Death row

“That was the hardest hunt I’ve ever been on,” Jeremiah exclaimed, as he hobbled in Sunday evening after his 3 day Easter weekend hunt.  (see April 5th’s post on this hunt…some of the wording may sound familiar)

He says that after nearly every hunt these days.  For him, the memory of the exertion seems to fade over time while the reward doesn’t diminish, making hunt comparisons tricky.  He worked his tail off for this one though, I’ll give him that.

The long weekend hunt has been on the calendar since before I can remember.  It’s the “Roar,” you see, and the Males–deer and men alike–go just a teenie bit batty.  For entirely different reasons, of course.  The red stags actually roar to claim their turf and their harem.  The men roar too–with some guttural barks through a bit of vacuum cleaner hose–to rile up the stags.  It’s the time of the year when the stags make their presence well known while at the same time they’re completely distracted with a higher purpose–sex.  And they happen to be sporting antlers as well.  Win-win for the humans.

The carefully chosen valley did have the hoped-for mammoth stag, and Jeremiah’s experience, skill, and sweat earned him his trophy.  His original plan was to carry out meat, head and enough of the attached skin to make a furry mount, but the massive load proved too heavy, even for this intrepid hunter, and the skin was eventually left behind. I escaped another hairy head on the wall by the skin of my teeth (bad pun, I know).

Nevertheless, that head still came back to haunt us.  A “European skull mount” doesn’t require the hide be carried out of the back country with the head, plus it costs ten times less at the taxidermist than a full mount, so skull mount it was to be.

Once it arrived home, the head sat in the yard for a few days.  Fat green flies inhabited the nose hole and became the fascination of the neighbourhood kids.  It was starting to stew in its own juice by the time Jeremiah had shopped around for the most reasonable taxidermist.

“I’m going to bring it down to the guy in Leeston,” Jeremiah announced.  “But he’s only open until 5:00.  I’ll have to leave work early, or take an extra long lunch break….it’s really busy at work this week.”  Long pause.  Sideways glance to assess how the story is affecting me.

“Are you hoping that I’ll bring it down to Leeston for you?”  I’m not feeling particularly charitable.  Despite their assurances that they understand the challenge of staying home with little people, most moms at some point feel that the husband’s mental image of her day at home features bonbons and coffee shops, with maybe a trip to the hair dresser thrown in for diversion.  Leeston is 30 minutes south of Christchurch, a podunk town in the middle of nowhere, and the head is smelly.  Plus, if I go on a non-work day after Naomi’s morning activity, then she’ll nap in the car, and I’ll have squandered my quiet home nap time.  I’m in the mood to bargain, maybe, but not to give.

“I might be able to do that errand for you IF you make dinner AND clean it up one night.”  Soft protest noises from Jeremiah.  I think for a moment.  “Dinner, AND Dessert, AND dishes.”  I drive home the deal.  He can do it on a weekend.

The next day the errand was done, and two weeks later Jeremiah informed me that it was ready for pick-up.  “Oh, but you haven’t made your dinner for the first drop-off yet,” I remind him.

“That price included drop off and pick up!” Jeremiah objected.

“It did not!  That was the one-way fare!  If I pick up your head now you’ll never make dinner!”  Of course that isn’t true, he is a man of his word and in the end he spent half a day making a fantastic fancy hare stew.  But at the time I felt a bit of hyperbole wouldn’t go amiss in making my point.  Eventually I went and did it, stopping off at a friend’s house on the way back to make it worth while.

“Wow,” my friend said, gazing at the massive antlers and gaping eye sockets that took up nearly the whole of the car trunk.  “It sure is big.”  The skull was white, like a ghost stag, and the nose cavity was clean now, devoid of both flies and flesh.  Jeremiah was tickled pink, and went around holding it up in front of my artwork on the walls, cocking his head and imagining the best place to display his trophy.

“Where can I put it?” He knows better than to displace my décor without asking.

