Wednesday 18 June 2014

Dry as a bone

Oh dear, it must have been a horrible way to die.

It was just a small, furry rodent, but... well, I think about these things. Finding itself at the bottom of a deep, narrow-necked garden pot and then presumably caught in a downpour, repeated but failed attempts to jump out in its rain-soaked state must have sapped its energy. I found its remains on a dry, sunny day, some time after its demise. It was still in the climbing position, still looking hopeful, even in death; a little bank vole, judging by its size and shape.

A few years ago I did at least manage to save a fellow bank vole from a similar fate. I heard a strange noise coming from an empty watering can and discovered that one had wedged itself up the far end of the spout. I slipped the rose off and waited – but not for long – suddenly, making me jump too, out it popped like a cork from a champagne bottle, and scampered off unharmed. (I always leave the watering can covered now...)

I wish I could have rescued this one too, but now that its fragile body has long dried out and is decomposing naturally and not gruesomely at all (no gooey bits or maggots), I'm just waiting to see its perfect little skeleton*. I'm strangely excited at this prospect and intend to find a way to keep it in order once all the bones are clean. That's not weird, is it? I guess I just wish I'd paid more attention to Biology lessons at school as I can't help being curious about this stuff, only we had to dissect things and work in a lab that smelt funny and it was all a bit too icky for me in my early teens. There are ways you can speed up the process – some involve warm or cold water, some use hydrogen peroxide or other solutions I believe – but as I don't really fancy donning a mad professor outfit and poking a dead creature about in a saucepan in the kitchen, I'll just wait.... All it needs is air.

Not so for the body of a dead cat in one of our local hotels. The cat, and the section of wall behind which it had been incarcerated, is now displayed behind glass in the reception area and it's quite creepy to see its mummified remains with skin intact. Over here, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a superstitious custom to sometimes bury live cats behind walls to ward off evil spirits, like a kind of lucky charm for the property. (The more animal-friendly version of this was to use shoes). In this part of the country they were often buried whilst the building was under construction to protect from 'witches, warlocks and fire'. When this particularly unfortunate creature was first discovered during renovation work in the 1970s, it was removed... but, soon after, a number of strange and unfortunate events (including a fire) occurred in the vicinity. Curse or coincidence? Who can say? But the subsequent bad luck was enough to ensure its return.

I must remember that when my vole skeleton finally emerges...

* I've talked about bones before here too, if you're interested.


  1. Ant bed...that's what we used to do with silver dollars and other stuff we got off the beach. They'd come out white and clean as a museum specimen. Course you may not have the bleeding ants we do so...

    It was all I could do recently not to pick up a rat skull I came across in a country parking lot...and I have taken pictures of decaying deer. The wobbly organic shapes and hard bone is interesting to me. So...nothing weird to me on your part.

    I thought about you this weekend...a turtle has laid a pile of eggs in bushes around our house. Martha and the Boy thought it was dying at first. Of course after she was done laying them...she scooted off and never looked back.

    1. Ah yes, you get it - the shapes, the organic-ness, the fascination, it's beauty. I would have loved the rat skull!

      Your turtle tale has me wide-eyed and envious. What an amazing thing to witness so close... seems so exotic, so lovely... I hope the eggs survive and you get baby turtles (pics please!)

  2. Sorry to hear about the little vole. Mrs S had an encounter with (a live) one in the garden during that very hot period a few weeks back. Apparently the poor little blighter stumbled, exhausted, from the undergrowth and collapsed on the path beside her. She put down some emergency rations of seeds and water and within a few minutes the little blighter trotted off, happy and refreshed.
    I once tried to tell someone in America about the live cat in the wall superstition, but they were having none of it, convinced I was pulling their leg! I didn't realise that there was an animal friendly alternative too!

    1. P.S. Did I mention that it was a little blighter?

    2. Ah, that's such a lovely story - a great happy ending. They are truly delightful little blighters, aren't they?

      Btw I've heard of other things being hidden in walls too.. some of which are very gruesome. I'd love to find some shoes, though!

  3. Poor little thing. Nature is harsh but you might as well take a fascination in it. No, it's not weird. I see quite a lot of corpses and bones on my walks and always take a look (non-human, of course!). Used to hate cutting stuff up in biology - really unnecessary and disrespectful.

    1. Yes indeed - harsh but fascinating. I've learned more just from personal interest, observation (and that fascination...) than I ever did in school.


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