Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Not so deep in the Arcata Community Forest - you can see it from your car – rests an earless, nearly 50-year-old deer. Don't feel too bad for it, though. Being made of redwood, it's feeling no pain. And it has 50 percent more ears than it did yesterday.
The deer is part of a natural tableaux carved into an old growth redwood tree stump located at the nexus of 14th Street and Campbell Creek. The unique public art installation dates back to the late 1960s or early '70s, created by an unidentified woodcarver who clearly spent many days crafting a small assortment of wildlife figures there.
Though well-stocked with creatures, the stump looks unfinished. Some facets could look ripe for rendering, and maybe would have been at some point. The artist(s) and any grander designs are, for now, lost to history.
A short clamber up the sprouted stump's mossy north face rests the cache of carved critters, plus one slightly flamboyant deity.
On the ground floor, about 10 feet up and under a shady overhang is what appears to be a sun god. But it could be a lion or even the sculptor himself, whose blazing face also serves as a handy footrest when climbing up to the second level. There resides the earless deer, in gentle repose but alert to its surroundings. It shares the hollow with another possible deer or other forest ruminant, one whose ear condition isn't as easy to ascertain. Atop a pillar between these figures are the bulbous remains of an unidentifiable carving, mutilated beyond recognition by weather and unknown other forces. Crowning the sculpted spire is a redwood bear cub embracing its mother.
While some of the wear and tear is irreversible, the second-floor deer's issues proved partly ear-reversible. For that, it can thank Arcata resident Doug Renwick. Shopping a yard sale a few weeks ago, he spotted the foot-tall wooden ear standing out amid the usual assortment of Intellivision cartridges and senescent waffle irons. Price: $2.
"That looks a hell of a lot like the ears of one of the deer," Renwick thought to himself. He snatched up the carving, forking over the modest sum to the sellers, who clearly had no notion of the unusual item's true value, or that it was stolen.
"They weren't guilty or apologetic," he said. "It probably had gone from hand to hand."
Despite the decades of detachment, the ear was less the worse for wear than its original host. "It looked like it had been indoors for a long time," Renwick said.
The ear had apparently been snapped off, leaving a clean break. "I think they just pulled it and split the wood," Renwick said. "Just popped it off."
Reuniting ear and deer fell to City of Arcata Environmental Resources Maintenance Worker Javier Nogueira. Ear in hand, he climbed up into the deer's lair for some reconstructive surgery.
That was accomplished Tuesday afternoon with a combination of wood glue and a stout screw. Now, the deer's tireless vigilance is aided by a restored right ear.
Environmental Services Director Mark Andre said he had Nogueira make a cast of the recovered ear, in hopes it could serve as the basis for a mold that would duplicate a replica left ear.
Mysteries remain: the location of the other ear, if it still exists. And the artist whose loving labors gave the redwood den of wildlife to Arcata – neither Renwick nor Andre know. And, who the heck would steal a beautifully carved deer's ear, anyway?
That puzzles Renwick, too. "What jerk would climb up there and pull that off?" he wondered. He said it was likely "a one-off bit of stupidity."