Dean M. Chriss
Bighorn Ram, Last Supper

Bighorn Ram, Last Supper

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It's springtime. There is fresh green grass on the hillsides and cool clear water flows in a river just a few yards away, but this old bighorn ram is hungry and thirsty. He struggles to climb a few feet up the steep hill to get some grass to eat. He cannot climb down the short but steep riverbank to get a drink. His massive horns are both broken and he wears the old scars of countless battles for dominance. Although he can stand and walk on a flat surface without obvious problems, he seems too weak to climb. In his glory days he could travel between the river and surrounding ridge tops as easily as he breathed. Younger members of his herd come here for water. He looks at them but does not try to follow, instead eating his hard won blades of grass in solitude. Then in a small flat area between the river and the high ridges he once dominated, he gently and quietly lays down and dies.

I watched these events from a distant spot on the opposite side of the river and photographed them through gaps in the intervening vegetation using a focal length of 1200 mm. The old ram seemed unaware of my presence and did not alter his behavior because of it, though it is impossible to know if he noticed me. I was sad to see his passing but felt privileged to be its only witness. I have never seen anything quite like this before or since. Occasionally I see evidence of dead birds and larger animals in my wanderings, but it is rare relative to my sightings of living ones. That may seem odd considering the fact that all living things die, but the dead are not around for long. Nature quickly recycles them into fungi, plants, insects, and other living things. It's the circle of life that is traveled by all living things, with one exception.

Since the days of ancient Egypt some humans have had themselves preserved and sealed into non-biodegradable containers after death, exiting the circle of life like one exits a roundabout. This is often seen as an attempt at immortality, but it can also be seen as exactly the opposite.