It was blustery and bitterly cold this morning and I'm so fucking sick of being cold that I can't even get excited over daffodils beginning to bloom along the side of the road.
Drove past a church coming into Shepherdstown just as the White Stripes' tune Truth Doesn't Make a Noise was playing. The sign out front proclaimed "JUDGEMENT & EXTRAVAGANCE" on a specified date and time. I couldn't make the connection between the two concepts.
Headed to Antietam Battlefield after breakfast with a plan to hike the West Woods and Cornfield loop trails. Didn't enjoy the prospect of traipsing through cold wind under a grey sky, but it's been too long since I've been on a trail so I told myself to stop being a weeny and just do it. Turned out to be fortuitous self-advice-- A short ways along, where the trail runs down to parallel route 65, I struck off to the side to explore an old fenced enclosure. Coming around the side of it, I found a beautifully clean, almost fully intact white-tailed deer skeleton. I've written before about how rare it is to find carcasses in the woods that haven't lost their heads, so imagine my surprised delight when I saw the skull of this one right there at the end of its delicately S-curved spinal column. In very good condition, too, perfectly clean of flesh and not yet gnawed. So newly clean, in fact, that the vertebrae next to it were still attached to each other by ruddy, not-yet-dissolved intervertebral discs. So then came the ethical dilemma-- Snatch the prize and take it home, or cement the image of it in my memory and leave it for someone else to find? I've been fortunate enough to find a few skulls over the years that I've been looking and have left the last couple where they were, happy enough with the discovery to not feel the need to cart them off. And I'd barely endured enough cold this morning to feel that I'd earned some kind of a prize. But fuck it. The grey-sky crankiness made me greedy. I knelt down and disengaged this one from the weeds and tucked it inside my jacket with its upper teeth snug against the right side of my rib cage, then continued down the trail to the 15th Massachusetts monument.
A bit farther beyond the monument, my eye was caught by something lying in a grassy area on the other side of the trees. No way, it couldn't be. I cut through the trees and, sure enough, lying tipped on its side in the bleached out, winter-flattened grass was another deer skull. All by itself. I looked around and found a few remnants of a skeleton under the trees a couple dozen feet away, just a fairly aged vertebra and a thigh bone or two, which made this skull lying in the grass even more amazing. But when I tipped it over to see what condition it was in, I found I wasn't the first person to discover it, and that it had apparently been a buck-- With somewhat sloppy precision, the section of skull where antlers would have been located had been sawed away. Other than that, it was in just as great condition as the other I'd already claimed. My greed knew no bounds and, besides, this one obviously deserved a good home where what was left of it would be admired and appreciated. So I squatted down, unbuttoned my jacket, and slipped this one in on the left side. Being a small-busted woman, there was plenty of room for both inside my men's size small jacket. But when I buttoned back up and stood, I laughed out loud upon glancing down and finding myself suddenly quite chesty, albeit a bit droopy and lopsided. With my hands cradling the bases of the skulls through my pockets and their bony noses tickling my nipples, I have to say the walk back to the car was quite, uhhh... tittilating.
Stopped once more across the road from the parking lot to sit for a few moments all alone in the old Dunker Church, staring at what little sunlight the overcast sky allowed through the windows gleaming on the old wooden floorboards and listening to the wind thump the shutters against the outside walls, and trying to imagine what prayers there must've sounded like. Then I got up, hugged my treasures gently to my chest, and took them home with me.
|Must've been a young buck? In both photos, you can see that the front teeth |
on both sides of its mouth hadn't fully grown in yet.