A lot of people out there have hobbies of collecting things. Maybe its some sort of card? Pokemon cards, baseball cards, Magic cards? Maybe you collect bottle caps? Bobbleheads? Snow globes? Hats? Or something else. Some collections, society wouldn’t define as weird like some of the things I’ve already listed. Other things we might keep in the dark so that no one judges us for it. We hide them in the closet and only pull them out when no one is around to waggle their fingers at us. Well, allow me to go out on a limb and share my skeleton in the closet. And I literally mean skeleton. My weird collecting habit is that I collect skulls and bones.
Relax. They all belong to animals.
This might be a surprise to some of you. “What? The animal lover collects animal skulls?!” You can blame my anatomy classes. Skulls and bones in general are just fascinating. They’re the foundation of an animal’s features–a person’s features–or maybe I’ve just seen the TV show BONES one too many times. I know there are places out there where you can purchase animal bones, but that’s not what makes the collecting fun to me. I collect skulls that I find–which means I don’t have a lot, but that’s okay.
My first skull was given to me by a friend of my mom’s. I was little and they told me it was a cow skull because they knew it would upset me if they told me what it really was. Fast forward to high school and I realized it was a deer skull. My mom’s friends didn’t have the heart to tell me they shot poor Bambi, but they gave me his skull anyway…I still have it.
I found my second skull in college. It was laying by the manure pit at the dairy unit I worked at. It’s a sad little story because the skull belonged to a cat, a ginger one to be more specific. I found its bones scattered in one area, a coyote must have gotten to it. I gathered up most of the bones I could, but decided to just keep the skull. Now, I knew it was a ginger cat because the skull was still half covered in dried ginger fur. Yes. I tore the fur off. I soaked the skull in Ajax and bleach for a couple days before it ended up on my shelf. We actually use it for Halloween decoration when that time of year comes around.
My next skull was found when I worked at the zoo. One of the keepers gave me a tour of the abandoned exhibits and in one of the old keeper areas, I found a skeleton with a skull still intact. It had been down there a long time. There was nothing left of it but bones and the teeth were even falling out. I believe it belongs to a opossum. I didn’t want to look like this weird collector of skulls in front of my coworker, so I was reluctant in taking it. When she reassured me that she has a couple bones at her place, I scooped up the skull, we disinfected it back at one of the main buildings and when I got home, I glued the teeth back inside it. I didn’t do the best of jobs, but it’s still holding together.
Next skull is actually from a whole skeleton. My brother found a petrified mouse in our walls when he was redoing the basement. He saved it for me. He didn’t know if I wanted to keep the whole mouse or just the head and since the whole thing was still intact, I kept all of it. We disinfected it and I found a fixative to keep it together. He’s still kinda cute.
When my brothers were redoing my mom’s back deck, they discovered a tiny set of bones in the siding of the house. At first, we thought it belonged to a baby bird. We thought that bird built a nest in the wall, but then it got sealed up. The bones are so fragile and thin that your breath can move the skull across a table. Taking a closer look at them, though, they belong to a rodent. The skull isn’t in the best of the shape, but the spinal cord they found with it still has all the ribs attached. I keep them in a small cup to keep them protected.
One of my more recent skulls I found in my own backyard. A squirrel died under our shed and after a while of stinking up the place, something finally dragged it out. Being the only person not bothered by dead animals in my household, I was sent to clean it up. It was halfway decomposed and the skull was still intact. I couldn’t help it. I took the skull off, finished skinning it, and bleached it for a couple days. He’s not in the best of shape, but he still looks good.
My most recent find sadly didn’t come with a skull. Some animal must have bit the head off, but the skull isn’t actually the main feature of this animal. I found a dead turtle–still decomposing. It still has some flesh that needs cleaned off of it, but I can’t wait to see the bones underneath and the shell already looks really cool.
If you haven’t stopped reading by now, you’re probably thinking that I’m so weird or troubled in some way for collecting the bones of animals I’ve found dead. I don’t collect all of them. At my family’s Lake Condo, I found a dead deer along a trail–ribs, pelvis, legs, the like. I first spotted the ribs and when you’re alone on a woodsy trail and you’ve seen too many crime shows, your first thought is that you just found a human body. After the initial start, I slowed down to actually determine what these bones belonged too. The pelvis indicated an animal of sort and then I spotted the legs. Hooves. Fur. Yeah. It was a deer. I was down there for a while investigating it. I wanted to know how it died. I wanted to know what all was still intact. It was picked pretty clean by animals and yes, the skull was still intact, but I was not about to explain to my family why I was coming back to the condo with the dirty skull of a dead deer. I took pictures instead and the only member of my family that would even look at them was my brother. So, I don’t collected ALL the skulls I find.
Now, reading through this, you might be thinking of your weird collection or fascination. Its okay to be fascinated by the weird. That just means you’re seeing beauty in something that no one else does. I see beauty in the bones I collect. There’s craftsmanship in each one of them. Complexity and uniqueness. It’s one a way to appreciate life. And just think. These are just animal bones. Imagine the craftsmanship put into your bones. The complexity, the uniqueness. You’re alive with your own body that has its own quirks and features. You used to be two cells becoming one–no skeleton, no organs, just a one-of-a-kind cell multiplying to grow. Now, who knows how many cells you have. You have a skeleton, organs, and a chance to experience the world. So, a lesson from skeletons in the closet: life is just fascinating.