The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us all of the fragility of human life and the inevitability of death. Renaissance artists would often slip a human skull into the background of their paintings as a “memento mori”, or reminder of death amidst life. This spring, as we spend more time in our backyards and local parks, we can find numerous reminders of new life and death.
A pair of robins set up their nest above the downspout beside our dining room window. As I dug my vegetable bed in preparation for planting, the robin parents followed me around, ready to dart in and grab any unlucky worms turned up by the spade. Then they rushed home with their prize, to feed it to their fluffy pair of babies. Within a few days, the last one was teetering on the edge of the nest. A few hours later, he was gone.
I was lucky enough to spy him later, clinging to a branch, with one of his parents nearby looking for fresh worms to feed his insatiable appetite. Close by were a pair of baby starlings, calling loudly for their own parents to come and feed them.
In the last few years a pair of red tailed hawks have patrolled the skies above our neighbourhood. Sometimes they can be seen perched on top of one of the student residences near Wilfrid Laurier University. A raucous racket from a group of crows and starlings attracted my attention from my vegetable garden. Looking up I saw one of the hawks perched on a telephone pole at the end of the garden, dangling a fluffy grey tail from his talons. He was being dive-bombed by the other birds, whether to scare him from the neighbourhood or perhaps to distract him into dropping his lunch. The hawk flapped into a nearby fir tree, which gave him some protection from the attackers. Then he proceeded to ignore the other birds, who continued to squawk noisily, flapping around behind him and even flying into his back. He held tightly onto the branch and the dead grey squirrel and proceeded to eat his lunch, undeterred.
And finally, we discovered our very own memento mori: this almost perfectly preserved fox skull was sitting in the bushes along the Walter Bean Trail near the Humane Society.