So I had to come up with two animal specimens or fail mammology… With that in mind I set out to trap mice down by the railroad tracks in Missoula. An old lumber mill town, Missoula was beginning to brighten up in those days, but still had plenty of seedy, rodent-infested areas that I was sure to collect my needed specimens. The problem was, they were too dangerous to visit at night. So when I would ride my bike down in the morning to check my traps they were always sprung and empty, some lucky alley cat getting there before I could.
After weeks and weeks of this I finally secured one hapless mouse carcass and struggled to skin and stuff the poor thing in the mammalogy lab. But the second specimen alluded me. By Thanksgiving I was getting desperate and had begun to contemplate several scruffy, stray cats that hung around in the alley behind our house with murderous intent. Then relief came most unexpectedly.
We had driven the 600 miles to Eastern Montana to have Thanksgiving with some friends working on a ranch outside of Miles City. On the way home we were crossing the Continental Divide above Butte right at dusk. Everyone in the car was staring off at the molten red sunset when I spotted something lying in the road.
“Stop the car!” I screeched and my friend Mark almost hit a guard rail pulling over in such haste. I hopped out with a garbage bag and ran to the carcass in the road. It was a dead raccoon and it was almost perfect. It had just been dinged in the head by a bumper. I did a little jig right in the middle of I90 and pushed the poor animal into the bag with my foot.
When I approached the car, bag bulging, I was greeted by several horrified faces and I realized that they didn’t know about my mammalogy class. Perhaps they thought I ate road kill like some insane Beverly Hillbilly. “It’s for mammalogy class” I explained. They still looked dubious, especially when they realized I was actually going to fling it in the back with their knapsacks.
“Do you want to explain to Dr. Wright why I couldn’t do my second specimen?” I asked. Everyone knew of Dr. Wright’s infamous temper. They finally relented and we worked out that the carcass could be tied on the roof for the rest of the ride home.
So off we went into the stunning Montana sunset… me, my friends and my… um… dead raccoon.