Bear Dink Bone Nostalgia


Rediscovering the creepiest heirloom…

words & photos :: Feet Banks

Yes, this is a penis bone from a black bear. A black bear that my dad shot one morning still wearing his housecoat and slippers because the bear had its paw in the rabbit hutch. And when you live in the country, that’s a capital offense.

We ate bear back then; my old man worked at a mine and sometimes work was scarce which meant food was too. Wild onions & mushrooms, berries, a big garden, fish, fowl, game, bear—we ate what was there. And besides, donuts deep fried in sizzling bear fat are still the richest, tastiest donuts you’ll ever eat. My mom would shake them in a brown paper bag with cinnamon and sugar. We could afford brown paper bags back then but didn’t have electricity or running water, just propane lanterns and fridge, a wood oven, and a car tape deck that could play 8-tracks or cassettes. The old man had it wired to a giant battery he’d liberated from one of the monster dump trucks at the mine, every month or so he’d take the battery somewhere and bring it back charged. We didn’t have much, but we had Steve Miller, Dylan, Meatloaf, and Eric Burdon and The Animals.

And actual animals too: dogs, cats, the odd chicken and sometimes pigs, but that year dad shot the bear from the cabin door we only had rabbits, and rabbits were exactly what the bear was after. Better them than me, I was about four years old at the time and small enough a hungry bear might take a run.

So, dad—awakened by the ruckus—unloaded into the bear before it did any real damage to the bunnies. It stumbled over behind the cabin and died under a saskatoon berry bush. It must have been too late or early in the season for berries because bears fucking love saskatoons, (who doesn’t?) but it was going after the rabbits instead.

This is not the bear from the story, but rather a bear I met as an adult. It’s a bear from the future.

Dad left the bear where it lay and joined mom and I at the table for some saskatoon berry pancakes. The propane fridge had a freezer section at the top so we were stocked up. Saskatoons are just as good as blueberries except they have a pretty solid little seed inside. They were free for the picking though, whereas blueberries came from a store. We finished up and Dad said he was going to get his buddy Greg Bolley to come help with the bear and that I should feed the rabbits some dandelion leaves and pet them to calm them down. And don’t be over there poking around at the bear.

From our place to Greg’s was only three miles of dirt road so Dad and Greg returned promptly and dragged the bear out of the bush onto the path by the lake, not far from my swing, which was just a board with ropes through two holes and tied to the branch of an old cottonwood tree. Cottonwood are shitty trees, pulpy and soft inside, almost like a giant weed. But this one had stood long enough to grow pretty good-sized, I could swing right out over the lake.

The bear was decent sized too, a big furry lump dragged from the bushes onto the path to the creek. I couldn’t believe my eyes when they started field dressing it— Holy What?!! Bears have giant white snakes living inside them?

Nope, turns out that was just the guts—I’d never seen intestines before. After a while I musta got bored and wandered down to the creek to dig clay so I could make ashtrays to sell to anyone who would buy a sun-baked mud ashtray that would likely crack in half within a few days of purchase. It’s hard for little kids to make money in the country—lemonade stands set up on dead-end gravel roads don’t rake it in. I used to dig worms for the fishing resort but that is another story.

The bear ended up hanging in the shed up at Greg’s place. The Bolleys had electricity so that was where we kept a deep freeze full of saskatoons, rainbow trout, frozen garden soups, and whatever else Mom and Dad had successfully hunted/harvested that year (Shotgun Sheila was an ace at hunting grouse). I’m sure we had bear-fat donuts that night and who knows how much time passed but soon it was Christmas and I noticed something weird, or actually, dad probably pointed it out.

He had this bone, a thin bone a bit longer than his own finger, that he used to stir the whiskey into his eggnog and the Kahlua into his coffee.

“See this bone son? You know what it is?”

I didn’t.

“It’s the dink bone from that bear, the one tried to eat your rabbits.”

A dink bone! Even that young I knew how to pee well enough (I mostly pissed outside, being terrified of the spiders that lived in the outhouse) but I also knew that dinks didn’t have bones. Except, apparently some did.

“People don’t, but bears do,” my Dad explained. “And now I got a new swizzle stick!”

I’d grown up believing bears were the only animals to have a dink bone, and since we didn’t have the internet in the late 1970s my dad had probably believed that too. He’d certainly never found one in a deer, moose, or a duck.

Four decades later, the dink bone prevails. That dog was named Mandy and was, obviously, an ace retriever.

And that was the end of it. My old man stopped drinking hard liquor not too long after that, except for the Kahlua in the coffee, so the swizzle stick mostly stayed in the kitschy miniature A&W Root Beer mug that sat on the window sill. (For you kids out there, happy hour and swizzle sticks were big in the 70s, everyone needed something to stir their cocktails. Few people had cocktail straws at home (too wasteful) so they’d have a bundle of washable plastic stir sticks in the bar/liquor cupboard. My dad, apparently, wanted to keep it rural.)

