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The Lady Vanishes

Sunday, November 4, 2018

I started this post before I left for Ecuador October 24. I wound up leaving only one day to pack and prep for the trip, so it has been orphaned for awhile, floating around in cyberspace, hoping to become a whole blogpost. I'll leave the first part as it is,  and finish it up. Heads up: It's going to be tough going for people who aren't used to looking at kills. Proceed with caution, and, I hope, with the same sense of wonder and curiosity that I have.

I've been working really hard lately to get Saving Jemima as done as I can get it before I go to Ecuador. I've barely looked up. One good thing about having no one around is I can work a 14 or 16-hour day and not offend a soul. So that's what I've been doing. I have loved every minute of it.

I glance up a lot, watching the blue jays at the feeder, watching the red and white- breasted nuthatches, the cardinals, the woodpeckers. I'd been seeing turkey vultures sailing over all day, which I found unusual for late October. I thought about it and wondered what was up.

Late afternoon came and it was spitting rain. I wanted to get out and see the sky, but I knew better than to start a run. So, uncharacteristically, instead of heading out on foot, I climbed in the car to drive out into the country. I took my big camera along. I just had a feeling.

And there they were, lots of them, circling over a big hayfield on the corner of my road and the county road. Glory rays streamed down. They looked so fine up there.

I parked the car to take some photos and wonder what they were up to.

I decided to head into the hayfield to see. I had a feeling I knew what it was. There were too many vultures for it to be something small. And bow season has just started here.

Yep. Knew it. In early November of 2016, they killed my crooked doe Ellen this way. Just a small, inconsequential doe, an animal nobody would miss, a little something for live target practice. Maybe the same person who killed Ellen had turned his truck into the approach to this field, just one over from ours, fixed this doe in the glare of his headlights, and taken her down. What sport, what fun. Just getting in shape for the season, sighting in the bow or gun.

I know the poachers are stalking when I find things like this, when the beer cans start to accumulate along my road.  They show the same disregard for beauty as they do for life.

I didn't know this animal, thank goodness. Though it would be hard to tell who she was now. Now, she was nothing but a carcass.

I made some images. How could I not? The grass was flattened all around her where the vultures had been tramping. I could see that no other animals had been there, because the carcass was opened only at the back and front, the way vultures do. 

They'd been working on her all day. I stood there, with the fermented contents of her rumen scenting the air, thinking that at least she'd go to feed a nice flock of vultures, to speed them on their way to Central America.

I left her then, and went on to see some old house friends on up the county road. It was that kind of day, glowering and gloomy, and old houses look good in this kind of light.

If there's a classic Ohio farmhouse, this is it. Although the beveled corner is atypical, the porch and foursquare design is not. There's a ramshackle addition off the back, which adds to its interest. Gosh, I'd love to go inside. But I have never tried the door.

 Across the street, two other dwellings are slowly deliquescing. 

I like the addition on the big house, like a sloping rump off the back. Sooner or later, people ran out of space, and then they'd tack something on the side or back of the house to give them a little breathing room, a place to hang some coats, stack some boots, keep the egg baskets.

I'm not sure what the little building is off to the side. A summer kitchen?

 Whatever it is, it's sweet, and it reminds me of North Dakota. 

The birds have been perching on what little furniture remains inside. 
I'm thinking that's an eastern phoebe's latrine there. 

 I love this little scene. The table isn't much good any more. But oh, the patina on the walls and floor.

Heck of a view out the window: cattle moving easily across the land. While I was shooting the scene, an osprey flew over. A late osprey! They usually like to be gone before it gets very cold, as they don't have down feathers.

It was getting so dark I figured I'd head back home. A pale spot in the woods border resolved into a young red-shouldered hawk. If you click on the photo you'll see it can't be anything else. Well, I could see that. So many things go into telling me that's a redshoulder and not a redtail or a Cooper's hawk. I'm not even considering broad-wing, because they're long gone, having migrated in September.

It's got big blobby markings on its belly, and no belly band--the blobs are just scattered across the white. It's got really small feet. Redtails have big feet. The tail is banded, but nondescript, as would be that of a young redtail. Overall it's small but chunky, not lean and long like a Cooper's hawk would be, or urn-shaped like a redtail. And it's just a-settin' there, redshoulder style. Yep. For whatever reason young redshoulders just pop up this time of year. Maybe that's where they get the old name, Winterhawk. 

I passed the carcass site again, and the vultures were still wheeling very low. I left them to their meal.

The next morning, I came out early to see what had happened to the carcass overnight. 
When I last saw her, she looked like this. Entire, but for some missing bits.

There was still a vulture coursing low, unusual for so early in the morning.

As I approached, a great flock of crows rose up cawing. It was such a beautiful ragged sight I had to make a video. One vulture was already up and feeding.


I walked up to where the doe, who had weighed more than 100 pounds, had been, and she was simply gone.

I hadn't expected that!

Nothing but the stain of her last meal remained. 

But there were plenty of clues. A stray bone:

One ear.

I could see the drag mark where she'd been pulled away toward a distant line of firs, originally planted as a windbreak for the farmhouse that no longer graces this field. I stood, stunned, thinking about the power of the coy-wolf or coy-wolves that must have done this.

A forelimb!

I continued to follow the trail. Here's the other ear.

  Finally I found all that was left of the doe. 
I was flabbergasted. 

How many coy-wolves would it take to reduce her to a ribcage and a head, overnight? 

A single turkey vulture feather, black with a surprising white base, reminded me that the coy-wolves had had help.

There she lay, in the dancer's point in which they'd left her, dragged by one hind hoof hundreds of yards down the haymeadow. And there they had finished her off.

I could only marvel at the efficiency of the operation; the day shift of vultures and crows starting the cleanup, and giving way after dark to a pack of coy-wolves. She was gone, overnight.

In the ditch, a brace of asters and the spent heads of Queen Anne's lace gave a shot of fresh beauty to my wondering eye.

Back home, the flowers bloomed as if there were no tomorrow

and the bonsais promised to peak while I was away. 
when I left October 24

I don't want to leave in late October, ever again. There is too much beauty, both harsh and soft, all around.

when I got back Nov. 3


Wow! that is simply incredible! and quite fascinating!
thank you for sharing that..

dead deer, vultures abandoned house, you managed to capture the beauty in it. Thanks

dead deer, vultures abandoned house, you managed to capture the beauty in it. Thanks

Wasn't expecting that either! Wow! The proficiency of nature is both staggering, and humbling. Thank you for sharing the harsh reality of survival in such a beautiful way. Karma will take care of the irresponsible hunters. Nature will take care of the rest.

Nice ending to fascinating but graphic nature pics!! I lost my “ tame” doe White Nose( 4-5 yrs)to Rt 7 truck hit. She landed way up our drive her fawn had been begging @ back Dior & I hurry pitcher of corn yo her. Hope companion for & fawn will take her w/ them....I provided huge water by feed to keep them off Rt 7 & river....? Had State pick her up....used to have dogs that would get into!! Dead deer & then barf it in my house. Never again. Horrible ckean up!!m

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