FOR ANTLERS! screamed
the homemade cardboard sign at the side of the winding mountain road.
I slowed my car down to stare at it, immediately drawn in by
the curious sight and enthusiastic words.
As a freelance photojournalist hoping to make it big with my
portraits of the still-wild western United States, I was always on the lookout
for all things strange, quirky and quaint. I’d soon discovered the remote
mountain villages of New Mexico to be a goldmine for off-the-wall and
In search of the perfect stories, I’d wandered among the
blood-colored bluffs and cliffs, gathered sweet-scented sagebrush alongside
wild horses, and scrambled across craggy lava flows that had buried the bones
of ancient dinosaurs. I’d been blessed by medicine women and slept in haunted
hotels. I’d even crawled into the dark hollows of allegedly haunted mine shafts
in search of long-lost Spanish gold.
Even still, it was never good enough. After returning home,
I’d often feel restless and unfulfilled, my blood hemorrhaging from some unseen
cavern in my body. I’d dream of being taller than a mountain, burying my
enormous hands into every cranny and every canyon, trailing my fingertips
through the pallid white sand dunes, dipping my toes in the cold snowmelt
streams. From above, my eyes would survey the landscape, its hills and arroyos
as textured as the back of a horned lizard, and my dreamer’s heart would thrum
and throb with love for my homeland, strange as it was.
But I’d never seen anything like this sign, a sudden flicker
of civilization in the remote and untamed Jemez Mountains.
Such a fervent prayer for the severed, bony protrusions of
hoofed mammals. I heard the prayer repeating, repeating, in the hidden folds of
What in the world would anyone want with antlers?
I parked my car in the gravel turnout, and slung my camera
over my shoulder. I got out of the car and walked closer.
“Hey there,” came a voice from behind a parked pickup truck
I hadn’t noticed until that moment. A man stood up from his canvas lawn chair
he’d placed in the truck’s shade. “Have you got something to sell?”
“Ah,” I said. “No. I was just curious about the sign.”
“Curious?” the man said, slowly plucking pistachios and
pinyons from a plastic bag. He cracked the nuts with his thumb, their dry
shells plinking in the gravel like clipped fingernails.
“Why do you buy antlers?” I asked. “What sorts of antlers?”
“All kinds,” he said, simply, breezily, with the casual
grace of an experienced salesman.
“I’m sorry to be rude or nosy,” I apologized. “I’m a
journalist and photographer, and I’ve never seen anything like this. If I may
ask, what do you do after you buy them?”
resell them, mostly,” he answered. “Tourists and locals like them for
decoration. Some of them I carve into knife handles. I’ll take anything you’ve
got. Deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, chamacorn. You know.
“Wait. What?” I said. “What was that last one?”
“What?” he said. “Anything. I said I’ll take anything.”
He stared at me.
I looked back towards my car, and considered just walking
away. But oh! I desperately wanted that photograph. Or at least, I wanted some
sort of souvenir. Something to plug the hole in the bleeding depths of my
The man beckoned to me.
“Come on up to the shed,” he said. “I’m sure I’ve got what
you’re looking for.”