In the early spring, after the snow is gone, I love to walk in the woods looking for the winter-dropped antlers of deer. The most beautiful time to find a fallen antler is in an open stretch of woods late in the afternoon when the sun is dropping soft tiger-stripes of light down through the cedars or pines, and one of those shafts of light happens to fall across the antler’s gleaming brown polished curve.
Sometimes the antler falls right side up, like an open basket, cradled in the leaves as if to hold light and air, and other times the antler falls with the tines sticking down. And then in the cedar jungle, in that end-of-day light, with all the vertical trees and the horizontal twigs and branches on the ground, the incongruity of that beautiful curve on the ground and the beautiful burnished gleam of the antler will leap out to the practiced eye. It is a thing worth seeing, a moment of no small consequence as you come to the spot where a deer lost part of himself but kept on going, a kind of a parting of the ways in that precise spot where you’re standing, and the deer went on into the rest of the winter, having jettisoned it all, and kept living for at least a little longer.
Deer grow new antlers each summer. I cannot grow my mother back, though I must say there are times when my oldest daughter looks at me with the same ice-blue eyes and I am confused, for they are as intent and piercing and beautiful as my mother’s, and they seem to know things that my mother knew.
Because it has become clear to me that I have all the time in the world—for grief moves like a glacier—I have started looking for antlers in the winter, right after the deer have dropped them.
It doesn’t matter if I find any. It is somehow the act that matters, the devotion to the pure improbability of it: like finding a contact lens that has been dropped out of a helicopter and into the ocean.
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