Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death

( 3 )

Overview

“Bernd Heinrich is one of the finest naturalists of our time. Life Everlasting shines with the authenticity and originality that are unique to a life devoted to natural history in the field.”—Edward O. Wilson, author of The Future of Life and The Social Conquest of Earth

How does the animal world deal with death? And what ecological and spiritual lessons can we learn from examining this? Bernd Heinrich has long been fascinated by these questions, and when a good friend with a ...

See more details below
Paperback
$11.99
BN.com price
(Save 24%)$15.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (35) from $4.69   
  • New (16) from $4.83   
  • Used (19) from $4.69   
Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$10.49
BN.com price
(Save 34%)$15.95 List Price

Overview

“Bernd Heinrich is one of the finest naturalists of our time. Life Everlasting shines with the authenticity and originality that are unique to a life devoted to natural history in the field.”—Edward O. Wilson, author of The Future of Life and The Social Conquest of Earth

How does the animal world deal with death? And what ecological and spiritual lessons can we learn from examining this? Bernd Heinrich has long been fascinated by these questions, and when a good friend with a terminal illness asked if he might have his “green burial” at Heinrich’s hunting camp in Maine, it inspired the acclaimed biologist and author to investigate. Life Everlasting is the fruit of those investigations, illuminating what happens to animals great and small after death.

From beetles to bald eagles, ravens to wolves, Heinrich reveals the fascinating and mostly hidden post-death world that occurs around us constantly, while examining the ancient and important role we too play as scavengers, connecting death to life.

"Despite focusing on death and decay, Life Everlasting is far from morbid; instead, it is life-affirming . . . convincing the reader that physical demise is not an end to life, but an opportunity for renewal."—Nature

“A worldwide tour of the role of death in nature that is consistently fascinating and fun to read.”—Seattle Times

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this slim but moving volume, physiological ecologist Heinrich (Mind of the Raven) draws upon his intimate knowledge of the natural world to examine the role of death and decay in the earth’s “web of life.” Inspired by a friend’s request to have a “green burial” at the scientist’s hunting camp in Maine, Heinrich riffs on the concept that “we come from life, and we are a conduit into other life,” drawing anecdotes from his decades of fieldwork and academic research. Dead matter—the bodies of mice, deer, elephants, whales, trees—feeds vast populations of organisms: beetles execute their elaborate feeding and mating rituals on rotting corpses; roadkill feeds birds, coyotes, bears; primitive humans consumed elephants while dung beetles glean nutrients from their waste; insects and fungus turn felled trees into new soil. “The metaphor that we are part of the earth ecosystem is not a belief; it is a reality,” Heinrich writes. This engaging and thoughtful book makes the case that this truth is not only scientifically relevant but personally, and spiritually, too: by looking to nature, humans can “transcend individual deaths,” and find a deeper meaning in our earthly existence. Agent: TK. (June)
Library Journal
Biologist Heinrich follows up Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, an excellent study of wild birds, with this book. While the title conjures a religious tone, the work is actually a careful examination of biological recycling, the breaking down and reuse of the dead bodies of animals and plants. Through personal examination and research, Heinrich finds that "We come from and return to incomparably amazing plants and animals. Even while we are alive, our wastes are recycled directly into beetles, grass, and trees, which are recycled further into bees and butterflies and on to flycatchers, finches, and hawks, and back into grass and on into deer, cows, goats, and us." He studies beetles, birds, worms, fungi, and deep-sea scavengers to see how biological materials find their way back into the "web of life." He proposes that not all animals killed on the road be buried, since that flesh can be used productively by myriad creatures, and even questions the practice of permanent coffin-based human interments. VERDICT Heinrich writes with insight in entertaining prose that still manages to be scientific. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/16/11.]—John M. Kistler, Washington, PA
Kirkus Reviews
Heinrich (Biology Emeritus/Univ. of Vermont; The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds and the Invention of Monogamy, 2010, etc.) explores the taboos and relevance of scavengers, the "life-giving links that keep nature's systems humming along smoothly." After a friend asked if he could be buried on the author's woodland property in Maine, he reexamined his curiosity with the natural world: watching burying beetles for hours, sawing through a log to track the progress of beetle larvae, tracking and feeding local ravens. Heinrich presents five major sections outlining how bodies and plants are recycled and broken down: small to large (beetles to raptors and ravens to humans, the ultimate recyclers), north to south (ravens to vultures and condors), plant undertakers (tree borers to dung beetles), watery deaths (salmon, whales and other marine species) and changes (metamorphosis and death rituals). Above all, temperature affects how and what breaks down carrion as the flies and insects of summer are replaced by various birds in the winter. The author also tracks how trees decompose, a process that often begins before they die. Heinrich's main strength is his narration of the small stories--e.g., whale falls, dung beetles and ravens feeding. As a warning, he notes that extinctions have hit animal undertakers especially hard since vast herds of ungulates (deer, elk, bison) are no longer available. Heinrich maintains a conversational tone, but some of the chapters seem disparate, written at different times with different audiences in mind. Helpful author illustrations pepper the book. If you can't spend an afternoon watching beetles and hearing Heinrich's stories on how nature recycles its dead, this book is the next best thing.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780544002265
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 6/4/2013
  • Pages: 238
  • Sales rank: 316,827
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 5.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Bernd Heinrich is an acclaimed scientist and author of numerous books, including the best-selling Winter World , Mind of the Raven , and Why We Run. He writes for Scientific American , Outside , American Scientist , and Audubon , and has published book reviews and op-eds for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times . Among Heinrich's many honors is the 2013 PEN New England Award for Nonfiction, for Life Everlasting.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

