April 10, 2010


Through all the years that I've been getting out in the woods to hike and explore (couple of decades now), I've wanted to find a relatively intact animal skull.  When the mood strikes, I get off the established trail that everyone else follows and bushwhack just for the sake of exploration.  Over the course of all this wandering, I've collected things such as vertebrae, half of a lower jawbone, the bleached shell of a turtle, and my favorite-- a single three-point antler apparently shed by a very young buck.  I'd actually gotten to the point that I stopped bringing home bones because, well, people think my home is weird enough already.  And I've come to like the idea of leaving them for someone else to find, imagining that person inspecting them the same way I do, wondering about the animal and how it met its end, perhaps pocketing it to take home to their own collection.  For some reason, though, it's very rare to find a carcass with a skull anywhere nearby.  My assumption has been that some scavenger always drags the head off somewhere to get at the delicacies inside.  Whatever the case, today was the day I've been waiting for.

It was achingly lovely today, perfect for a bike ride, with a glorious blue sky and a soft breeze, sticky young leaves on the trees and colorful wildflowers scattered throughout the grass beneath them.  I spent much of the ride cursing the fact that I'd left my camera at home, and perhaps if I'd had it with me I might've snapped a few shots of my prize and left it where I found it.  Or perhaps not.

At one point, I stopped at one of the old aqueducts along the C & O to take in the view of a creek meandering towards the river.  At the end of the aqueduct, a narrow footpath crossed the dry canal bed and headed off into the woods.  In the spirit of wanderlust, I tipped the front of my bike down the bank and followed it.  As I pedaled between the trees, a flash of white passed through my peripheral vision and made me wonder "Could that have been...?"  I stopped and dropped my bike in the trail, walked back a few feet, and sure enough it was.  All by its lonesome, with no other bones in sight.

I actually giggled once as I headed on down the path, when I glanced down and saw my shadow with the silhouette of the antlers sticking out of my backpack behind me. As I said this morning, sometimes it's the little things that make a day worthwhile.

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