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  • For many years, I worked at a science museum. Among other activities, I collected dead animals. I wanted their pelts, their bones and their skulls. I used them in the huge science program that I coordinated in the inner city schools.

    By showing animal teeth, I could teach what animals ate and how they survived in the world. We learned about herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. I wanted the skulls because they were useful, because they were teaching tools, because the kids were interested and eager to interact with them.

    In addition to that, I wanted skulls for myself. I found them fascinating. I found them compelling. They lived in my dreams. I fancied myself a kind of shaman.

    At age ten, I dragged home a dead fox and my father helped me dig a hole to bury it so that I could dig up its bones. I continued bringing home dead animals my entire childhood. When my parents bought me a book called How to build a Miniature Museum, I was thrilled, and set about doing just that in my bedroom. I had patient, indulgent parents.

    In a way, it seemed fitting that I found a job in museum. When I applied for and received my Permit to Collect and Possess, I was ecstatic. My friends were impressed.

    It turns out I didn't really need it. The permit was designed for people who KILL animals to collect and possess. I never did that. I took only those who died of natural causes, or perhaps at the hand of other humans, without my involvement. Even knowing I didn't need it, the permit was precious to me. I considered framing it, but always carried it, just in case.

    Now, after leaving the museum and moving, my skulls reside in bins and my permit is hidden among piles of unsorted papers, maybe lost forever. My son hides the skulls on the mantle when he has company. I took most of the skulls out of the back window of my car after a problem border crossing.

    Skulls still live my dreams, and I still am attracted to animal sites, hoping for some new treasure. I wish no harm to any animal, only the opportunity to see the hints of the afterlife they leave behind when they depart.
  • illustration: Eagle skull, by me
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