About a year later, my parents finished the house they were building (by hand, mortgage-free) so we moved out of the cabin, up the hill, and into the world of electricity and running water. The dink bone sat in its mug on top of the microwave, always ready but rarely used. I guess finances improved too because while my dad still used up all his work holidays on hunting season, he said we didn’t need to take bears anymore. And when they came into the yard, he’d just fire a shot into the dirt near their heads, spraying earth and gravel at them to let them know who was in charge. We still ate shit like deer tongue and moose liver, and salted chicken gizzards, but the bears got off the hook.

Somehow, 1000 kilometres and close to four decades later, I just discovered that bear dink bone in a plastic lunch kit I’d been storing random shit in: buttons and badges, staples and paperclips, a couple shoelaces and a few hand-written letters. And a bear dink bone…THE bear dink bone.

I’d grown up believing bears were the only animals to have a dink bone, and since we didn’t have the internet in the late 1970s my dad had probably believed that too. He’d certainly never found one in a deer, moose, or a duck.

Turns out the proper name for Dink Bone is “baculum” (which means “stick” or “staff” in Latin) and a shitload of mammals have one—including wolves, tigers, rabbits, DOGS!, walruses, raccoon, otters, weasels, skunks, bats, rodents, hedgehogs, and most primates. Yes, gorillas and chimps have dink bones, but humans do not…what the fuck?

Because Wikicommons is awesome, I’m able to show these surface renderings (lateral and ventral view) of laser scans of three example Carnivora bacula, for illustrative purposes. a. Mustela kathiah (aka: yellow-bellied weasel) b. canis lupus (grey wolf); c. ursus maritimus (polar bear). Obviously these are not shown at the correct scale and if you want more info on why dink bones are good to test your scanning tech on, go here.

A side note here to ease our collective human FOMO: apparently in most of the great apes the baculum bone is greatly reduced—more of a bump really—and Spider Monkeys don’t have them all. Nor do animals with hooves (otherwise my dad could have made a fish bonker out of one he dug out of a moose), elephants, cetaceans (whales, dolphins, etc) or weird shit like platypus, kangaroos, or hyenas (because hyenas are nothing but a fucked up cat/dog/pig animal shitmix… and they’re all a bunch of assholes to boot—I’m still mad about The Lion King).

The good news here (and it kinda feels like we need some), is that scientists have a few theories on why our human dink bones devolved. The “tactile stimulation theory” posits that a boned penis lacks flexibility and thus hinders the range of sexual positions and body movement, which translated to less female pleasure so we, evolutionarily speaking, said, “fuck that shit, let’s make our ladies happier and ditch these dink bones once and for all.” (Because evolution knows the secret to success: women come first.)

The other theory is “the mating system shift theory” which basically states that animals with baculum don’t copulate as often as those without, so they need the bone to help prolong the sexual acts in order to increase the chance of a successful impregnation. Our human problem then, according to this theory, is monogamy—animals with set mates do the deed far more often and therefore don’t need the bone to help maximize their reproductive success.

Re-united, a bear and his baculum.

The last theory, put forth by Richard Dawkins, claims that the bone disappeared to help our species weed out the sick and unworthy based on their ability to get an erection. Basically, you can’t hide behind the bone, buddy, so why don’t you just fuck off and die alone? Kinda harsh, but evolution never cared much about your feelings.

There’s also the idea that Adam’s “rib” was actually his dink bone, and someone just got the translation wrong (but they nailed the talking snake bit eh?). And finally, for believers of Hoodoo, the folk magic of the America South, a raccoon baculum can be worn as an amulet for good luck. Unless you’re the raccoon.

A similar tradition exists in northern Canada—but instead of carrying the dink bone around, we use it to stir our drinks. It might not make us any luckier, but it’s a conversation piece (and after the fifth or sixth whiskey you can really fuck like a champion. Go evolution!)

A couple years after we stopped eating bear, we actually rescued a stray cub that Ken Bishop had found up the road by his place. Someone must have shot the mother or she got hit by a car maybe, but this thing was tiny, alone, and in a very weakened state. Ken brought it over to our place and we made it a bed of blankets in the shed and gave it some frozen berries and a trout. That did the trick. The cub pepped right up and was soon running around the yard, climbing up the power pole (we had electricity by then) and generally being stoked on the free meal. It would return to the shed each night to sleep. We named him Barney, but you can’t really have a bear as a pet so my dad, Greg, and Ken crept in there early one morning and tried to capture the cub with a blanket. They got it, but the little thing managed to sink the claws of one paw into a thick wooden pole, part of the structure of the shed. My dad always said that cub could only have weighed 30-40 pounds but it took two dudes to pry its single paw off that pole—that’s how strong bears are. Dad and Greg drove the cub away and put it in a den they had dug, far from our place and way up in the hills. But the next morning the bear was in our yard. Conservation officers had to come and they asked around and made some calls. The Russian circus was interested but this was the early 80s and no one trusted the Russians much (fuck, in those days we half expected them to parachute out of the sky and start shooting up our school) so in the end the bear went to the the Edmonton Game Farm, which I am pretty sure was just a zoo that gave the animals a bit more open space than a regular zoo. Still, Barney became the first bear from our town to ever fly on a plane. Hopefully he lived a long and happy life. If you are ever in an area where bears live, camping or whatnot, make sure to secure all garbage and food. The more contact a bear has with humans, the shittier it is for the bear. Be Bear Smart!

Copyright 2020 Feet Banks

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