Hiking through the wilderness of Montana and Wyoming, one is constantly confronted by the cycle of life and death. Dead leaves compost along the trail under the shadow of vibrant summer foliage. Charred downfall logs, a residual of a natural forest fire, carpet the new growth lodgepole pines. But nothing serves to remind me that life in the wilderness does eventually come to an end like the discovery of the sun-bleached bones of a fallen animal.
One day I was hiking just west of the Yellowstone Canyon and came upon a large meadow-like clearing. At the far edge, I could spot intermittent flecks of bright white as the wind pushed the tall grasses aside. As I got closer, remnant remains of either an elk or bison began to come into focus. The skeleton was no longer whole, but scattered across a wide swath of field, as though the carcass had been fought over and dragged every which way. Not a scrap of hair or tissue remained. All that existed now were the pale white components of the animal’s frame. This final resting place diverged so far from the human idea of burial. The animal had become a meal, or more likely many meals, which nourished and sustained the surviving mammals.
It made me wonder if a more fitting use for my own body upon death would be to drop it into a meadow where I could become the protein for a winter belly. Let my bones dry in the sun and decorate the land.