A Squirrel Tale
If you pull a certain essay collection from the shelf in my living room, an uncharacteristically bulky bookmark all but forces you to open to a story about squirrel hunting. This doesn't happen by accident. I find a new bookmark for every book I read, and once I finish the last page it stays inside that book for good. For this hardback, I never second-guessed what the bookmark would be: a preserved squirrel tail.
The gray squirrel that once flicked that tail was the first animal I ever killed. My colleague Mike Toth invited me to hunt with him on a WMA near his New Jersey home, and 10 minutes in I spied a squirrel at the base of a tree and fired. We shot one more that day, and Toth generously sent me home with all of the meat—as well as the tail of the first critter.
It was a wildly fun day, but once it ended I found myself searching for ways to prolong the experience. Cooking and savoring my first wild-game meal (squirrel potpie) was one way to do that. Deboning and preserving the tail was another. My wife found it a little gross that I used an animal part as a bookmark, but it seemed perfectly natural to me. And now, whenever I open that book to a story about squirrel hunting in Kentucky, the tail takes me back to my own story about squirrel hunting in New Jersey.