A Modest Mound of Bones

Some time ago, I was doing some exploring when I found basically an entire deer skeleton near the top of a hill, picked completely clean and gradually being overgrown with grass. I like this excerpt from John Updike’s poem, “A Modest Mound of Bones,” and I think it was especially descriptive of them after I went back last week first thing in the morning with my camera.


“…They were rain-scrubbed clean—
lovely things.
Depending how the white
sun struck, chips of color
(green, yellow, dove-blue, a light
bay) flew off the sullen
stilled turning there. To have seen
those clickless rings,

those prisonerless
ribs, complex
beyond the lathe’s loose jaws,
convolute compounds
of knobs, rods, hooks, moons, absurd paws,
subtle flats and rounds:
no man could conceive such finesse,
concave or -vex. …”

All the sparkling dew drops and new-grown grass in the early sun really seemed described by that first stanza! Unfortunately a lot of the bones seemed to have been carried off in the intervening weeks, but there were still enough there to be worth photographing.


Since I generally don’t see cleaned bones like that, it really struck me how bizarre the shapes of them are – no man could conceive of such finesse – that they’ve evolved into. The smooth parts, the spongy-looking parts, the way each part of the bone transitions into the next shape. It also struck me how easily our forebears could have seen them as tools, which was a bizarre insight too.


I converted most of the best photos to black and white because I felt like it showed off the textures better, and since I could turn down the luminance on the grass to make the contrast against the bones greater, I felt like they showed more clear stories that way. The story for me was all about this sudden and unexpected trove of white bones in the grass, their texture and contrast of forms.

…also the blue shadows and yellow sunshine, plus all the bright green grass and the off-white coloring of the bones, was really throwing off the color correction, so that was the lazy option! Some of them did work better in color I thought:


I’m really a fan of those teeth in the last one, I did a black-and-white square crop version of that photo as well, but I think Patrick was right that the contrast of living grass and dead animal is really interesting (and less apparent in black-and-white), so I’m posting this one.

3 Responses to “A Modest Mound of Bones”

  1. Elaine Rockett
    | Reply

    Looks great. Georgia O’Keefe-esque on some.

  2. Angus Rockett
    | Reply

    Really like them. Some in color are really nice and some in B&W came out very well. They are all great. Nice pictures and nice writing to go along with them. I like your writing very much.

  3. ellen
    | Reply

    Thanks! I was definitely thinking of Georgia O’Keeffe’s skull paintings when photographing the head. I’m glad you liked the writing; I think I’ll try to explain more why I took those pictures specifically – or the story the scene had for me at least – in the future.

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