Like most of us, Montgomery first had to get past her squeamishness when she discovered a “squished” rattlesnake as she jogged along a country road. The head had not encountered the automobile tire and it was magnificent. Fascinating. Intriguing enough for her to pick it up and open its mouth to see where the deadly fangs were hiding. They were neatly folded against the roof on its mouth only to drop into place for piercing flesh as she pried the mouth open. Curiosity overcame distaste. The dead rattler made it home to be dissected and examined closely. Heather L. Montgomery was hooked.
Something Rotten is Montgomery’s journey of discovery of what can be learned of life through death. It took her to a scientist who studied parasites in snakes, a curator of a natural history museum, a cayote expert at Princeton, a roadkill statistician, a Tasmanian devil researcher, even a taxidermist who made art from dead creatures. All of her stories are laced with humor. Here’s her take on feeding roadkill deer to alligators:
“Standing atop a wooden platform overlooking a swamp, squished in a crowd of people, we watched a man pull a blue ice chest past a shape that reminded me of cement lawn art. The shape was sprawled out on neatly clipped grass: 4 clawed paws, a 6-foot tubular body, and a spiked tail with its tip dropping off the bank into a swampy river. A ripple in the murky water stole my attention. A bump, 2 eyes, a snout—and suddenly a second alligator rose from the depths and marched, robot-like, toward the man. Then a third. A fourth.
“Trapped! The man was caught between the gators and a 6-foot fence. They formed a semicircle around him. He didn’t run. Didn’t try to leap the fence. Instead he released the handle of the ice chest and stepped toward one of the gators,…… It was chow time at Alligator Alley.”
As I romped through the pages of Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, I couldn’t help thinking of how much we’ve learned from curious people who have studied the dead. The disciplines include anatomy, physiology, bacteriology, pathology, and more. Television shows portray medical examiners, coroners, pathologists—important professionals who investigate the causes of death. Countless people have gotten past the ickiness, and smell, and the fear of death to further their own knowledge and ours. Heather L. Montgomery has written this book for the uninitiated young people who just might want to join their ranks.