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The antler collector

2010 April 26

Baby Col with deer antlers and oxygen cord

Right about now, the elk of the Southern Rockies drop their antlers. I imagine it starts with this tingly-itchy feeling on their scalp. Perhaps they rub their hefty, bone-like racks against a spruce sapling for a little relief, and then the whole darn thing just pops off.

Does this mean anything to you? I didn’t think so. I’m only telling you because the man I love is a fool for elk and it’s officially elk antler-hunting season in our household. There is just a small window of time between when the big ungulates drop their antlers and before the mountain shrubs start leafing out, making it nearly impossible to find the cast-offs on the ground (or so I’m told, by the man who returns home from the woods with this, over the course of two months):

The haul from 2008, deer and elk

From which he makes things like this:

And this:

antler lamp with juniper

And while I know these antlers are useful for the animals who wear them, to um, prove their fitness at mating season, we’ve sort of passed the usefulness threshold here. We’ve got enough antler cabinet pulls, door handles, coat racks, lamp parts and back-scratchers for Col and Rose’s children. And despite the fact that there are piles of deer and elk antlers mounded in our shed and sunroom, Dan can no more leave an antler in the woods than I can pass by a cup of coffee sitting on the table and not take a sip.

Here is an excerpt from a piece I published in the January edition of Bugle Magazine, it’s called Fool for Elk and tells a little more about the man and his affliction:

In spring, Dan scours the woods for antlers. His pile of elk and deer racks, mounded in our shed, is both tripping hazard and testimony to the hours he spends pawing through snarled country, chasing bulls on their home turf. He returns from these trips torn by wild roses, sap-sticky from elbowing through tight stands of ponderosa, foot-chilled by deep snow and positively glowing from his latest finds. To me, these treasures appear to be simply another set of chipmunk-chewed bones, their points stabbing the air in flagrant disregard of proper feng shui. But, when Dan spies—like a glint of gold in a miner’s pan—the smooth, brown curve of an antler point beckoning through the grass like a crooked finger, he is hooked. When you’re a fool for elk, each calcified castoff broadcasts more than an animal’s procreation-station. The heavy, smooth antlers are like signposts pointing to something greater than simply the parts of cartilage, keratin, blood, phosphorus. Perhaps the signage reads: this five by six thundered down a steep, rim-rocked gulch before stopping to itch off an antler. Perhaps it’s an ancient and mythic tongue; clearly I don’t speak the language.

If you dragged out an antler from the middle of the stack, say a lean, chestnut five-pointer and held it up, it would take Dan precisely two seconds to remember where and when that gift was found. “Putrid lion kill, Red creek, Spring 2007. Sawed the antlers off with my Leatherman.” He might even remember that he sat beside the creek, listening to the snowmelt rumble, fingering a bumpy brow tine before lashing the God-awful stinky pair to his backpack and winding his way down to the truck. This is the man who occasionally needs a reminder of his current age.

Who does the collecting in your house? And what is collected?

27 Responses leave one →
  1. 6512 and growing permalink
    April 26, 2010

    It must be said that the many, many antler lamps, candelabras, chandeliers that Dan has made and sold over the years, have at times been our only spot of income during carpentry slow-downs. And for that I am grateful. And also for all the happiness Dan receives from the antler-gathering process.

  2. April 26, 2010

    wow. can’t wait to show my kids this post.

    my daughter wants so badly to find deer antlers in the woods, but so far we’ve not had any luck.

    as for collecting…

    in our house it’s sea glass, beach stones, shells, interesting bark that peels off trees, stuffed animals and matchbox cars.

  3. Ami permalink
    April 26, 2010

    The antler art is lovely! I’m glad you posted that post-script… as I WAS wondering about that! :) ONE time, Stone and I were hiking and found a small, two (or three?) pointed deer antler. We were elated. We carried it the whole hike, and at the end, I went to throw it back to the woods… Stone was aghast! He convinced me that you don’t turn your back on a gift like that. Needless to say, I am glad, because I’ve never come across one since, and that little antler sits proudly on our shelf just above the sink, where I look at it more times than I can count in a day! We always mumble about how grateful we would be if we could only find a lovely, gigantic elk antler… I guess you could officially add antler envy to the milk….
    As far as collecting here, I’m the collector, and that would be agates! It makes no logical sense to spend the day at the beach with your face buried in the rocks looking for a one-in-tens-of-thousands agate…. but I do it, and I get a rush every time! What flummoxes me, is why the local native americans had no reverence for them!? They are clearly an exceptional and unique find! Did you ever hunt them when you were here, Rachel?

  4. April 26, 2010

    You speak with such deep affection for a passion that you yourself find hard to understand – that’s what I love about this piece.

    What will we do without our partners and their ridiculous collections? Mine is into all kinds of gadgetry. If it’s electronic, it’s in our house. I feel embarrassed to say that our house is probably responsible for half of what’s wrong with our planet – punctured ozone, Pacific flotsam, you name it, we’re the cause of it. Correction. HE is the cause of it.

  5. Melissa permalink
    April 26, 2010

    Oh, our partners and their collectibles.

    My darling Leeor brings home armfuls of LPs (the man scours garage sales and record bins alike) and books so often that I get this mean squinty eye and then have to remember that really, it’s not so bad. I just have a hard time with *stuff* piling up everywhere, no matter what the stuff is. And I thought this digital download age would render us, if not stuff free, at least with less accumulation, but oh no. Because when you buy an LP, you get free downloads. So you get both. Lucky us.

    Though of course I enjoy all the selections. Especially the music. Otherwise I would be listening to the same old ladies and Rolling Stones over and over (and he does pick up some of my faves especially for me).

