Purposes

A big rack of white-tailed deer antlers on the wall of my living room reminds me of a deer that got away. It is a fine, symmetrical work of art, as brown and polished as if it were sculpted from walnut. It's as beautiful as the woods in fall. On a winter night, the rack catches the light from a holiday candle and throws a giant, flickering antler shadow on the ceiling, like a ghost from deer seasons long past.

The deer that carried this ancient 10-point rack didn't get away from me. I discovered the rack years ago, lying on the grass at a yard sale among a clutter of old books, well-worn shoes and various other odds and ends. I carried the antlers to the man at the card table and plunked down $10 as required by the hastily scrawled writing on the tag. A buck for each of the buck's points.

I asked the man if he had killed the deer. He said he did, but it was so long ago that he had forgotten the details of the hunt and the kill. Anymore, he added, the antlers were just in the way, and his wife was tired of dusting them. It was a shame that the memories had departed from the remains of what had once been a regal and majestic animal, so I decided its memories would just as well begin again with me.

Now, deer antlers are not commodities to be bought or sold, and so I suspected that the forgetful old fellow at the yard sale had neither killed that deer, nor had anything else to do with mounting them on the old oak plaque.

The one thing that becomes plain with age is that memories are not for sale. The reason I brought the antlers home that day was that they were nearly identical to a set I found at Indian Trail Park one afternoon some 40 years before.

On that day, I had wandered into what the locals call the "Solitary Holler," a remote, open cathedral of stately woods where leaves drifted into ages-deep piles. There, in a bowl-shaped arena, lay a huge buck. Dead for at least two days, he sprawled in a battlefield of leaves that looked as if they had been thoroughly scratched by a large flock of wild turkeys. Blood, like burnt umber, was spattered everywhere. In the silence, it was hard to