Of all the treasures I find on my hikes, my favorites are skulls and skeletons. I love the way bare bones stand out stark against any landscape. After years of seeking, I can spot them in tall grass, in woods, in brush. I love lifting them off the ground, shaking out the debris from the cracks and crevasses and studying their contours. Bare bones have such gravity; they demand respect and I handle them carefully, looking and listening, while they tell me their stories. I can tell prey from predator, ungulate from bovine, canine from feline. As far as I know I’ve never found a human bone.
Bare bones are the ultimate offerings, left behind by those who have come before me. I find them most often off trail, where I’m likely to be the first person to have passed since the animal laid down to die, or was killed and eaten. I have no right to claim such sacred objects as my own. They belong to the land, to any enterprising animal who might come along and carry them away. After admiring the bones, recreating the animal’s life and death, and photographing them thoroughly, I leave the offerings in a safe spot where I can revisit them, someday, if I’m lucky enough to pass that way again.