Back in my days as a budding naturalist, when I was going to college and still living at home, I had an image in my mind of someday having an office filled with animal skulls and pelts from critters I’d collected myself from winter, road, or predator kills. I’d use them as reference pieces for the articles and books I’d write and the illustrations I’d create to accompany them. On the way home from class one spring day, I spied a woodchuck on the roadside, legs up but intact. I turned the car around, pulled off near the kill, and got the garbage bag out of my trunk - the garbage bag I’d placed there a few weeks before in anticipation of spring roadkill season. The woodchuck was still pliable. A fresh kill. A small trickle of blood stained the side of its mouth, but otherwise, it was unmarked. It looked serene, as though it were just asleep. Its fur had an oily smoothness, pleasing to the touch. I’d never held a woodchuck before, and for an animal that seemed so common, holding one revealed its simple magnificence. I ran my thumb along its white incisors, felt its rough toepads and splintered nails, and then I placed it in the bottom of the garbage bag and rolled it up into a football-sized bundle. I drove home, a woodchuck in my trunk, and put it in the bottom drawer of our garage freezer. No one ever used that drawer, and I planned to thaw out the woodchuck over the weekend and skin it out, stretching and salting the hide, and I’d bury the body. A few months later, I’d dig it back up to reclaim the bones. But I forgot about the woodchuck, and a month or so later, I got a call at my retail job from my brother. “You’d better not come home,” he said. My stepmother had found the woodchuck. Looking for something in the freezer, she’d apparently noticed the garbage-bagged bundle in the bottom drawer and pulled it out, wondering what it could be that she’d left in there and forgotten about. I imagine her fingers closing around the frozen, furry carcass, her brain trying to interpret the sensory input from her fingers during those few seconds as she pulled them toward the lip of the bag. I imagine how her face changed as the contents came into the light. Now, years later, I think she can see the humor in the story.
I don’t have any deep insight into how this story might relate to Violet or fatherhood. It’s just something her dad did once upon a time that I want her to know about. It tells her a few things about me. Things that, for better or for worse, haven’t changed much.