River Bones

We picked bones off river shores. Bleached and bare. Deposits of the dead. Ghosts of unknown origin: A coyote killed deer. Cattle carried by current. They scattered banks down past our front yard. Those walls an ever changing container. North flow cutting through. Crumbling shore. Earth into water. Spring swells and summer shrink. Nature recycling itself through each season.

As kids we played there. Threw rocks to river. Lit fireworks to trigger an echo. Caught frogs, chopped heads, loaded line. Cast carrion and caught fish. Green skin and guts in their gullet. Threw them back or cooked for supper. Looked for more bones of long gone cattle.

On shore we discerned rocks and sticks from animal pillars. Thick white pieces mired in muck. Pulled each from earth’s grip. Wet sucking sounds of release. We sorted and scrubbed. Washed with water. Poked fingers through holes. Ran tips over jawbones. We didn’t think on these deaths. Just part of the process. River life teemed, well and abundant. Bucks, coyotes, fox, and fishers. Sometimes sighted, often unseen. They beat down grass to form animal paths. Beaver slides from bank to river.

Up high grew trees. Oak, ash, elm. Root nerves in soft dirt. Shells littered like casings. Their nuts sucked down by squirrels. Critters climbing cottonwoods. Those trees our towers. The ones that stood tallest. Went to seed. Fuzz to water. White dots riding the top with leaves and unmoored trees. Ones that fell from bank. From woods. From where we dug holes and hit metal. Burnt orange barbs of wire. Tetanus buried or snaked through timber. Indicators of an old cattle operation. Its cows slaughtered. Their carcasses scattered.

When water froze we rode sleds from top to bottom. Hill to shore. Plastic sheets skipping like ice boats. In later years we owned dogs. One sniffed a skull encased in ice. Froze to river. Antler and orbital exposed. The rest halfway to hell. The dog bit and pulled. Instructions from instinct. Each piece sucked and chewed like a five course supper. Digested by earth and animal. Each actor stripping flesh, fur, and sinew. Nature at work. Bones on the river.