Today I picked up a bone.
A warm day put slush on the lakes and sent me into the hills. Instead of ice-walking for my daily dose of fresh air, I started up Cadillac Mountain from our house. There was plenty of animal sign–tracks, scat, and tiny piles of pinecone debris from a red squirrel’s lunch–and there by the path was a deer jawbone.
I’ve seen them many times, but I picked this one up. It was fresh, just a few days after the kill. There were still bits of flesh on the bone, but no other evidence nearby. Some dog tracks were on the path, and perhaps it had been carried there.
I brought it home, and with a glance my husband said, “Male, around four years old.”
Well, yes. Size was the indication for sex, and teeth can narrow the age down.
After a good wash, I found a few teeth were loose, and that there were six altogether.
On adult deer the third molar has two sharp points, or cusps. If the deer is younger, it will have a premolar, a baby tooth, with three sharp cusps. Why do the adult teeth have fewer points? Someone please tell me.
Holding a bone that was once the rampart of a living being is a reminder that we, too, will be bones without flesh. My bones, sadly, will be burned or buried, not picked up and used as a learning tool by some passerby.
There are numerous sources detailing how to determine the age of a deer by the jawbone, (www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2QXoPemYSE ) but one of my favorites was comparing differences in tooth changes between deer and humans, designed for second graders. (www.stem4teachers.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Life-Cycles-Deer-Teeth_final.pdf) I have had occasional yearnings for college, for days spent learning, asking, and finding out, but this is the first thing that made me long, briefly, for second grade.
Whenever I find a bone I try to indentify it. What creature did it belong to, what part of the body was it, how long had it been without it’s life force, and what ended the life of the bone owner are the questions I ask.
This bone was from a white-tailed deer. It was a jawbone. It is the right side of the jaw. This deer had died in the past few days. How it died I do not know. It was a male, over four years old, a big buck. A hunter did not kill it, as the bone would not have been left in the woods, and I also live in a no hunt zone.
Coyotes perhaps. A quiet, die in-your-sleep departure is not common for animals in the wild, and so this male, four-year old, white-tailed deer gave its life to be another creature’s food. Or, more accurately, its life was taken, rather than given.
Today I picked up a bone. I learned about white-tailed deer teeth growth, and about similarities between human and deer teeth replacement. This deer that lost its life, probably not gently, is giving me lessons.
I wish my bones could be found trailside, and inspire lessons. I do not want a grave, or a stone, I just want someone to ask, “”What is this, what happened?
This morning I found a deer bone. Tonight I am eating deer stew. I cooked it a month ago, thawed it for tonight’s dinner before I went for my walk.
Thank you, dear deer.