When the snow melts, things turn up with stories hidden in their decomposition.

A cigarette carton.

An abandoned navy blue sweatshirt.

A stray mitten.

And bones.

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.


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JENNIFER DUFFIELD WHITE is neither a flower child nor a wild child, merely a hybrid of the two. She was born in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, lived for several years in the Adirondacks, and she now resides in Montana where she field-tests mountain life and the writing life. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in publications including Narrative Magazine, Drunken Boat Journal, Witness, and Terrain.org. You can find her nonfiction in places such as Adirondack Life and Women's Adventure. She is a contributing editor to The Nervous Breakdown. Her website is here and she tumbles pretty photos here.

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