Bye Bye Billy (and an Armadillo)

I made some loud clicking sounds, and then whistled. But the white patch at the edge of the lake in the distance did not move. It was too far away to be clear what it was. But unless it was a couple of sunbathing herons, it seemed clear enough that something had died. The old billygoat’s long white tongue was hanging out, its stomach was bloated, and the sound of the flies was overwhelming. Its huge baggy testicles were half-buried in the mud. Six black vultures lined up on the bank had slowly wafted away as I approached. The sun-soaked stench of death already suffused the air, suffocating any consolatory thoughts about cycles of nature. Carl Sagan suggests our deep connectedness to the stars by saying we are made of stardust. But the intensely invasive smell of a decaying body teaches another story. It marks an absolute difference between the living munching devilish goat and this rotting corpse. It may be turning back into stardust, taking a long detour through suppurating flesh, maggot nests, chemical decomposition and so on. But each one of the molecules that once made up that fine billy could have come from anywhere. What mattered was their combination, organization, and the dynamic directedness of the whole into which they were fused. The death stink is a cacophany of disintegration, breaking down complex forms into raw materials readied for reabsorption by the chain of life. But the goat had long since utterly gone. Living beings may well be shaped somewhat by the building blocks available, but the difference between a lump of coal and a carbon-based life form is absolute. The watery corpse at lakeside is a mere shadow of what once was. Not far away on this day of death I found my first armadillo, looking like a cross between an angel and a mega-rat. Covered in scaly armour, its leathery flanks encased folded-up limbs that seemed cupped together in prayer. Its insides had already been gutted. It was not clear why it had died – out there in the open on the straw-dry grass. I looked back at the goat. The vultures were already circling back. Walking away from this impromptu cemetery, I felt anew the strength in my legs, the air in my lungs, the thirst in my throat. And I thought about what it must be like to be trapped in a body (or soul) dedicated to an armored existence. I wondered how armadillos made love (and porcupines). Amour and armour! I thought of Wilhelm Reich, and the idea of psycho-somatic body armour, and its connection to fascism. This latter shows us that life itself can do deals with a certain ‘death’. Nietzsche: “Man would rather will nothing than not will.” This testifies to the power of life even as it betrays its highest possibilities.