It wasn’t a mole. But it was dead. I didn’t know what kind of rodent it was (maybe a mouse?), so I didn’t correct anyone. I could just as easily have titled this post ‘The Dead Mouse’ but that’s not what the kids were calling it. The species wasn’t important. Its death was.
I was leading a scout group on an evening hike. We could barely move ten feet without the kids discovering something new. Deer tracks in the mud. A blue feather. A native wildflower. I shared with them about the existence of tardigrades and suddenly the most minuscule plants along the trail inspired the grandest of discoveries. As quickly as I could provide the kids with hand lenses their imaginations produced images of water bears frolicking among the single-celled leaves beneath our hiking boots. The slow pace seemed to annoy the grown-ups, but I marveled at the kids’ engagement and enthusiasm. They just met me an hour before, yet I was happily pulled in every direction as the sun set and the forest cooled and darkened.
“Ms. Alison! I found something! Come see!”
Until the dead mole.
All eighteen of us crowded around the small, lifeless body to look. It was right in the middle of the trail. We leaned in. The kids were mostly quiet. A boy poked at the body gingerly with his crooked hiking stick. Nothing happened.
Of course, they eventually started to ask, “What happened to it?” Of course, I didn’t know. We could all only guess.
We talked briefly about who might eat the mole, the process of decomposition, and the recycling of nutrients, but none of that seemed important. The only thing we knew for sure was that things die. And now that dead mole will provide life for something else. That’s nature, right?
“It makes me feel kind of sad,” said one of the youngest boys.
And with that we walked away. A little quieter. A little more thoughtful. But confident knowing that- mouse or mole, mature tulip poplar or microscopic moss piglet- the forest and its creatures will, in some way, go on existing in our absence.
Already the children have wondered
Over, the woods have whispered.*
*These final words were inspired by Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Encounter’ about finding a dead mouse from The River Styx, Ohio and Other Poems (1972).