John Howell’s Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chapeltown woods yield treasure — at least in eye of scavenger hunters

Sheds, he said.

And for an instant my mind thought of small storage buildings before realizing that my 13-year-old grandson was talking about recently shed deer antlers lying about on the forest floor, there for the taking.

At least, his Uncle David makes it sound that easy. His Uncle David has his discoveries lining a mantle to prove it.

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But we went looking anyway, the boy, his younger brother and sister and I, out to Chapeltown where Uncle Johnny dutifully works on his railroad when he’s not working on something else.

“It looks like as much as I walk in these woods, I would have found some,” Uncle Johnny said. A skeptic.

We walked around the food plots planted early last fall on Uncle Johnny’s place. They are overlooked by now-abandoned hunting stands. The oats and other winter grasses still thrive and the deer can now graze with impunity.

Male deer wear antlers during the mating season, growing them anew each fall as opposed to horned animals on whose heads horns are more or less a permanent fixture. But you knew that.

The terrain at Uncle Johnny’s stays nearly impenetrable for much of the year. Steep hills separated by deeply cut creeks. Heavy woods with a thick understory surrounded by briar thickets. Home much of the year for deer ticks, chiggers and rattlesnakes.

But late winter is a fine time for exploring there, and a shed search is as good excuse as any. A cross between an Easter Egg hunt and a scavenger hunt.

Our diligent searching lasted for all of about 30 minutes. The grandgirl’s hair kept getting snagged in the briars. She didn’t complain, but we navigated away from the briars. We started enjoying the outing more when we quit looking for sheds and started  looking at whatever we saw.

A delicate green moss grows in patches on the forest floor. Ferns cling tenaciously to steep creek banks as though hung there in a basket. The woven nest of a tiny bird remained in the fork of a low branch that we encountered. By then grandgirl and I had become separated from the boys by a short distance. We took the nest with us to show them. They obliged us by acting reasonably curious.

I had walked away from grandgirl to point out the thorns on a big locust growing near a creekbank. For some reason thorns held her fascination that afternoon and the tree bore tremendous specimens.

She walked further along the edge of a field while I circled the tree.

“I think I found something. I think it might be a dinosaur,” she announced, matter-of-factly.

I walked over to see her find. It wasn’t a shed, exactly. It was deer’s skull with one spike antler still attached. Close enough.

The flesh was gone, leaving the bright white bone structure intact.

The boys were adequately impressed. The older one said that his science teacher would appreciate the zoological treasure as well.

That night when their parents returned from an outing, the day’s find was proudly displayed on the dining room table.