On a blustery overcast morning this past April, Kaeli Swift walked across the campus of the University of Washington toting a weathered, purple-and-white plastic shopping bag. This bag, if found by some unsuspecting student or grounds person, would almost certainly trigger a campuswide panic. Inside Swift had stowed a rubber mask of a grotesque, exaggerated male face—large ears, bulbous nose, silver-whiskered soul patch—a guise that would not look out of place in a 1980s horror film. Also inside: a corpse. That the corpse was only that of a bird hardly made the tattered bag’s combined payload any less creepy.
She tromped through the wet grass in calf-high Sorel snow boots and made her way to the university’s Center for Urban Horticulture, where she’s a teaching assistant for an undergraduate natural history class. Near the Dumpsters and trash cans parked behind the center, Swift found a perfect spot for what she was about to do: perform a ritual that, depending how you look at it, is a couple of years old or a couple million.