    Your Dan is so talented. That lamp is stunning. The antlers are so graceful . . . I love how differently we are all wired . . .and of course I love how you write it all down!

    How’s that for a long comment? My last week at work finds me not terribly motivated to, um, work . . . thanks for the diversion (:

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      April 26, 2010

      Melissa, I don’t have a record player anymore, but am ridiculously sentimental about my old albums (which live in our shed, with the antlers), including my first buys: (at ten years old) Tattoo You and Back in Black.

  6. April 26, 2010

    My husband can’t resist a semi-decent movie from the $5 bin, but that’s not nearly as cool as elk antlers. These pictures are amazing, and what craftmanship Dan has! (And you, patience.) =>

  7. Kathy permalink
    April 26, 2010

    Dan’s work is fabulous! Dan could make buttons from the antlers too. Folks purchase these at craft fairs and rendezvous for their old-timing clothing and events!

    We collect people; both Gary and I are the family genealogists. I am collecting books on the history of the San Juans, Colorado, and towns surrounding Durango, 19th century photography, cultural books on the Victorian era and Mesa Verde, and more.

    I also collect old stuffed bears who need a new home. Gary calls me the “bear rescue lady.”

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      April 26, 2010

      Kathy, We just went to Mesa Verde today with the kids. I am so inspired. Post coming soon.

  8. April 26, 2010

    It is then that the velvet is harvested for its medicinal and performance qualities. Coat Racks

  9. Carolyn R permalink
    April 27, 2010

    Oh, this post made me laugh!

    My hubby’s collecting passion is old jars. In defense, we do a lot of canning, but the jar collecting has taken on epic proportions. Salvage yards, garage sales, auctions…they’re all sacred grounds where the holy grail of jars may be found. “Look, dear, it’s a green Atlas strong shoulder half-pint!”

    Sometimes, as five more crates are being unloaded, I quietly ask just how many more jars we need? But seeing hubby’s excitement, I pretend not to notice the growing stacks in the cellar. “Ooooh, good finds, honey. Should we need to can green beans for the US Army, we are SO set.”

    Thanks for sharing stories of your life…I have become an avid reader in the last few months!

  10. April 27, 2010

    This reminds me of Wapiti Wilderness by Margaret Murie, only she was banging her shins on antlers in her living room, with the heads still attached and flesh boiled off in her cooking pots. It could always be worse!!

    My husband collects leftover building materials (we might need them some day!) and record albums. The latter our 8-y-o son has recently really gotten into, so I try not to begrudge the basement FULL too much. I only collect things that are nice to look at and useful–dishes and linens and yarn and fabric (I might need it some day!)

  11. April 27, 2010

    Beautiful lamp! I feel silly, but I really had no idea that elk drop their antlers seasonally. Such a beautiful thing, the way these must drop off like a butterfly’s cocoon or a snake’s outer skin. Metamorphosis :).

  12. April 27, 2010

    That’s pretty awesome, actually. That’s neat. We get cicadas and if Dave collected cicada shells to make stuff from, I’d divorce him. If you are lucky enough not to know what I’m talking about, please, Google it.

  13. April 27, 2010

    That lamp is absolutely beautiful. I’m not sure I could live with an entire house filled with antler objects, but I can absolutely, totally and completely appreciate the beauty of the antlers and, even more so, the craft of his art.

  14. April 27, 2010

    And I thought my husband’s hat addiction was cumbersome ;o)

  15. April 28, 2010

    I my, I do love the antlers too, and all other gifts of nature. I remember numerous hikes with my eyes on the ground more than my surroundings in search of them.

    I’m known to collect whatever inspires me that day. Some days it’s flowers, others it’s feathers, rocks, seashells, sticks, leaves, acorns, pinecones… oh and then there’s the old rapidly growing cork collection.

  16. April 28, 2010

    Your husband makes beautiful art! I can see how his obsession is worth it. We collect rocks around here. I’m constantly telling my husband to put them outside!!

  17. April 29, 2010

    Oh how I just drool over your writing. It is such a magnificent thing–watching my man engage with his passion. He’s not so much a collector as he just thinks items have use when they clearly do not…in other words, he cannot get rid of stuff. Like 15 year-old t shirts that are thin as tissue and ripe with pubescentness. And snowboards. I think there are like 20 snowboards all about our home, tucked in corners of the garage or the back of our closet.

    “I like ’em, babe,” is his reply. How can I argue with that?

  18. April 30, 2010

    How cool! Wow, my family collects things like twigs from the lawn, bouncy balls from vending machines and Smencils (smelly pencils thru fundraisers.) My son, David, will flip when I show him these photos!

  19. May 2, 2010

    Collecting helps me find myself. I collect beads. Lucky for me they take up less space than antlers! But I gotta say…this is pretty impressive!

  20. May 2, 2010

    This post had me cracking up!
    My husband thinks it is especially cool after I told him where you grew up. ;)

  21. Molly permalink
    May 6, 2010

    My partner collects CD’s, kitchen gizmos, flashlights, clocks and thankfully, power tools. My daughter collects rocks and pine cones. I collect art supplies, fabric and yarn. We try to be considerate of each other’s habits.

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      May 8, 2010

      Sounds like a lovely trio of collectors!

  22. Salaz permalink
    July 15, 2010

    I feel the same way about your husbands passion. Every spring I’m out walking the miles just waiting to find the elk and deer antlers. Still undecided, I’m not sure what to do with my building antler pile. I’ve always wanted to get into antler art and furniture. How did your husband start out other than just finding them?

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