If you would know the secret of death you must seek it in the heart of life. — Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

  . . . . Earth’s the right place for love; I don’t know where it’s likely to go better. — Robert Frost, “Birches”  

Yo, Bernd —
I’ve been diagnosed with a severe illness and am trying to get my final disposition arranged in case I drop sooner than I hoped. I want a green burial — not any burial at all — because human burial is today an alien approach to death. 
   Like any good ecologist, I regard death as changing into other kinds of life. Death is, among other things, also a wild celebration of renewal, with our substance hosting the party. In the wild, animals lie where they die, thus placing them into the scavenger loop. The upshot is that the highly concentrated animal nutrients get spread over the land, by the exodus of flies, beetles, etc. Burial, on the other hand, seals you in a hole. To deprive the natural world of human nutrient, given a population of 6.5 billion, is to starve the Earth, which is the consequence of casket burial, an internment. Cremation is not an option, given the buildup of greenhouse gases, and considering the amount of fuel it takes for the three-hour process of burning a body. Anyhow, the upshot is, one of the options is burial on private property. You can probably guess what’s coming . . . What are your thoughts on having an old friend as a permanent resident at the camp? I feel great at the moment, never better in my life in fact. But it’s always later than you think.
   

   This letter from a friend and colleague compelled me toward a subject I have long found fascinating: the web of life and death and our relationship to it. At the same time, the letter made me think about our human role in the scheme of nature on both the global and the local level. The “camp” referred to is on forest land I own in the mountains of western Maine. My friend had visited me there some years earlier to write an article on my research, which was then mostly with insects, especially bumblebees but also caterpillars, moths, butterflies, and in the last three decades, ravens. I think it was my studies of ravens, sometimes referred to as the “northern vultures,” that may have motivated him to write me. The ravens around my camp scavenged and recycled hundreds of animal carcasses that friends, colleagues, and I provided for them there. 
   My friend knows we share a vision of our mortal remains continuing “on the wing.” We like to imagine our afterlives riding through the skies on the wings of birds such as ravens and vultures, who are some of the more charismatic of nature’s undertakers. The dead animals they disassemble and spread around are then reconstituted into all sorts of other amazing life throughout the ecosystem. This physical reality of nature is for both of us not only a romantic ideal but also a real link to place that has personal meaning. Ecologically speaking, this vision also involves plants, which makes our human role global as well. 
   The science of ecology/biology links us to the web of life. We are a literal part of the creation, not some afterthought — a revelation no less powerful than the Ten Commandments thrust upon Moses. According to strict biblical interpretations, we are “dust [that shall] return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7); “thou return unto the ground; for out of it thou wast taken; for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19). 
   The ancient Hebrews were not ecologists, however. If the famous lines from Genesis and Ecclesiastes had been stated with scientific precision, they would not have been understood for two thousand years; not one reader would have been ready for the concept. “Dust” was a metaphor for matter, earth, or soil. But in our minds the word “dust” suggests mere dirt. We came from and return to just dirt. No wonder early Christians belittled our physical existence and sought separation from it. 
