable process of taking back to the earth what man foolishly believes he has stolen for himself.

I for one am glad the vines and trees are tearing down the metal poles, reopening the vista of Narragansett Bay and the endless variations of nature’s bounty. While the view from a Ferris wheel can awaken the imagination of a young boy and create a lifelong memory, to embrace and appreciate nature creates joy for a lifetime.

Nature in all its Gory

Tree huggers love nature. They love to update their status on social media with cute images of orangutan’s frolicking with puppies and kittens and baby goats and fat Vietnamese potbellied pigs.

They share stories of the bear raised with the tiger and the lion.

They show rainbow-diffusing waterfalls with elk drinking at the peaceful edge of the pool of water or snow covered bison roaming peacefully on the open ranges of Yellowstone.

But that is not nature, that is marketing.

What set this off was the following headline,

People love watching nature on nest cams — until it gets grisly.


The story was about how the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute had to turn off the webcam on an Osprey nest. The outrage of “nature lovers” escalated to vitriol and anger when the camera showed the mother Osprey neglecting and attacking the chicks in 2014. They wanted the staff to intervene.

In other words, nature wasn’t really to their liking.

Polar bears are another favorite. No matter where you fall on the man-caused/natural global warming discussion (although I think the science of man-caused is pretty clear if not the exclusive reason) there is much angst about saving the big white furry magnificent Polar Bear.

Whatever the cause of their decline, I remember one interesting fact about Polar Bears. They are the only known species to actively hunt humans. It’s their nature.

Polar Bears are majestic apex predators. Watch this if you have any doubt.

But that’s not my point.

Tell me your point, Joe, you say.

Okay, I will.

Nature is not cruel. Nature is not heartless. Nature is not brutal. Sometimes, nature seems downright chilling from our human perspective.

But overall, Nature is neutral.

Now, doing everything we can to minimize our impact on nature and the many creatures we share this planet with is a noble goal.

Complaining when a camera gives you a window on the reality of nature is not noble or caring. It is to be ignorant of the ways of nature.

Every moment of every day something in nature is dying by the efforts of some other creature. Whether it’s a Baleen Whale filtering microscopic plankton or a pack of lions chasing down and killing a gazelle.

That is nature.

Nature is not a Disney film. Often, it’s more Alfred Hitchcock with a script by Stephen King. But that’s because we are looking at it from an unrealistic perspective.