The Bones

When you spend enough time walking in the woods, or search sufficiently in swamps, finding bones becomes a sure thing. On the most recent swamp expedition, I found two deer skeletons. To find a skeleton of a fellow creature in a place where you can take the time to look, to notice, to admire and even to revere, is a gift. After death, our own good human bones are seldom seen. In our western culture, embalming, burial, or the cremation kiln hide most post-death bones. Barring accident or X-ray, we seldom get to see our bones.

To the forensically minded, bones and their arrangement will reveal a story, sometimes in great detail, including age, sex, date of death, and cause of death. I have no formal skill in this trade. But I do have eyes, and can look with care. And I can draw.  I have drawn skulls before. Raccoon skulls. A monkey skull.

img_1536To draw a skull takes hours and hours. The looking and the drawing pull you full into the detail of the bones. You notice, you learn, and you remember. What you draw becomes part of you.

Nearby, in the leaves, lay the deer’s skull.


There’s much to see in a skull.


I turned over the skull to find worm at home in the bone.


The jaws were near the skull.


Looking at the teeth, I remember drawing that monkey’s teeth. How I noticed the details of the teeth, their color, and their construction.


Near the skull and jaws were a scapula, a leg and a rib in the wet ground.

The arrangement looked like a chinese character.


Perhaps a chinese scholar will see this, and tell us what word is laid out in this calligraphy of bones.

For thousands of years, people have tried to divine the future by throwing bones and trying to read meaning from the arrangement of the randomly strewn. Call it cleromancy, hoodoo, shagai, or sortilege — there are plenty of names for this practice. Our minds so want to find pattern and meaning.

This random character formed from bone led me to think of letters, to think of the alphabet, and of writing. Letters get only some of their identity and meaning from their individual shapes. Their meaning and legibility, when assembled into words, also depends on the spaces that repeat and echo between  letters.

This pattern and beat established by repeating “white” spaces in script is often described by letterers and calligraphers as “rhythm”.

I took a last look at the skeleton and took a last few photographs. As I pushed on through the brush, looking for the way to cross the stream that I knew had to be somewhere in the near distance, I thought I heard something…

I did.


It was the rhythm of the bones.

One response to “The Bones

  1. Your post has reminded me that I once did a watercolor painting—-a still life involving an animal scull—when I was in 8th grade. I had forgotten all about that. I may still have it, back in CT. Thanks for the tap on the old noggin’,

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