I scanned the motley collection of home-made art on our walls.  No gaps there.  “How about the garage?” I suggest, hopefully.  He rolled his eyes.  Ploy number 1, wasted.  “I don’t know right now, let me think about it,” I say.  Ploy number two was to “think about it” for a long time.

The head sat in the corner of the dining room for a couple weeks while Jeremiah ordered special expensive mounting plates and we mulled over the location options.  One of his mates has a set of four skulls—tahr, chamois, stag and ram—set in a diamond pattern in the loft.  It’s the only time I’ve seen a skull mount that I liked, because it looked more like a natural history display at a museum than a pirates’ lair.  We decided that the tahr and chamois already in residence should be placed together with the stag, consolidating the death scene to one wall, but still had trouble finding a mutually agreeable wall.

“What about in the front hall way?” Jeremiah suggested.

“No, my picture of kowhai blossoms is there, and I don’t want it to be the first thing welcoming visitors to the house.”  I imagined the startled “Oh, my!” of any potential friend-to-be as I opened the door.

“What about here?” he asked, holding the skull in front of the map of NZ that I had made out of paua shells.

“No, we already have the tahr in the kitchen.  I don’t want it to be the room of death,” I said.  Plus I like my map there.  I considered where I would see the skull the least.  “What about the bedroom?”  Not the most romantic of bedroom adornments, but at least most of the time when I’m in there the light is out.

“Alright” Jeremiah agreed, unenthusiastically.

The next Saturday afternoon the bedroom mirror was removed, the studs were located, and negotiations started regarding the exact position of the threesome.  Then I started to feel guilty.  Guilt: that bane of womanhood–I wish I could vaccinate myself against it.  Hunting is Jeremiah’s pride and joy, the crowning accomplishment of his manhood in self-sufficiency, cunning, and strength, I think to myself.  I probably should let him have a wall in the general living space on which to display his prowess.  Plus if the head is in the bedroom, he’ll have to walk his mates past my dirty undies in the hamper in order to show it off.

I walked into the living room.  “Well….what about if I move my flower photographs to over the fireplace, and you put it here, over the couch?”  At least it’s not the first thing you see entering the room—you have to turn your head a bit.

Jeremiah started tapping for studs, discovered that there wasn’t one centred on the couch, and enlisted my opinion again.  The antlers were so tall that the skull couldn’t go above the couch anyway, or we’d hit our head on the bony nose hole.

I surveyed the wall gloomily.  The symmetrical arrangement of skulls wasn’t going to happen.  I regretted letting them out of the bedroom, but I couldn’t take it back now.  “Oh, I don’t know!  I’m going rollerblading, you can decide where to put them!”  I abandoned ship.

I returned to death row.  Where once had been color and light–a network of flower photos from an old calendar set in a grid of wooden blinds rescued from the neighbor’s bin–now we had a macabre parade of bleached skulls on bare wall.  Sigh.  I obviously didn’t play my cards right on that one.

I started to scheme—what could I do to soften the effect?  Could I paste eyelashes on the socket holes?  Could I tie bows on the horns?  Both things would be offensive to the hunter.  Could I add something around them that made them look as if they belonged?  That was it!  I had been ruminating over collection of shells lately, wondering how to display them—this was just the spot!  New Zealand shells, arranged in a pattern around New Zealand animals.  It might just work!

From the left: Tahr, Chamois, Red Stag.

From the left: Tahr, Chamois, Red Stag.  

His mate says there’s still space for a ram and other accouterments over towards the right.  To be continued….

3 thoughts on “Death row

  1. Oh Molly! I was belly laughing reading that post.
    The mounts look good. I’ll still be your friend despite of the.
    Your lucky that the region he is limited to at the moment offers pretty delicate sized skulls. The heads up here would take up four times the wall space. Imagine having to negotiate the placement of a brown bear, caribou and moose!

    • Oh wow, I hadn’t thought about that fact that some areas of the world sport significantly more big skulls than here! Plus, in Alaska, I imagine they mount impressive fish too! Right, I’m counting my blessings now.

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