Monday, January 26, 2009

dead envy

Not everyone who lives in the country likes to decorate with Death, but we do. If a person (or a family) appreciates natural objects and has a sense of humor that is both wry and dark then all the many fascinating, quirky, beautiful-in-an-odd-or-dour-way dead things in the great outdoors are just waiting out there to be found and imported to the indoors.

At our house we don't don't just bring in the dead. Not one of us can go on a walk without dragging back some rocks or feathers - even if I have moments ago composted a previous bunch of feathers that had been doing nothing but gather dust or recently tossed back outside (when no one was looking) piles of curious rocks, reservoir driftwood, beaver-chewed sticks, half-rotten river teeth, and balls of lichen and moss. After a major (for us) housecleaning event a few weeks ago, Matthew, Ronan, Sophie (the dog), and I all went for a walk along the top of the dam and then came back through the lowlands below the dam; this path took us past a gravel pile ... where we sat for nearly an hour sifting that damn pile for agates the size of baby teeth (human baby teeth). Now we have a small bowlful of fresh agates, seeds with which to sow a new season of growing clutter and ripe dust-gathering. On a different walk, just after a feather removal maneuver on my part, Ronan found a dead female wood duck, which had to be hauled home (at arm's length, held between forked sticks) and plucked of all the prettiest feathers before the body was layered into our Skeleton Processing Heap. That pile of wood chips and decomposers is pretty much full to capacity now. (Coming up soon: a list of what's in the pile. Although that may wait until it warms up and Ronan and I have an archeological expedition on it.)

The way some people think that others have nicer grass on their side of the fence, I think some people have way more cool dead things. On Christmas Eve, Ronan and I went sledding with some friends who live closer to the ass end of nowhere than we do; they also do lots of hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, etc., - all the activities that up your chances to collect dead things. After sledding and before dinner I wandered around their little house and admired Valerie and Bruce's collection of expired art.

Here's sculpture 1: Not only have I never (yet) had the luck to come across a pair of nighthawk wings, it also had never occurred to me to braid shed snakeskins. but then I also don't think I've found three shed skins of similar length. This piece is also nicely set off by a sparing arrangement of scouring rushes and a dried lizard (upper right). There's also a moth, but you can't see it very well.

Sculpture 2 (a gift sent by a friend). Not only have Val and Bruce inspired their friends to send them dead things in the post, but this person lit upon a dessicated permutation of goose (skull) l'orange as well as the idea of enfolding the piece in a cozy
background of blue fabric and tree bark.

Here's one I'm particularly envious of: the bobcat skull. Their bobcat skull still has both its canines. Matthew found a bobcat skull with all its teeth but it didn't occur to me to immediately glue them into the sockets and several have dropped out, never to be seen again, despite dedicated searching. One of the teeth that fell out was a canine. Arrgh. You don't come across bobcat skulls every day.

Piece #4. Beaver rocking chair seat pillow.

Piece 5. "The lineup." Besides the snapping turtle shell (if I'm wrong about the species I'll correct this later), Valerie and Bruce have both a European Otter skull and an American Otter. There is also a raptor skull, some rodent or another, and either another weasel-family entry or a raccoon skull. Again, I'll have to update those later.

And what is the creme-de-la-creme de Bryce Creek Croft? (That's the name of their farm.) It's that photo at the top: a black bear skull. Oh, to die for!

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