By Annette Hinkle
Wanted: Someone with lots of free time who loves assembling bones, has done it before and is not worried about putting the drill in the wrong place. Also required, patience and good humor. Wine and refreshments provided.
The bones. They’re in plastic Ziploc bags spread out across the dining room table in Dai Dayton’s Bridgehampton farmhouse. They once belonged to a white tailed deer — and there are a lot of them — each bag labeled in black Sharpie with a best guess estimate of what part of the animal they are from.
Dayton is vice president of Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt and the deer skeleton is from Vineyard Field, the grassland area behind the South Fork Natural History Society that the Friends have been working to restore for many years. The skeleton was found there a few seasons back, lying undisturbed under a large birch tree.
“It had just laid down and died,” recalls Dayton who’s not sure what killed the deer. The scapula is shattered, so she speculates the animal could have been hit by a car or even with an arrow, though none was found nearby. She doesn’t know the age of the deer, or if it was a male or female.
What is noteworthy, however, is the fact that the bones were picked clean and the skeleton was still largely intact.
“Usually the chipmunks eat the bones,” she says.
Because the skeleton was in such good shape, Dayton got the idea to reassemble it as a museum display for Southampton Town’s Long Pond Greenbelt Nature Center up the road.
“It was so cool, and I thought, wouldn’t it be a great project for a school?”
So Dayton gathered the bones and took them to the Hayground School where a teacher thought it would be a great project for the students.
“It stayed there for a year, not touched,” says Dayton.
Then she took the skeleton to Sag Harbor Elementary School where another teacher thought it would be a great project for the students.
“And it sat there for another year without being touched,” adds Dayton.
Finally, Dayton decided to do it herself and rallied other members of FLPG to join the effort. They found a book online that detailed how to put moose bones together, and Dayton pulled out her old anatomy books from animal husbandry courses she had taken.
Recently Dayton hosted a small work party — sort of akin to a quilting bee. Steve Gauger was the brave soul who dared to drill the first holes in the bones for wiring. At this point in the process, the group has managed to thread the vertebrae on a stainless rod and the two forelegs are strung together.
“We should be doing it once a week, but after that last episode I haven’t got the guts,” says Dayton. “No one called me to say ‘I had so much fun, let’s do it again.”
But the bags of bones are still there, just waiting for the right person to put them back together again.
“There are all these tiny little bones,” says Dayton. “The bags that are not put together are bigger than the parts we have assembled. One of the tibias is missing, so I have some spare parts in the back of my truck because a friend found a carcass.”
“We know the order they go in,” she adds. “Its the gluing and wiring and getting a stand to hold them that’s the issue. Just those forelegs took hours.”
“So it’s going to be like another 10 years.”
But Dayton is optimistic someone out there has the time and energy and is just waiting for a project like this. Maybe it’s someone reading this right now.
“We always supply the wine and the refreshments,” says Dayton enticingly before adding, “We had hoped to finish it in February. But we do have to say — we’ve done more than those two schools did in two years … or maybe even three.”