   But in fact we do not come from dust, nor do we return to dust. We come from life, and we are the conduit into other life. We come from and return to incomparably amazing plants and animals. Even while we are alive, our wastes are recycled directly into beetles, grass, and trees, which are recycled further into bees and butterflies and on to flycatchers, finches, and hawks, and back into grass and on into deer, cows, goats, and us. 
   I do not claim originality in examining the key role of the specialized undertakers that ease all organisms to their resurrection into others’ lives. I do believe, however, that many readers are willing to examine taboos and to bring this topic into the open as something relevant to our own species. Our role as hominids evolving from largely herbivorous animals to hunting and scavenging carnivores is especially relevant to this topic; our imprint has changed the world. 
   The truism that life comes from other life and that individual death is a necessity for continuing life hides or detracts from the ways in which these transformations happen. The devil, as they say, is in the details. 
   Recycling is perhaps most visible — as well as dramatic and spectacular — in large animals, but far more of it occurs in plants, where the most biomass is concentrated. Plants get their nutrients from the soil and the air in the form of chemicals — all bodies are built of carbons linked together, later to be disassembled and released as carbon dioxide — but nevertheless they are still “living off ” other life. The carbon dioxide that plants take up to build their bodies is made available through the agency of bacteria and fungi and is sucked up massively and imperceptibly from the enormous pool of past and present life. The carbon building blocks that make a daisy or a tree come from millions of sources: a decaying elephant in Africa a week ago, an extinct cycad of the Carboniferous age, an Arctic poppy returning to the earth a month ago. Even if those molecules were released into the air the previous day, they came from plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. All of life is linked through a physical exchange on the cellular level. The net effect of this exchange created the atmosphere as we know it and also affects our climate now. 
   Carbon dioxide, as well as oxygen, nitrogen, and the other molecular building blocks of life, are exchanged freely from one to all and all to one daily on a global scale, wafted and stirred throughout the atmosphere by the trade winds, by hurricanes and breezes. Molecules that have long been sequestered in soil may be exchanged within the local community over a long time. Plants are made from building blocks derived from centipedes, gorgeous moths and butterflies, birds and mice, and many other mammals, including humans. The “ingestion” of carbon by plants is really a kind of microscopic scavenging that happens after intermediaries have disassembled other organisms into their molecular parts. The process differs in method from that of a raven eating a deer or a salmon, whose meat is then spread through the forest in large and not yet fully disassembled packets of nitrogen, but it does not differ in concept. 
   DNA, on the other hand, though made mainly of carbon and nitrogen, is precisely organized and passed on directly from one individual plant or animal to the next through a fabulous copying mechanism that has operated since the dawn of life. Organisms inherit specific DNA molecules, which are copied and passed from one individual to another, and so it has continued over billions of years of ever-conservative descent, which has branched through innovation into trees, birds-of-paradise, elephants, mice, and men.  

