May 01, 2009
When the snow melts, things turn up with stories hidden in their decomposition.
A cigarette carton.
An abandoned navy blue sweatshirt.
A stray mitten.
I found the remains of a cat just beyond my fence line when the ice receded this spring.
Yesterday, on the front page of the local paper, we learned that a set of bones had appeared on the softball field at the elementary school in nearby Tupper Lake, NY.
In the dark night of the discovery, it was thought to be a human foot with decomposing flesh still attached.
They brought in the town police, the state troopers, and experts in death and identification.
Townspeople gathered around the field; a quick hullabaloo ensued.
They began to think a horrific crime had slipped onto their sports field.
The police confiscated the bones, searched the base lines and the outfield.
In proper lighting, a certified pathologist concluded that the tarsals and metatarsals, the joints and fibia, belonged to a bear.
A young bear.
Apparently, wildlife experts say, bear feet look like human feet.
This was the big story of the day.
Jokes circulated to cover the relief of it being wild, not domestic.
Missing: One bear yard. (That’d be three feet.)
So I went out yesterday for a trail run with my dog, with bears and bones on my mind.
We mucked it up in the mud, crossed a few streams, entered the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness area.
The trail straightened out near the pond, and just as I neared McKenzie Brook and the sound of spring water on the rocks, there it was:
Thick, ivory, lying diagonally in the middle of the trail in white-knuckled solitude.
A thigh bone.
I assumed it was a deer.
But upon further research, I think it could have been a bear.
However, I’m not a pathologist or a bone expert.
I left the leg resting by the brook.
I imagined it formed some sort of invisible web with the rest of its history scattered somewhere in those woods.
Part of me would like to know how that cat died, if it stood at my door in a snowstorm waiting to be rescued—if I should feel guilt for such a death.
But sometimes, you just leave the mystery out there—let the true story decompose.
Instead, you open up a notebook and begin to write.