I’ve collected feathers for a long time: plain gray feathers I’ve found in the yard from house wrens and more colorful ones, the from cardinals and blue jays. Sometimes I’ll find a stately black feather from one of the crows that protect our house and call hello to me in the mornings. Five or so years ago, when I parked at the mall, I saw a flock of molting geese on the berm. I was the only shopper who walked out and picked up the long, swooping feathers. (Can you imagine? Everyone else passed the opportunity by.) Hiking in western VA one lucky day, I found a wild turkey feather. I keep them in vases and cups around the house, subtle bouquets of un-dying flowers.
But, you know, feathers lead to the hard stuff, right? Like a kid, I began to hide pretty stones in my pocket. They’d end up on window sills and chalices and old ashtrays. Even rinsed off, they soon lost their sparkle, and one year, although I still appreciated them and remembered why and where I picked each one up, I took a fit of sanity and tossed them into the woods, an offering to the dryads of the trees.
About twelve years ago, my friend found a squirrel’s tail just sitting around in the grass. How often do you see just a squirrel tail? There wasn’t a dead squirrel in sight. (Perhaps like Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin, it had thrown it at an invader. At least, wasn’t that the story?) The following year – and I couldn’t make this up if I tried – I found a squirrel's tale on the grass divider in the parking lot at the school where I taught. Again, no dead squirrel to be seen No dead squirrel, no blood anywhere – it was a mystery. I brought it home because it seemed like it shouldn’t be left just lying there, and after all, if Jan had one, shouldn’t I have one, too? I kept it on my bookcase for awhile, but unfortunately, Elaine took an avid interest in it, and I felt it best to throw it away. All that’s left is the tail. (Get it? Tail – tale? Ah, well, I amuse myself where I can.)
This week nature gave me the weirdest gift of all. First, you have to know that I live in very suburban suburbia. Yes, we have a strip of woods behind the house that’s behind us, and yes, the woods encircle our entire development. We have deer and foxes aplenty, raccoons and turtles, but we don’t have any serious wild life like coyotes or wild cats. And yet, and yet last Tuesday I stepped out of the neighbor’s, leaving from her side door of my next-door neighbor's house, through her garage, and right on the lot line, right next to her knock-out roses, was the jawbone of a deer. At least, I’m goin’ with the jawbone of a deer. I held it up next to my face (yes, I picked it up with the kleenex in my pocket), and honestly, it’s too big for a human jaw (and don’t think that thought didn’t cross my mind for a minute). All the teeth are all flat, vegetarian teeth (and I have no idea what long-ago science lesson that knowledge arose from), so it has to be a deer, right?
It had been picked clean, (as clean as the bone we had to soak in a Clorox solution for my daughter’s high school biology class) perhaps by crows and turkey vultures? There were no other parts of the skeleton around, so the question becomes, how did it get there? As I said, we don’t have coyotes or wolves. All the dogs in the neighborhood are good, suburban dogs, restrained by fences, visible or invisible. Do foxes drag bones around? I have no idea. All I know is, I looked down, and there it was.
Did I bring it home? C’mon, I’m the person who brought home a squirrel’s tail. Of course, I brought it home. It’s out on the screened-in porch. Truthfully, it freaks out my husband, and he wouldn’t want it in the house, so the porch seems like a safe compromise. It’s half hiding under the leaves of a houseplant, and I’m wrestling with the off-again on-again urge to sneak it in and brush its teeth. Really, what is WRONG with me?