The Deer Antler
By: Brad Cole

It was the first time I had found a deer skull that still had both antlers, a small two-pointed buck. I was walking on the barnacled beach in Klawock in southeast Alaska, at low tide when I found it half buried in kelp and mud. From left to right antler tip it was a little over a foot wide with the greenish skull a bit bigger than my hand. The island deer, Sitka Black Tail, are a small species. Was it from a hunter's carcass or did it die naturally and then fell into the sea, I wondered? Deciding to keep it for my cabin, I hid it on the beach and would later drive back with the truck to pick it up; I still had another mile to walk home and it looked too fragile to carry very far.

Continuing to walk near the curving beach, I gazed out at the calm sea darkening in the growing dusk. Venus sat majestically, shining diamond-like in the west while following the sun on its descent. I had climbed up a small hill and I could see a beautiful bluish green glow lodged in the water directly below the barely lit western horizon. A ball of softly burning light coming from the dark sea seemed to have a deeply luminous clarity of its own, strangely separate from the sunset. It was as though something within the sea was shining in unison with the sunset, rather than just being reflected light. I wondered that it being such a beautiful evening, if the sea wanted to share in the refined but colorful lightshow. Perhaps it brought forth some of its own radiance to share in the spectacle.

The waters of southeast Alaska wind through countless channels and inlets like a silky blue ribbon wrapping around the rocky shores of forested islands. The full drama of life is here: the dark shuffling of rain clouds, the unsettling breath of wind, fading twilight and then the soft and deeply beautiful glow that appears to be coming from within the sea itself. Like the northern aurora it was strange to find a light that seems to emerge from such dark waters.

While standing still and contemplating the quality of earthly light unfolding before me a feeling of great clarity and lightness of being entered my mind. I began to see a radiant emptiness and felt like letting go of everything this world stood for, of falling into the frigid winds of night and finding a godlike love in waves of starlight streaming across the distant heavens. I thought about the nature of salvation, that the kingdom of the heavens has always been here before our eyes; we were just too sightless to see it.

Then the feeling was gone. I saw night approaching quickly and stars appeared between the windblown clouds as I left the beach and walked down a quiet street to go back home. Overhead three large ravens began cawing, flying cartwheels and circling each other. A series of lofty chirps told of a bald eagle being nearby in one of the large pine trees. Only a faint trace of half-light floated high above the western horizon. Being the last remnant from the passing day I called it "wolflight", because it stands alone so boldly in the night. In the south a crescent moon was slowly creeping out from behind black rain clouds and courageous Orion was beginning his rise up into the conflicting sky.

When I got home that evening I drove back to the beach and picked up the deer antler. I carefully placed it in a cardboard box in the back of my truck and drove away. I thought about this intriguing gift from the sea. A sea of intelligence and love where life on Earth began its long tough journey. Like the deer skull, by giving oneself so completely to the sea can the callousness of life be lost under its curling waves? Beyond the earthly veil does heaven lie in wait for us?

Finally returning home for the night I put the deer skull on a dresser and crawled into a wooly bed. Thoughts about the evening walk wandered through my light slumber and then I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamt about an antlered figure dancing alone under a starry sky. Then, just before I awoke, a vision emerged of a cold and dark ocean beach. I could hear in the sound of the collapsing waves the ocean calling my name.