My daughter wanted small animal skulls for an art project. Naturally she asked my brother, a perfectly reasonable request none of us considered remarkable. “No problem” he said. We promptly forgot about it for several months. Out of mind until he messaged to expect a parcel sent Greyhound express.
If I could bottle my brother the label would read “Essence of decency, character, work ethic, empathy, moral fibre and principles”. A man of few words, words saved for storytelling delivered with mesmerizing cadence matched only by the twinkle in his eye. Stories of thwacking a bear on the nose while witching for water, sticking his hand down a drainpipe to extract a rattlesnake, plunging through alone in the wilderness pond ice under the weight of fur bearing animals, once and for all riddance of Saturday morning Jehovah Witness interruption courtesy a half skinned Marmot passed off as his cat. Trapper, water diviner, nuisance wildlife problem solver, woodsman and yes – provider of small animal skulls for an art project.
Not wanting to hurt his feelings I kept an open mind to caution our Greyhound parcel was perishable. “Do tell” seemed appropriate. “Wow, thank you” was all I could muster on hearing its contents. It would appear ungracious to point out she wanted “small” animal skulls, how could I argue with news of several Lynx skulls (skinned but not free of brain matter), raccoons, skunk, marmot and squirrel similarly stripped but not purged and one cougar head skin intact. Not wanting to be a ninny, I heard myself calmly remind him I lived in the city. What were we supposed to do?
No worries he said. Put everything in a large pot, boil until bits start floating to the top. It might take a while, if it smells disgusting throw in some bay leaves and pretend you’re making stew. OMG!! I’ll spare subsequent details, suffice to say it involved extraction of soft boiled tissue.
He would have been proud. Stoic, unflappable determination opened the package, assessed the situation, put all but the far too large cougar head in a pot set on boil. Congratulatory back slaps waned relative to ever growing gray pot scum.I couldn’t say how long it boiled, I can attest to the moment gag reflex stench recalled adding herbs to skull stew. Big mistake! Rubber gloves – check. Soft tissue extraction implements – check. Why aren’t these skulls coming clean? Where did we go wrong?
Suddenly my daughter shouts “abandon ship” – we rationalize postponement not failure. “it’s ok, we just ran out of time, we’ll try again tomorrow”. We carry the pot downstairs intent on flushing skull scum water down the toilet. Nothing prepared us for the last swirling toilet gurgle ejecting a rogue floating skunk skull – a spectacle so absurd both of us collapsed in hysterical stress release laughter. Composure returned with dutiful bagging of drained animal parts. Bag of drained bits back in pot, punctuated with the satisfying clang of lid containment. Cougar head wrapped in another bag – both problems parked in a basement chest freezer.
That was five years ago, it goes without saying our one and only attempt would be the last.We don’t talk about that day, it’s far too awful. Guilt of wimping out is troublesome. Worse still, I can’t bring myself to deal with contents of the freezer for fear of disappointing my brother. We no longer use the freezer, it serves to preserve a pot of assorted par- boiled skulls and one glorious skin intact cougar head. I need help!! Anyone looking for a frozen cougar head?
Er … no thanks, I’ll pass!
Thanks for nothing!
Remember … I am a vegetarian. Not my cup of tea at all! 🙂
Oh crap, a vegetarian? Yikes, how did I miss that!
S’okay … I don’t often advertise.
Wowza. How many years without a burger?
Two years plus.
I am virtually vegan, though there are one or two minor difficulties that I am as yet not in a position to overcome.
But I will.
Along with giving up smoking, one of the best decisions I made.
Health-wise as well as ethically.
*Shrug* Each to their own.
Should my daughter have engaged in a similar project, the unspoken strategy would have expelled her, me and the skulls into a corner in the garden to do our science there with further instruction from my wife that none of this ever came into the house and that we replace any pans, freezers or other tools used for the purpose.
All this to say that you are an awesome science mom!
Oh, the experiences I missed being an only child, and having only one offspring. sigh.
Then again I can’t honestly say I miss the opportunity to boil skulls in my kitchen. Not any of my kitchens, not the old big one, or the small RV one, or the present medium sized one. Still and all — once the skulls were frozen in the freezer there was no reason not to use it. I would have. 🙂
Trust me, skulls should not be boiled in any kitchen – they belong outside!As for the freezer – of course you’re right. 🙂
Can’t say as I ever boiled skulls in my kitchen at all. I give you credit for supporting your young’uns…. but it’s a bit too freaky for me. Love the idea; not sure I would love the process. 🙂 And when it comes to aromas — I think we’ve talked about how strong the power of aroma is with this one. Some people are strong with The Force, I’m strong with the schnoz. :-\
When it warms up I’m going to bury them in the back yard and let nature do the icky work. 🙂
Nature is good at that sort of stuff. Nothing goes to waste with Momma Nature.
Essence of decency, character, work ethic, empathy, moral fibre and principles… Oh how to be thought of that way.
These sentiments barely scratch the surface – he fascinates me. He finds water, states with conviction where to drill a well based on two sticks bending to the ground. WTF! Not only is he always right, fees for his services are based on impressions of prospective clients.Kind, decent people might exchange well digging for dinner, a pile of unused fence posts or whatever strikes his fancy. Arrogant, skeptical or impatient persons pay several thousand upfront, take it or leave it.He’s driven by principle not monetary gain and pulls it off without confrontation, ill will or regret.:)
Lol! The perils of being a mom! Great story.
Being a forensic anthropology geek, I could have told you the best way to deflesh those bones without it being so stinky, but we’ll save that for another time.
It’s legal to shoot cougars?
He didn’t shoot it, and no it isn’t legal to do so. I’ll refrain from fine details of acquisition because I find them icky. Suffice to say his trap line is completely legal.
I see…. Traplines are illegal in the UK