The Leiper’s Fork Chainsaw Massacre

It was all done in the service of art. That’s how I came to be standing over the rotting carcass of a deer with a chain saw in my hands.

Rachael McCampbell

You see, there is this woman in town named Rachael McCampbell. She is a lovely person: gracious, refined, pretty, intelligent, everything you’d want in a good friend.

And she also happens to be a fine painter. She works in many media, sometimes on very large canvases, and her paintings sell well. She has worked in London, New York, Florence, and Los Angeles and has developed quite a reputation for herself. 

Anyway, Rachael loves animals and is concerned about the extinction of species. So she decided to do a series of paintings about threatened animals for display in a Nashville gallery. The centerpiece of the exhibit was to be a large sculpture representing all threatened species.

I am easily victimized by Rachael, so I foolishly agreed to help her. I love Rachael to death, but she sure gets me into some odd scrapes from time to time.

My job, you see, was to help her find dead animal bones. “Bones?” you ask. But you’ve got to remember, it was all done in the service of art, right?

So I went to work, and right away I discovered the skull and spine of a deer in the pasture outside our house. It was picked clean, and I’d never seen it before, so I figured the dogs must have dragged it up from somewhere. I called Rachael and she rushed over and together we manhandled the skeleton into the back of my truck and took it to her house. She was thrilled.

She still wanted more, though, and this time she wanted bones with a more bleached-out texture. That turned out to be easy enough because there were lots of white cow bones on old Preacher Thomason’s land across the road from us. Preacher came by  while I was picking through the bones and, of course, he asked why we wanted a bunch of old cow bones. I said, “Preacher, it’s all in the service of … well, never mind.” But when I told him Rachael was involved and he understood perfectly.

In the meantime, Bill Cherry showed up and left parts of a dead angus beef steer on Rachael’s front porch — part of the pelt, all four hooves, the tail, and even the ears, all fresh and bloody. It was pretty gross, but Rachael loved it. Still, she wasn’t sure she had what she wanted.

Then one day as I was driving into Franklin I saw the decomposing body of a deer on the side of the road. I stopped to look at it and was thoroughly repulsed. The carcass looked to be several days old and had been chewed pretty drastically by scavengers. It was not pretty. But– and remember, it’s all done in the service of art– I called Rachael. I figured the deer’s hooves might fit into the sculpture somehow, like Bill Cherry’s cow feet.

Rachael was really excited when I called. So I threw the chain saw in the back of the truck and we went to look at the deer. There it lay, swollen up and half eaten, with its legs sticking out stiffly into the air. Rachael was entranced. She was so excited that she pulled  her video camera out and prepared to record what we were about to do.

What we were about to do was cut the deer’s legs off with the chain saw, and I was going to do the honors while Rachael ran the camera. So I fired up the old Stihl and went to work.

The first thing that happened was that gristle and flesh began spraying up into my face. It stung, and boy did it stink. I didn’t want to falter in front of Rachael and the camera, though, so I narrowed my eyes and kept at it.

Finally after I had three legs off, I stood up and told Rachael that was all I was willing to do. I thought for a moment of offering the saw to her to do the fourth leg, but that wouldn’t have been nice. Besides, we were beginning to get funny looks from people passing by, and I was afraid someone might call the cops.

So, we took the legs over to Rachael’s house. As I was lifting them out of the pick-up bed I began to smell something rotten. For some reason we had figured the bony hooves wouldn’t stink, but we were wrong. They were rank. So, to minimize the odor and keep the dogs and coyotes away, we put them up on the roof of the carport for safe-keeping. For good measure, we put Bill’s cow remains up there too.

Well, they never stopped stinking, so Rachael made an artistic decision not to use them. Stinking sculptures were not within her skill set or style (though I thought, silently, that a stinking work of art might be pretty cool). All Rachael had left to use was my deer skeleton, Preacher’s bleached-out cow bones, and a couple of deer skulls that Roy Snow had brought over.

But it all turned out beautifully. The sculpture, which Rachael fondly called “The Beast,” was a real eye-catcher and found an immediate buyer. Our fateful bones were embedded in the base, parts of the deer spine formed the neck, and Roy’s two skulls sat atop it all. It was arresting, to say the least, and it was impressive. A triumph.

Some people don’t believe me when I tell them this tale, but it’s all true. We’d have a videotape to prove it, but Rachael was laughing so hard while she was filming that the camera shook and the video was ruined.