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  • During summer, my mother would bring home pieces of dead animals. A sheep's skull or hide from the farm down the road, roadkill to feed the coyotes at the wildlife rescue center, feathers or a shed snakeskin she found on a walk. She once tanned and mounted the tiny hide of a mouse as a gift for friends whose home was infested with rodents. My friends were shocked at the skulls bleaching in the sun on top of the shed. I didn't know that it was macabre or strange; I still don't know that it was strange. It was just how things were. Our normal.

    There were living things, too. Our dogs, cats, ducks. We took in baby birds and squirrels for the wildlife rescue center, feeding them every few hours and trying not to make them comfortable around people. My father and two brothers found a baby garter snake once while Mom and I were out. It was tiny, maybe eight inches long. All three of them were afraid of snakes, but they caught it for us because they knew we'd love to see it. One held the jar, one used a newspaper to guid the snake into the jar, and one stood to the side with a weed whacker in case the little thing escaped. (No snakes were harmed in the making of this story.) Mom and I cooed over him when we got home, and then released him a little further from the house. The live animals don't specifically bring back summer for me, though. Live animals were a part of life all year round; the dead ones only showed up in summer.

    Recently I was given an opossum skull, with little bits of tissue and fur still attached. It cried out for a little color; I painted its teeth and cleaned up the hide just a bit. Old habits die hard.
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