Sunday, July 31, 2016

A grave situation

Two mornings ago I was walking along my usual morning path, racking up the Fitbit footsteps, minding my own business (meaning I was letting my mind wander wherever it felt like wandering), when I was ambushed by a new sight in a place where I expected things to be the same as ever.

Sinkhole above, grave below  July 2016 Lif Strand
In fact, I had walked right past a hole in the ground that had not been there the day before.  It took that long for awareness of the anomaly to interrupt my reverie and make me stop and turn around to investigate.

The thing was a sinkhole, a depression that is made when somewhere below the surface a cavity collapses and the earth above it sinks into that space. My sinkhole, the one in the photo, is over a grave.

No, I have not murdered anyone lately, nor have I allowed anyone else to bury any bodies on my property. This is the grave of a horse, and she was put in the ground some years ago. The sinkhole was totally unexpected, because unless you know where to look, you'd never know there was anything different about that place than, say, ten or twenty feet away. Dirt and weeds.

I've probably walked over that grave dozens of times over the years. I don't have creepy feelings about graves.  But suddenly I did have creepy feelings about the appearance of a sinkhole over one.

Of course, whatever I had been cogitating on to that point was shot right out the window, to be replaced by thoughts of zombie horses digging out of the ground.  My writer's mind ran with that one for a while until it reached a natural conclusion, which was that the sinkhole was too small for a zombie horse to have risen from.  So, more realistically, I started figuring out what had caused this sinkhole to form just like magic and literally overnight.

It's quite fascinating, in a gruesome kind of way.

I had just read an article, A different way to die: the story of a natural burial, originally published on Grist, a nonprofit news site that uses humor to shine a light on big green issues, and I had viewed an attached video which showed the process of decomposition of a dead (human) body. I got to thinking about the process of a body of a nearly thousand pound horse breaking down:  the effect of microorganisms on flesh that was no longer living; the sequential death of those microorganisms; how the body would go from something that looked like a sleeping horse to just bones; how long it would take for it all to happen in a hole that was over 6' deep and therefore relatively cool. Maybe an earthworm had bumped against a pebble that caused the collapse of an ant tunnel that moved a rock that shifted and allowed dirt to settle into the now-empty cavity of my horse's chest.

Then I had to wonder if the sinkhole had been big enough would I have seen a horse mummy? Or a mass of stinking, muddy glop? Or just bones?

I got to thinking about what it would be like if I had been standing on top of that spot when it collapsed. The hole is nearly four feet wide and it is a good 18" deep. It might have been bigger. I might have had to claw at the sides to break them down so I could scramble out. My foot might have broken through... I don't know what... and gotten wedged between the rib bones of the mare's barrel.


Those entertaining thoughts took me all the way back to the house. I got busy with my day, starting with making sure the Fitbit was syncing with my online account so I could be awed and amazed by the accumulated footsteps. Or maybe more like dismayed, because I have not been keeping up like I should be. But that's another story.

I went back and reread the article, which reminded me how natural a process death is if it's allowed to be, and further, how an end comes to all living things in this system of reality that we inhabit. And yet... and yet...

Death is still creepy. So today I went out to the sinkhole.  It has not gotten any bigger and shows no signs of a zombie hoof trying to work its way out of the grave. Or a vampire horse, come to think of it, though both would have risen early on if it was going to happen at all. 

I spread wildflower seeds in the hole. It made me feel better, because I know they will stand between me and undead horses.  RIP.