Stories take time to unfold.
Months ago, I was going to write about making my first drum. I was going to start by telling how I nearly left the deer hide for the coyotes in November. Living in the modern world, I find eating venison more practical than wearing buckskin.
Then I was going to tell how a question from Cath—”What are you going to do with the hide?”—reminded me of the how-to article I read in Northern Woodlands a year earlier. Finally, I was going to tell how the drum making went: the parts that went well and the parts that would have gone more smoothly if I’d had a clue what I was doing.
That story would have been fine. And true. But it didn’t call out to be told.
Then, while moving firewood stacked under our back porch last week, I discovered an empty bird’s nest, fledglings already gone. The nest was fringed with deer hair, presumably gathered from the nearby spot where I scraped the hide late last year. I was struck by the beauty of the nest. It was made, I imagine, by an especially artistic Eastern Phoebe.
I was also struck by the nest as an example of nature’s constant recycling, and by the fact that the phoebe and I each made use of the deer’s coat in our own ways, each crafting a circle.
She gathered hair and arranged it around the base of the nest, adhering it with mud. I scraped skin and pulled it tight around the drum frame, affixing it with rawhide. She plucked grasses and crafted a bowl to hold her eggs. I nipped an apple branch and crafted a mallet to make the drum sing.
What will I do with the drum? I do not know. But something about it feels right. Perhaps it’s simply that drums are so ancient, so deeply buried in human experience, so deeply tied to our oldest religions and rituals.
That makes me think of something I wrote in The Mindful Carnivore:
Joseph Campbell once said that the “essence of life is that it lives by killing and eating.” That, he contended, is “the great mystery that myths have to deal with.” We have managed to forget this. We have distanced ourselves from the killing, fashioning a system in which few modern meat eaters ever make a pilgrimage to woods or farmyard to deal directly with that mystery and look those other lives in the eye.
I have been searching for a way to deal with that mystery for more than twenty years, first as a vegan and now as a hunter. First by walking away from killing, now by walking toward it. First by rejecting any connection between killing and the sacred, now by accepting that connection as an open question.
For me, this year, this drum serves as a kind of answer. It binds me and reminds me, linking me to that buck, to the memory of that moment, to the many meals.
A simple sound, that beat. A heartbeat: deer, human, land, bird.
By next year, perhaps it will have more of a story to tell.
© 2013 Tovar Cerulli