Updated: Jan 13, 2020
When I first come into contact with a once-living creature, there is definitely an exchange; a mutual understanding like a balanced scale that holds both appreciation and reverence. In my hands is a creature that ate, slept, possibly procreated and will never revert back to its previous form. For this little one, the wheel has turned and the cycle has completed for this fragile life.
When I say ‘energy exchange’ I don’t mean to go off into some hippy dippy feel good talk, though I do have my own personal practices and fail-safes in place. What I mean by energy exchange is that since taxidermy is such an invasive art, there is no method to avoid becoming intimately acquainted with the creature: Its lifestyle, its ailments and possibly even the reason for its death.
Like a historical textbook, each limb, organ or imperfections tell a story that led this creature through its path. When I first picked up my scalpel with a fresh cat casualty (a mouse) artfully placed upon my workbench for the first time, I never dreamed that I’d be having these sorts of experiences. Berry remnants were stained behind its claws, a nicked tail possibly acquired from trying to escape a predator (perhaps unsuccessfully) all these characteristics told the tale of this little fella once so fastidiously going about their little mousie day.
That’s when the existential dread set in (well, at least it tried to make a touch down with little success). I thought to myself ‘how can I possibly respect the life of this creature in the ways that I am currently experiencing it?’ In that moment I felt extremely humbled and even honored by the creature before me and a silent smile crept at the corners of my lips.
If this little fella had rotted in the woods, of course, we would be none the wiser. Life and the planet would go on without a second thought while I’m sure the creature itself would come to expect no less than a wildlife burial as a decomposing corpse in the forest or nourishing a fellow wildlife creature in the belly of a great beast. But something else took place- I thought how cool is it that I can appreciate this little creature in this secret, intimate way, and how precious is it that I, quietly without anyone else present to bear witness, have been given the gift to be part of that process.
To get a little dirty, a little steenky, a little gritty all to capture a glimpse of that past life.
I think that once you are acquainted with a creature, like really involved with their death as the art of taxidermy allows, it does create an energy exchange- One that reminds me still to this day that life is very precious, that it is meant to be embraced and of course I am reminded that I am kind of really lucky that I am here, living the life I have been given before the cycle also turns me into worm food.