Somewhere on the side of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County is a ranger's office. The office was closed last Friday when I peered into its window. Inside was a sad collection of stuffed birds. I questioned why an office dedicated to the appreciation of nature would have a collection of dead animals in it. Taxidermy is an odd thing. I wonder how people would view it if we started stuffing dead humans for display?
Natural history museums have massive collections of stuffed animals, and drawers of beetles and butterflies—all cataloged and sorted. The act of collecting, in and of itself is interesting behavior. When one collects dead animals it's even more curious. I remember, as a young boy, a local nature museum's display of a severed elephant's foot. All the kids loved it. But, is a hollowed-out severed foot the way we want to teach children about the respect for nature? It's like a curio shop in a nightmare.
Today's photograph captures my encounter with the rangers' stuffed bird collection. The sad bird propped in the window haunts me. A still photograph of it is sadly macabre. If I'd taken the poor creature outside I could have made it seem as if it were still alive—an extension of the taxidermist's art. It reminds me of an open-casket funeral when everyone remarks how good the corpse looks. It's almost as if we try to cheat death every time we stuff and preserve something. But, to me, death becomes creepier when I see a once-sentient being that was vibrant and alive now suspended forever in a window, stuffed and captive forever.