Three skulls rest near my keyboard: a sabertooth cat and two kinds of bears — a black bear subspecies and a short-faced bear. The cat and the big bear have been extinct for thousands of years. The black bear skull is real. Billy Pauly and I found it in a cave when we were kids. The other two skulls are skillfully made replicas. (I’ll save the lizard mummy, python skull, and rattlesnake skull for another day.)
I look at this trio of skulls beside many times a day. They give me great pleasure. The fangs (canine teeth) on the sabertooth measure seven inches long. The short-faced bear skull is a foot wide. Traces of both kinds of these carnivores were discovered in Riverbluff Cave. I wrote about them in CAVE DETECTIVES. That’s why for Christmas one year Sandy and Jeff surprised me with the bear skull and Jeff followed the next year with the cat skull.
Writers look at a museum piece like any one of these skulls and begin to consider the living animal they represent. The short-faced bear could weigh 1,500 pounds, maybe more. It could sprint 45 miles an hour. It could stand on its hind legs and reach 14 feet above its massive head. It was a great, hungry beast that killed its own prey, stole prey from others, and probably ate carrion as well. The teeth of the fearsome creature represented beside me once ran red with blood as they crushed bones and ripped chunks of meat from its catch. The canines of the sabertooth punctured throats, rode victims to the ground, hung on until they died. My cave bear probably ate its share of meat, too, but no doubt supplemented its diet with berries, fish, insects, larvae, and even grass.
Our job is to gaze, dream, wonder, see things that might have been, and write about what we see. Anyone want to try a couplet about any of my desk companions?
Okay, I’ll go first.
The hills echo back the roar, the growl.
Let all beware, the bear is on the prowl.
The cat sizes up the pig-like prey,
Leaps, sinks its teeth, will eat today.
The cave mystery here is how and when
The black bear’s head alone somehow got in.