We think of the animals that do the important work of redistributing the stuff of life as scavengers, and we may admire and appreciate them for providing their necessary “service” as nature’s undertakers. We think of them as life-giving links that keep nature’s systems humming along smoothly. We tend to distinguish scavengers from predators, who provide the same service, but by killing, which we associate with destruction. But as I began to think about nature’s undertakers, the distinction between predators and scavengers became blurred and almost arbitrary in my mind. A “pure” scavenger lives only on dead organisms, and a pure predator only on what it kills. But very few animals are strictly one or the other. Ravens and magpies may be pure scavengers in the winter, but in the fall they are herbivores eating berries, and in the summer they are predators living on insects and mice and anything else they can kill. Certain specialists, however, some with unique abilities, spend most of their time finding food in one way. Polar bears usually catch seals at their breathing holes in the ice, but on occasion they will find and eat a dead one. A grizzly bear will relish a dead caribou as well as one it has killed, but most of the time it grazes on plants. A peregrine falcon is a swift flyer that captures fl ying prey, while a vulture would not as a rule be able to capture an uninjured live bird, so it has to rely on large, already dead prey. Indeed, vultures, ravens, lions, and almost all of the animals we typically typecast as “predators” just as readily take the ailing and half-dead and the (preferably fresh) dead; they will not enter a fight for life with another animal unless they have to. Herbivores too take those organisms that are least able to defend themselves. Deer and squirrels, for instance, munch on clover and nuts but will gladly eat any baby birds that they find in a nest. Strictly speaking, herbivores take the most lives; an elephant kills many bushes every day, while a python may ingest but one wart hog a year. 
   The potential ramifications of recycling are almost as varied as the number of species. I hope to provide a wide view, and I give examples from personal experiences everywhere from my camp in Maine to the African bush.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

I. SMALL TO LARGE
Beetles That Bury Mice 3
Sendoff for a Deer 21
The Ultimate Recycler: Remaking the World 37

II. NORTH TO SOUTH
Northern Winter: For the Birds 59
The Vulture Crowd 75

III. PLANT UNDERTAKERS
Trees of Life 99
Dung Eaters 127

IV. WATERY DEATHS
Salmon Death-into-Life 147
Other Worlds 153

V. CHANGES
Metamorphosis into a New Life and Lives 169
Beliefs, Burials, and Life Everlasting 179

Acknowledgments 193
Further Reading 195
Index 213

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(2)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(1)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2013

    Enlightening, reassuring, gentle, scholarly.

    This is NOT an overtly spiritual work; Heinrichs is a physiological ecologist. His entre to his subject matter is disinterested but absolutely not dispassionate. The primary subject matter of the work is the processes of death and transformation, and the creatures who engender those processes. But the creatures themselves (insects, birds, and about any hungry mammal) are fascinating, brilliantly and sometimes delightfully adapted to their tasks. And as we learn, their tasks are to return the stuff of a physical life to the environment. Heinrichs doesn't deal just with animals, either. He dwells at length on the critical role of dead plants, especially trees, to the health and vitality of the forest. He cites an ongoing study, of 200 YEARS' duration, of all the processes, actors, beneficiaries, and benefits in the death and decay of a single tree in the forest. He also explains why the larval form of, say a butterfly is NOT a stage in a butterfly life. Instead the butterfly is a reincarnation of the larva, since the larva dies and dissolves within its cocoon, and the butterfly constrcts itself from the stuff that was the larva.

    I began this review by saying this was not an overtly spiritual work, and it isn't. But when you finish reading it, if you do have any propensities toward theistic beliefs, you may be moved to sing a couple choruses of "How Great Thou Art." The gentleness of the prose belies the truly spiritual wallop this brief, fast reading, innately positive, and satisfying little book packs. Worth every penny.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 6, 2013

    Heinrich writes beautifully, and even movingly about death, life

    Heinrich writes beautifully, and even movingly about death, life, and immortality. I loved it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2012

    Not a good read for me

    I started reading the Life Everlasting but found it not to my liking. It wasn’t the idea of the book but how it was presented. When Bernd Heinrich started to go on and on about his study of bugs I closed the book and deleted it.

    2 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)