Cloudio and the Buck

During a hot summer, when the land was very dry from the drought, a young buck died under a fig tree in my grandmother’s orchard. After a month in the field, all that was left of the carcass were bones covered in fur and tough, leathery skin. As it naturally decomposed, I eventually decided to use the bones in my artwork.


I began a long process to clean the bones of their remaining biological matter. The most effective way to clean a skeleton is through the natural process of maturation, where the carcass is submerged in water and left to decay. I submerged the large carcass in my old, baby bathtub and a wheel barrow. Bacteria thrive and break down the biological matter, turning the water a thick, murky green. The murky water should then be replaced with clean water every few days. The murky, green water is incredibly nutritional to plants, far more effective then most store-bought fertilizers.


The first time I filled the bathtub and wheelbarrow with water, I was nervous that I would become squeamish and uncomfortable with the sight and smell of the buck as it decomposed. I did not like dissections in high school, for the often made me feel alienated from the organism opposed to connected to the animal. But from the moment I picked up the deer carcass with my hands, I knew aiding (if only in a minor way) the maturation process would not be frightening. The natural process of decay is very different and far less scary then a formaldehyde-filled creature. It did not bother me in the slightest bit to touch the buck’s body, and then weeks later to submerge my own hands in the water to remove decomposing skin and tendons. In high school formaldehyde made me nauseous. The smell of decomposition is earthy and strange, but not distressing. I remind myself that if decay smells “bad”, it only means bacteria and other scavengers are happy and doing their evolutionary job. When death and decay are viewed as an exchange of matter and life, neither seem so frightening.

Decay is not frightening; it is beautiful and it brings me closer to nature in a very profound way. It is profound how decomposition can be the best medicine for a sick or tired plant. I used the green, murky water to hydrate my grandma’s rose garden during the drought. The skin removed from the deer I buried deep in the roots of my grandma’s fruit trees that looked most in need of help. The natural process of growth and decay is very circular. It is so poetic to watch the buck’s death bring the growth of life. Decay is not “gross” or horrific, in fact, it is a profound, unending cycle of conservation and sustentation of organic matter.      

There is a western narrative that death and decay are inherently grotesque, a source of revulsion and fear, and must be hidden and avoided. I believe decay should not be an automatic sensory source of disgust. From personally witnessing and engaging in the natural process of maturation, I have learned to see physical and transcendental unity in all life. Nature wastes nothing.

From "Nothing Wasted: A Counter Narrative to the Fear of Decay in Western Society" (Ariel Fleishhacker, 2015)

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