Why, hello there, Mr. Raccoon!

Today, I was supposed to get together with a group of friends to talk about an upcoming camping trip/religious gathering, but one of them started feeling under the weather, so it was called off.  Since I and my husband were already out of the house, we decided to go hiking again, and headed for the forest preserve where I found the deer skull and bones.

Because this had been impromptu, I didn’t have my usual gear with me: no backpack full of trash bags and foodstuffs for offerings, no forest spirit salve, no forest spirit fetish. But there were several plastic grocery bags in the car, and when we stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank, I went inside and bought a couple of bananas and a small bag of sunflower seeds (unsalted) for offerings.  Small, but still heartfelt.

The preserve was busy, and the nature center was open, and the parking lot was almost full. I gathered up my things and we headed down along the trail, heading for the area where I’d found the deer skull.  I had been so excited when I found it that I didn’t really take the time to look around a little more, so there might have been other bones I’d missed.

And this, as it turned out, was the truth. Alas, another thing I didn’t have with me was my good digital camera; so the only pic I took while I was there was of something else, which I’ll post further down.

But I did find other deer bones in that area, which I believe are from the same animal. There was a single vertebra, two leg bones, the pelvis (split in two along the spinal axis, as I am told often happens with very young deer due to the fact that the sutures in the bone that meld the two pieces together are incompletely fused), and a single shoulderblade. I gathered them up quite happily, burbling especially over the scapula (the first I’d found so far), and then laid out the offering I’d brought:

Banana and sunflower seeds.

Once I had finished with that, and with a moment’s quiet prayer of thanks for the gifts I’d been given today, I began to range out a little further with the plastic grocery bag dangling from my fingers, heavy with bone. The sun was beginning to descend in the sky, and the light — which had been blocked out when directly overhead due to the branches (although there isn’t much in the way of leaf cover yet) — began to slide in sideways, flaring against lighter-color leaves, making me think I saw the white flash of bone almost everywhere.

Ironically, when I DID find something else, I almost stepped on it.  But there, at my feet, was a nearly perfect skull — small, with an elongated cranium and both sharp incisors and grinding molars (in other words, probably an omnivore):

This time, I finally remembered to take a picture of it where I found it, atop the leaves. Although I couldn’t find the lower jaw anywhere, most of the teeth in the upper jaw were there, lacking only four smaller ones; also, the front of the skull was perfect. The zygomatic arches around the eyes were intact, as were the intranasal bones of the sinuses. I scooped it up with a happy little cry. It is much smaller than the coyote skull I have, and I guessed it was either from a fox or a raccoon.

Once I got home, I was able to look it up, and confirmed my first guess: it belonged to a raccoon. Raccoons, of course, are scavengers too, happy to rummage around in your garbage can if you leave the lid off, or get their dinner from the bowl of cat food you might leave out for the feral cats in your neighborhood. They eat both meat and plant foods — nuts, grains, fruits — and their dexterous little hands and black thief’s mask connect them — perhaps only in my mind — to Hermes, god of thieves. (Of course, as raccoons are New World animals found only in the Americas, there is no record of the ancient Greeks associating the raccoon with Hermes; they would have had no idea such a creature existed.)

After I finished looking the skull up, I carefully used superglue to make sure none of the other teeth would fall out (and gluing one back in that had come loose in the plastic bag on the ride home). And then I took pictures:

From below.

Close-up from below showing the sockets where the missing teeth were: two on the left, one in the front on the right, one on the right.

Then I set it up high so the glue would dry unmolested, and went to wash the deer bones. They are coyote-gnawed, which is pretty much inevitable (I think) for any remains I will find at this particular park — I see fresh coyote scat every time I visit, a lot of it — although I have seen worse.

Pelvis at top next to scapula at right top; vertebra next to that. Two leg bones at bottom.

The leg bones.

Fairly heavy crack at top of bone near knob. Perhaps the coyotes tried to break it to get the marrow out, but couldn't?

Long vertical crack down the center of the longer leg bone.

There’s some gnawing on the edge of the scapula, although not as much as I might have expected.

Given that these were found in the same area as the skull (about a 200-foot radius), I do believe these to have been part of that specific animal, and will house them in the same box as the skull once I am ready. These are pretty fleshless, and I will be whitening them with hydrogen peroxide soon.

I have to look up to find out whether the hydrogen peroxide will dissolve the superglue I used on the teeth before I whiten the raccoon skull. I am not averse to leaving the stains of nature (from rain, weathering, vegetation, etc.) on the skull if immersing it in the peroxide will remove the glue and let the teeth fall out.

When I went on this walk today, I didn’t have the salve or fetish I usually bring along as aids to seeing the things the spirits want me to see.  I’ve been to this particular park at least four times in the last two weeks (and it’s a fairish drive from my house, about 45 minutes). I have to wonder if that means I am finally seeing and hearing what the spirits want me to see — pieces of themselves.

I hope so.

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4 Comments

  1. Oh wow. That’s a beautiful skull!

  2. Followed your comment on my blog to this… and perhaps it’s a moot point since this is an old post, but – just FYI, while you might not mind the stains of nature visually, it is still a good idea to spend some time de-greasing bones you find before whitening them. If you don’t, over time the grease may rise to the surface, yellowing and weakening the bone. It also makes sure they are completely sanitized throughout. Personally, I would wait until the whole process (degreasing and whitening) is done before gluing teeth back in.

  3. Dver – The day after I posted this, I did end up whitening the skull with peroxide, although I had already glued the teeth in. I do this as a matter of course now with all the bones I find, most of which are old enough that there’s no grease left in them (although occasionally but rarely, I have found fresh bones of animals that had died so recently, and not by predators, that there was still marrow inside them.)

    What procedure do you use to degrease your bones? I was told that boiling them just makes the grease sink into the bones worse.

    • Yes, you don’t want to boil them. The process is basically to soak them in hot, soapy water (most people use Dawn dish soap, good for getting grease out of things), but not boiling water… then wait until the water gets cloudy, and repeat… over and over again. It can be a very long process, weeks or even months, but it will be worth it. Some people set it up so that the water’s always warm (using a fish tank heater, for instance), but I don’t have that kind of set-up, I just refresh the water every day or two. When the water stops becoming cloudy after a day or so, then they’re ready to whiten.


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