As a teenager growing up in the mountains of rural northern Virginia, Jerry Payne realized that although animals die all the time, he seldom saw their remains. He wondered, “Where do they all go?” This question was to lead to Jerry’s remarkable study of insect succession in carrion, a landmark study in forensic entomology. Davenport’s film, which grows from his close boyhood friendship with Jerry Payne, traces the growth of Jerry’s passion for learning about nature. As the son of a tenant family on the huge Llangollen estate near Upperville, Jerry was raised with his family’s Appalachian hunting, fishing, trapping, and plant lore. A scholarship he won to college helped him escape the serf-like life of tenants. But he built on his knowledge of nature, getting undergraduate and graduate degrees in biological sciences. He had a career as an agricultural scientist and research entomologist. He and his wife Rose excel in the taxonomy of birds, butterflies, and plants. In their retirement years they try to make daily observations on their 80-acre property and to join weekly with their friend Abbot Francis Michael Stiteler (of The Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia) to carry out bird and butterfly watches and to ponder issues their study raises for them. Jerry finds animal skulls and bones and paints and arranges them to create “found art”—his own hands adding to the beauty of objects he finds beautiful in nature.
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Athens Film Festival