by Julien-Pierre Campbell
It’s a normal Tuesday in my honors class (as normal as you can get in the middle of a global pandemic!). I’m sitting on my floor in front of my laptop. My eyes are fixed on the little square containing my bedraggled reflection. How do people manage to look attractive over webcams? I think. I look like I just crawled out a sewer. Mid-sentence, my professor pauses. Her eyes have caught something slightly disturbing, judging by the look of disgust on her face.
“Julien…” she says, so slowly that it comes out in like ten syllables. “Uhh…”
Oh my God. The entire class is looking at me.
“Um, yes, Professor?”
“OK, I just have to ask — what’s with the deer head?”
Ah. This, I can handle. I collect taxidermy, and I’ve fielded so many questions about it that at this point, anyone could call me an expert in the awkward. I quickly explain away the deer head, make a joke that gets the class laughing, and eventually we move on. Even though I’m a little shocked that my professor stopped class for this, it’s nothing I can’t handle!
My love of taxidermy started when I was very young, but it may be pertinent for me to explain something. I’m a vegetarian. I’ve been vegetarian for my entire life, and was raised that way by parents who haven’t eaten meat in thirty years. I’ve never actually eaten meat before, and I don’t hunt, fish, or condone the activities unless for survival or cultural reasons. My love of taxidermy sort of exists in spite of this.
You could find me in museums for hours as a young child, enchanted by the nature diramas. The leaping cougar, the skittish deer, the snarling wolf — I was hooked. I couldn’t kill a bug and would cry at the sight of roadkill, but taxidermy was magical to my young brain. As I grew up and began to make my own money from odd jobs (and eventually steady employment), I slowly built up a collection of my own ethically sourced taxidermy and wet specimens. My very first was a little duckling I named Cookie, and soon after I came by butterflies, a hawk, cat skulls, four more ducklings, possum teeth, and an entire motley zoo. And of course there is my prized possession: Maximus, the 100-year-old buck. He stops traffic (a true fact — when I carried him home from an antique store at seventeen, several cars screeched to a halt for rubberneckers), and apparently stops class too!
I can’t explain why I love taxidermy. I can’t really explain how it coexists with my lifelong vegetarianism. At the end of the day, however, my odd little hobby makes me happy. It may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly for me.