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Several years passed since my opossum moment and I decided to do something about my overly exaggerated inability to accept roadkill as ‘just another part’ of this sometimes-inhumane world we live in. This emotional drivel for the hapless lost lives of small animals was unique only to them.

What did I do?

Well... I have found when dealing an unreasonable fear the best way is just decide you are going to address it. That's what I did, just jumped right into it.

Realizing Christmas was coming and my middle daughter loved skulls - her grandmother (yep my mom) gave her whole collection of 5 skulls to this child the year before. Given it was September / October and pheasant season in England - this being my first hunting season anywhere - I was enlivened by the sight of pheasants and ducks hanging from fence posts on their way to the barn to hang for a week. Seeing all this absolutely acceptable death felt as though my senses were toughening a bit.

I think I should share the measure to which I abhorred dead stuff. I could barely stand to look at it let alone touch it or assist in cleaning it. Not sure it was really a fear but my over-active imagination creating horrible images and yes even imagined sickening smells that made me keep my distance.

Just hearing someone talking about a razor blade cutting flesh would send shivers down my spine as if my mind could literally feel it or thinking of the smell of castor oil my face would go pale and my stomach would start to swirl - appalling stuff. I know it sounds a bit extreme but it is a pain in the ass to live with this excessive imagination. I mean who is in charge here? Me or my imagination.

So here was this desire to drown my displaced fear of seeing or being involved with death, blood, guts especially the lifeless corpses of innocent no human entities. I have seen dead people and that seems acceptable but the ones I have seen have not been all icky and yucky like mutilated road kill. All this need because I really thought it would be cool to send one of my American daughters a few English skulls.

Starting out I took my first leap into recovery by helping the local publicans manageress clean a few pheasants. This was truly a big step for me. I believe if someone could have read my mind and what it was thinking they would have thought I was on some serious medication. I can say a rabid dog probably thinks more coherently than I was during those thirty minutes of cutting open and stripping the breast meat from those birds. My biggest fear during that whole time was that I would smell the blood and dead flesh (my nose is very attached to my stomach). I knew if I smelled it I would lose the control.

Following that rocky beginning I forced rapid advancement. I started by boiling the heads of a few of the pheasants that I cleaned that day and a few others given me. Warning when cleaning the eyes of boiled heads - if you are not sure that the eyes are boiled solid hold them under water when popping them out - yuk! I graduated to roadkill birds and small animals and spread the word to the villagers that I was in search additions to my collection. They were quite helpful. One brought me a pig skull from when his dad made brahn. Even my daughter when she came over would go exploring and share where she found different bones or roadkill (this is the one I started doing this for in the first place).

In my first year collecting skulls I have roughly thirty skulls from sixteen different species of birds and animals. Ten of those species are English and were brought back with me, including fox (2), rabbit, deer, badger (2), pigeon (2), crow (2), jackdaw (bigger than normal crows but still the corvine family), ducks (2), pheasants (6) and blackbird. Had to leave a couple of the larger ones because they would fit in my suitcases including the pig skull. Since I have been back in California I have gained steer, coyote, brown rat, rattle snake, mink and squirrel skulls (with a raccoon, cat and rattle snake skull coming soon.

In all this time I can proudly say that I did not cause or support the killing of any of the previous owners of my skulls. A few I purchased like the steer skull and minks. A few I found already cleaned (coyote and deer); a few I dried without cleaning (mainly the crows and one fox was found dried so I left it that way) but the majority of the smaller skulls I boiled (or macerated) and cleaned and the larger ones that needed cleaning I let mother nature handle them.

All this followed the learn as you go method. I have to tell you that it has been fun. I still get queasy when I smell the maceration tanks. I have stopped cooking them in the house also but I can still imagine the smell and it wasn't that nice.

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