Eleven or twelve years ago a sacred gift was passed to my hands from the hands of my grandfather. It had been in the family for years, and was traditionally re-gifted every Christmas to a different family member. Each year, the person cared for their charge, until the next Christmas, when all others had forgotten, and a present unexpectedly revealed the treasure: a can of jackalope milk. This can had remained untapped until the year I received it. It was my first possession of the heirloom, and I was thrilled. The next Christmas, no one opened a present to find it. It went unnoticed. An invisible blip on the radar of Jesus's birthday. It wasn't until a few years later - no one knew how many - that my cousins wondered about its whereabouts. I was fingered, but even my memory was weak, and no one could be certain. The well-sealed can certainly remains, dusty and lonesome, in some hidden place in my house. The lonely milk of the jackalope cries quietly at night.
What is a jackalope? A near extinct creature, with the body of a rabbit and the horns of an antelope - a beautiful thing to see running across the meadows of the Sierra Nevadas. We used to chase at Yosemite with my grandfather. My father tells the story of a camping trip when he was ten, and awakened under the stars by a clamor of bear-scaring pots and pans. The black bear had chased a foolish jackalope into the campsite, and both, in their sylvan glory, soared above him in their return to the wild, the bear blotting out the moon.
My uncle trapped and stuffed a jackalope three or four years ago. The species produces the softest and most lovable of all taxidermic results. The teddy is now passed, as the milk once was, and as my grandfather did years ago. My sister gave it to my Auntie Carol today. Carol suffered from a stroke and can't really speak now, just can repeat a few things. She said "jackalope. jackalope." when she opened the present. And smiled and laughed. You have to love the jackalope, because it is there to love. It is there to remember. The jackalope across the plains and my grandfather puffing along behind it, ready to capture its final disappearing leap and put it down into a watercolor. The jackalope across Carol's lap, ready to leap with her, ready to be held at night. A stuffed animal for having and giving. A hug for a year.