Last fall I was out hunting mushrooms and came across this:
I know. That doesn't look like it is in the woods. Just squint and use your imagination and pretend that the quilt fabric that I snow dyed is actually moss.....
You drop to your knees in the soft moss, amazed at the remnant of a powerful bear in front of you. Giant spruce trees are your witnesses, and the tangle of berry bushes making up the understory lean in to see the look of wonderment on your face.
Only the upper part of the skull is exposed, lichens and mosses replacing fur, a fallen branch almost obscuring the form. You reach forward and pull this mass of bone gently away from the clinging moss and turn it over. A soft ivory glow lights the two great canine teeth.
Some of the teeth have been lost to the forest, but the remaining molars don't look too worn. This was not an old bear. It was a fairly sizable bear, though, and the reassuring weight of the rifle slung over your shoulder feels good. This bear is gone, but the one that dispatched him might still be living in the neighborhood. The thought expands your awareness zone and you stand up to do a 360.....
Okay, there wasn't a bear there that day. I took this photo a few days before. But you see why I try to be very aware in the woods! I didn't have my camera when I found this skull, and I wasn't about to walk out to get it and then climb that hill again. I dug around and found half of the lower jaw and three vertebrae buried in the duff.
I took the skull to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Craig and Mark put a complimentary locking tag on it to make it legal. I can even sell it now if I want to! Mark did some rough measurements with a tape measure and guesstimated that the skull measured 19.5 inches. That is length plus width. It would be impossible to do accurate measurements on a skull that is in such bad shape. Still, it was a fair sized black bear. It was male, and Mark said that the teeth indicated that it was between 6 and 10 years old.
Bears fight and they make mistakes and they get shot at. Even being the biggest, baddest bear in the woods doesn't ensure a long life, though they can live to be twenty and sometimes even older.
I'm not sure what I am going to do with this skull. I love patina of dried moss and lichen, and have decided not to try to clean it. It's tough to find shelf space for prizes like this on the boat, but it would be such a good Halloween decoration...
May treasures in many forms find you,