E and I talk a lot about death these days. It must be a four-year-old thing. And while we said goodbye to her cranky-beloved granddog two weeks ago, it was this old mess o'bones that made the entire life cycle a bit more tangible in her eyes.

We found it, like all great discoveries, by accident, exploring a special place near our home, tinder-dry grasses scratching our flip-flopped feet, eyes peeled for random spiky thistle tops sure to bring a halt to the day's adventure. The coloring looks more like a ring-tailed cat, which we don't have in western Wyoming, at least according to the experts. Raccoons have blacker tail bands and the skull is so long that it doesn't look like either of the above really, or a housecat, which would be another plausible guess given the size.

One of the things I love the most about where we live is how one minute the place seems so civilized and genteel and the next, this. (Just like middle-of-the-night coyote howls I heard last week in Brentwood.) The contrasts, animal wildness rubbing against human efforts to tame it, are everywhere, and even seemingly humdrum suburban backyards yield the greatest of finds. Just ask E. O. Wilson.

Children are especially fine lamplighters of these discoveries, if their unadulterated curiosities aren't squelched by the very adult ridiculousness of labeling things as "gross", "disgusting", "nasty" or "filthy"--any of which these things may actually be.

We made it home before dark with just one thing to add to her collection: a chunk of vertebrae that E can hold up to the small of my back, understanding how we are put together, and what it looks like when that's all that's left.


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