In the Woods

I like to walk in the woods in the winter. You don’t have to worry about ticks and chiggers, and it isn’t good for you to sit in the house all day. Sometimes you might come across something scary, like this steer head:

I took this picture near the river by my house, and at first I was a little alarmed. Why would someone hang a steer head on a tree? Was it a warning not to walk there? I was reminded of being a kid, worrying about “No Trespassing” signs, and having to wear blaze orange all the time so that a hunter wouldn’t shoot you.

But Chatham County is very different from King William County. Most people where we live don’t post “No Trespassing” signs; they consider it sort of rude. Our neighbor down the hill wanted to do some target-shooting on his property with his dad and was politely asking everyone who lived near him if that was okay. I said “fine with me,” because I was pretty sure someone else would say no. And they did.

I was glad to find out from a neighbor that the steer head was just an aesthetic experiment–the woman who hung the head from the tree wants the skull. We were even assured, without asking for this detail, that the steer had a good life on an organic farm. 

Here’s another photo of the head, taken with my flash after it had gotten a little darker:

And here it is in the snow:

Today I noticed that it has started to smell.

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One response to “In the Woods

  1. Allison

    Song
    by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

    Listen: there was a goat’s head hanging by ropes in a tree.
    All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
    Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
    The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then
    They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat’s head
    Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly
    The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away
    Beside which the goat’s headless body lay. Some boys
    Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.
    The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they
    Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school
    And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.
    The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.
    The head called to the body. The body to the head.
    They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,
    Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until
    The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies
    Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.
    Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,
    Sang long and low until the morning light came up over
    The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped….
    The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named
    The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
    The night’s bush of stars, because the goat’s silky hair
    Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
    The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night
    She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train’s horn
    Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke
    To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang
    Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.
    She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily
    That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming
    Made it so. But one night the girl didn’t hear the train’s horn,
    And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat
    Was gone. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm
    Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
    Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone
    Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called
    To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
    And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling
    Like the feeling of the stones gouging the soft undersides
    Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat’s body
    By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles
    At the goat’s torn neck. Then somebody found the head
    Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take
    These things away so that the girl would not see them.
    They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.
    They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear
    Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke….
    But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
    Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they
    Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,
    Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
    What they didn’t know was that the goat’s head was already
    Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn’t know
    Was that the goat’s head would go on singing, just for them,
    Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,
    Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would
    Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees
    Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There
    Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
    The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother’s call.
    Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
    Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.

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