Sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it. Those moments of serendipity can occur almost anywhere, and everyone has stories they never forget about the great bargain they found at a sale or the treasure in Grandma’s attic. I have known folks who found their life partner when they least expected it. The one place I know a person can expect to find the unexpected is out-of-doors. Rarely do I go outside that I don’t find a treasure or take home a great memory.
With the creek dry, I spent several weekends wandering up and down its sandy bed searching for an ancient bison skull. I know one is buried in that bleached sand, waiting for me to find it. After all, bone pickers can’t possibly have found every sun-whitened bone as they picked their way across the prairie. Besides, I have known several people who have found old skulls on river sandbars and in Big Creek. Once, years ago, I did find what I think is an old bison tooth along the edges of the Saline. My great find will happen one day. I just have to keep looking.
The best part about the search is that I always find other wonders to catch my attention and remind me I am only a small part of the local ecology. I quickly found ample evidence that beaver have made a comeback in our neighborhood. Gnawed down trees, signaling these aquatic rodents’ presence dotted both sides of the creek east and west. In one place where water still remained, I spotted an area where the beady-eyed mammals had chewed branches off and then slid them downhill back into the water. The obvious tracks left by their wide, flat tails caught my eye. If I hid around the corner, I wondered if I would catch one slapping that tail to warn other beaver of an intruder.
Beaver aren’t the only rodents with growing populations living near the creek. Our area of the creek has flooded repeatedly over the years, and as a result, trees and branches piled up like oddly constructed statuary up and down the banks. Packrats have had a hey day dragging twigs, leaves, and other packrat treasure to stuff in the crevices until regular packrat high-rise apartments regularly occupy the floodway. No wonder we continually fight the packrat population. There aren’t enough owls and hawks to eat everything those nests promise to produce.
While I found plenty of animal sign, some old deer bones, and several empty clam shells left behind by some full-bellied raccoons, I didn’t find a single sign of the hoped for bison skull in my dry creek bed. Eventually, I decided to see what I could find along the banks of the creek instead of in the creek bed. This led to one of those moments when you find something you weren’t looking for.
Even though I had covered this ground several times in the previous weeks, the seasons had changed clearly from summer to autumn. Every crunchy step reminded me that everything that had been green only a few weeks before had entered that stage of dormancy heralding full-fledged fall. As I crossed the bridge over Big Creek, I spotted a treasure I hadn’t been looking for, a beautiful four-point white tail drop.
Ironically, I had rambled miles, looking for drops in this same area last spring and never spotted a thing. Then as I wandered the dry creek bed, looking for ancient bison skulls, I found my dropped antler. That tawny bone color stood out against the other shades of sere grasses and forbs so I couldn’t miss it.
Life is like that. You find a treasure when you least expect it. I have found you do need to be looking for something even if it isn't what you find, which makes me wonder what I’ll be looking for when I finally find that bison skull.