On the way to school one morning we saw an amazing road kill. It was a coyote. She was lying in the middle of the road with hardly a scratch on her. I couldn’t resist picking her up and putting her on top of a trash bag I just happened to have in the back of our car. As I did this, I waved for a man in a truck to pass us but he wouldn’t; he just waited. I think he was being respectful as he thought I was some poor, bereaved woman picking up the remains of the family pet to take home for burial.
At morning break my science-loving son asked me if he could try and tan the hide. “Ummm, . . . I guess so,” I muttered as I was pondering fleas, rigormortis, blood, skinning, and tanning. “Put it in a trash bag and squirt water all over it,” I added as he smiled and ran outside. Oh dear, what have we gotten into now? I wondered. I should have known that those anatomy dissections last year might lead to this.
That night as we headed out to a school board meeting around 7:30 p.m. the coyote was hanging from the back fence and two of my sons were beginning their task. They were still at it, having moved to the garage when we got home. Its heart was about the size of a large plum; its stomach was full of grass and a sparrow. They made it to bed by 2:00 a.m. and the coyote skin was safely soaking in salt water-- ears, nose, and tail included.
Next we submersed it in a vat of water, salt, and alum. The alum was something new we wanted to try that I read about from a Viking re-enactor. (Yes, he does real-life Viking reenactments.) After two weeks we took it out, washed it off, and kept it moving and stretching as it dried out. He now has a lovely tanned coyote skin which adorns his piano bench. And we had a unique opportunity to learn more about animals, anatomy, and tanning in the process.