Barbara Müller, a petite and vivacious elementary schoolteacher, has a passion for bones. It’s somewhat incongruous that someone so alive should have a passion for something so dead. But there’s nothing quite like the solid, sandy dryness of a good bone.
It’s an interest that grew from Müller’s degree in marine biology. She spent a couple of summers doing research for her thesis on Sable Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia. Bones from resident wild horses and passing marine mammals litter the beaches there. She collected as many samples as she was allowed and now uses them in her classroom teaching.
From a box in her living room, like a deep treasure chest, she pulls out the enormous vertebrae of a pilot whale and the corresponding discs, each about the size of a dinner plate, followed by horses’ teeth, the skull of a heron, a crane, seagulls, a minke whale’s vertebrae and several whale ribs, the penis bone of a seal, and the surprisingly delicate bones of a dolphin.
It would be fair to say that Müller likes remote places. She spent three years teaching in the Arctic and returned from that experience with the skulls of a wolf and Arctic fox, as well as the spine and beautiful antler of a caribou. She has even lugged a huge moose antler all the way back from Montana on a bus. She has a yak skull from a farm in Perth, a beaver skull with giant gnawing front teeth intact, and plenty of deer bones. She’s also been known to stop on the side of the road to add to her collection. Many more pieces are stored in her garage.
“The last bone I found was the skull of a raccoon while at Bruce Pit with my daughter Nissa last autumn. We found it while we were looking for monarch butterfly caterpillars.”