We go to the familiar and cheap or free places every weekend when we hang out. I love his tiny studio apartment on Biddle Street with the giant working marble fireplace, wood floors, stone courtyard and clawfoot tub. Magical pancakes come out of his tiny closet like kitchen and there is always music playing. My dad plays with me all the time and can also let me do my own thing. I draw lots of pictures at his desk with the green lamp with crayons that he keeps for me in an old tin.
Its chilly in the spring air and we walk through mucky woods of Gun Powder through the back trails he finds when I am not with him. He knows the Park Rangers and finds cool places to look at the river. We walk and not talk much this time. Usually we sing songs he teaches me by The Beatles or The Eagles or he answers my million questions or just tells me a million things even when I don’t ask him. Often we hold hands and are just quiet trying to spot animals and birds, our friends in the forest. We look at the leaves on the ground and try to match them with the trees that tower over our heads. We find berries we can eat and others that would make me sick. We walk around the same spot many, many, many times and I am getting tired of hiking in circles when my father exclaims, “NIC, what is that?”
I look down at my feet and there is this perfect tiny antler, the first one ever shed by some beautiful buck on his way to becoming king of the forest, just like in Bambi. I bend down and examine it, not touching it, just looking at it. My father says, “Pick up honey, pick it up and check it out.” I look at him and ask, “Really is it okay?” In my five year old brain dwells the mantra of “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos and memories…” and I am hesitant to take this treasure of the forest, of the king of animals from the forest floor. My dad nods his head and says, “You can take it because he doesn’t need it anymore. Thats why it fell off. No wild animals will need it or eat it so you can take it. ” He tells me about the Native Americans that roamed these forests and what kinds of objects they would make with the horn. I hold it in my hand and am surprised by its weight and smoothness. It feels cold and hard in my hand,
I am mystified by this treasure I have found and my father makes a big deal out of me finding it all by myself to my grandparents. He tells me I can take it home to show my mom and keep it. I show her and she is not really impressed. Or she is jealous that he can do those things for me. I don’t know but she does not share in my enthusiasm in finding this amazing thing that few out of a creatures head and then fell off to make room for new ones. I have just started losing my baby teeth so I have some concept that you can have body parts fall out/off and they do grow back but it still seems very strange to think that each time his antlers fall off they make room for racks that are bigger and more impressive. My teeth are all pretty much the same size. Well, molars are kind of cool I guess, but not as amazing as antlers and I envy this buck his treasure lost each year in the spring.
Its not until years and years later that my father tells me that he found those antlers the week before and had come and placed them in a remotes spot, walked me past it a hundred times before he grew impatient and just had to point it out, not willing to wait another dozen times around the tree for me to spot it on my own. He wanted me to find it, to discover it all on my own. The world, it opened up like the flowers he was teaching me to name, to fly like the birds whose songs we learned to be still in and see what is all around me, the magic everyday.