On one walk only Luna found the snake skin next to the water, a three foot brown length of material as delicate as fine wrapping paper, Wolfie found a small bone at the base of the swamp maple, scratching at it to uncover it from the leaves, and I picked up white pellets and fingered them loose of their fine dried dust and held balls of fur and a crush of bones in the palm of my hand, what was left of an owl’s meal. We drove home, a plastic bag containing what I suspect is the skull and spine of a baby rabbit in the driver’s door pocket (which I keep meaning to show to my hunter friend). The skin and tiny bone went on the shelf with my fox, raccoon and possum skulls, deer jaws and sea skate spine. Someday we mean to dig up the loon carcass we buried in the back yard. It should be down to its skeleton by now. We lost the pheasant, woodcock, fox head and cardinal when the electric gave out last winter for a week, and they thawed to mush in the freezer. Bird feathers of every variety gather in a pot on the window sill. At my old home, for five years running, I counted, cataloged and mapped all the bird nests and nesting sites on our 3 and ½ acres. At that same house, some strange person once dumped four big dead pigs on our boundary line; I buried them before they filled the country with their stench. The following spring I uncovered one of their skulls, boiled it in bleach and kept it for years. I carried a moose jaw home from the west and my father mounted it. A deer vertebra rests on my desk, an object with the beautiful lines of a starship. I like to touch the things themselves — and feel their texture and smell and heft and geometry.
I love birds, of course, and turtles, and I am fond of snakes and spiders. I can recognize the peculiar humpy shape of turtle shells on the road a good distance away and will pull to the side and plant them out of harm’s way; I do so with snakes too and Snappers and once picked up a monster the size of a Thanksgiving Day turkey serving plate and plopped him into the pond he had been heading towards. I hate to see both turtles and snakes dead on the road, as if something wholly without sin had been slaughtered. A few days ago I stopped by a newly crushed black snake, a good 5 and ½ feet long. Heavy and dense in my hand, I lifted it so I could see its eyes – they still had a living sheen to them.
I would like some shifty, masked band to steal my body before the undertaker gets it and bury it in white linen in some far field. I do not want to poison the ground with embalming fluid, but really, I especially like the jokester part of this plan. In some year long away, maybe after a wet winter, another will see the top of my white skull in the eroded earth, pull me out and perhaps say, “My, what a nice smile he must have had,” take me home and tell stories about who he might have been.