Locals call it Crystal Canyon but it's not really a canyon. It's the hillside where gravel and stones got dumped years ago when the canal was dug. When I was a kid, I went there to search for gypsum, shining clear rocks that look like they should be valuable. Unlike my own woods, which is crowded with trees and underbrush, the steep slopes in Crystal Canyon are barren and rocky, reminiscent of the west except on a much smaller scale. I took the younger kids on a walk there today.
Temperatures had soared to the 60s, with bright sun and no wind, so we were in t-shirts, enjoying the summer-like weather. The kids raced about, filling their pockets with bits of gypsum, examining ant hills, and climbing over the occasional fallen tree. I wandered about, tagging after the kids, lost in my own thoughts. I decided not to look for any gypsum. I was thinking about all the times in my life I've gone hunting for things -- not things, exactly, but feelings sometimes. Closure, perhaps, or a bit of joy. I have chased down fiercely the things that I thought I needed. Cheyenne elders say that the way to find something is not to look for it, but to wait patiently until it comes to you. I've never been good at the patiently waiting technique.
I climbed down into one of the little valleys, my sneakers skidding on the steep slope of loose rock. At the bottom I came to a stop. There in front of me, stretched out on the ground above a thick mat of hair, was a skeleton, the bones of a deer, bleached and white, every bit of meat picked off. A deer that escaped a hunter last November, no doubt. A hunter must be patient after he's shot a deer, must wait thirty minutes or more before following the blood trail, must wait quietly to allow the deer to die. If he gives chase too soon, her adrenaline will kick in. Even a mortally wounded deer, spurred on by deadly urgency, will run farther than any hunter could track.
I was startled to come across this carcass of bone and hair, right out in the open, in this space of gravel and dead grass and hot sun. And yet, somehow, I felt relieved. I find dead deer every spring. Last May when I was canoeing with my Mom in the marsh, we found a game bag filled with a bloated dead deer, a rotting body with an unbelievable stench. A deer that been hidden beneath the water. Death here in the open, cleansed by the sun and rain, seemed preferable. I always feel better after something that has been buried deep inside me gets dragged out into the open, exposed to other creatures, cleansed by rain, snow, all kinds of weather.
I sat cross-legged on the warmed rock, just staring at the curved bones - the ribs, the jaws, the long bones of the legs. Around me, the kids ran up and down the slopes, whooping and shouting, plotting a trip to the ice cream stand on the way home. I tried to sit still and absorb the peacefulness of the moment, graceful closure presented to me in the image of the skeleton. As I watched, a thin garter snake emerged from beneath the bones. It wriggled its way through the dried grasses and disappeared from my sight.