Taking the Bull by the Horns, Literally

I worked as a professional organizer for a time. The strangest job I ever did for a client takes some explanation.

My client was an excellent photographer, travelling all over the world taking beautiful pictures. Both her parents had been safari hunters in Africa over 50 years ago. She inherited her parent’s house. In it was a specially constructed trophy room where 20 taxidermies heads of exotic, and some now extinct, animals hung. These included wildebeest, kudu and warthog (the ugliest thing I have EVER been close to). This trophy room where they were hung was a beautiful large cathedral-ceilinged space which her father had specially built himself and lined with original cedar panelling. My client wanted to reclaim this big beautiful space as her photography studio.

But what to do with the trophy heads? She herself felt no real attachment to these animal heads. She looked into selling them but apparently that was illegal. She could not export them across an international border. She tried donating them to museums but no takers. She felt that her only resort was to have a huge bonfire on the beach and burn them all. But she couldn’t bring herself to do that. The only gliche was that her extended family did not want her to get rid of them. So what to do?

She had never seen the house without the trophies in the room. It took a few weeks of toing and froing on her part and encouragement on mine to help her make the decision to remove the heads and put them in storage. We prepared a storage place for them in her generously empty basement. She had some wooden shelving in the garage which we were able to reclaim and set up in a basement room which had its own door.

When I first saw and entered the trophy room for the first time I felt an overwhelming animus energy. I could barely stand being in there. With much fear and trepidation we began with the smallest of the heads. She took it off the wall fearing that the gods would send down bolts of lightning to strike her for being so bold. When the first one was in her hands a great big smile came across her face as if to say, “that wasn’t so bad after all.” On the back of the mounting plaque it was recorded that her mother had been the marksman, the name of the animal and the date it was killed. I looked at her holding that head and I was overcome with an idea. I took the risk to suggest that we might pause to say a little prayer of thanks. We did that and it was like a spell was broken. As soon as she had dealt with this first little head she was free. The release was palpable. The other nineteen heads were released in the space of 2 hours. The worst was the water buffalo which was so heavy it took the two of us balancing on separate ladders to maneuver it and a whole bunch of luck to not totally drop it. After 40 years of being on display the skin had become very brittle, dirty and dusty. I was covered from head to toe in dust, animal hair and gosh knows what.

The largest and final head, a kudu, was over 5 feet tall, including the magnificent horns.


Then came the really hard part of carrying them all down the tight basement stairs to her basement. The water buffalo gave us the worst problem because the horns were so wide we nearly got stuck going down the stairs. The tension had certainly worn off by then and we both got laughing so hard and in unison chimed, “we just gotta take the bull by the horns.”

We laid each head down on the shelves one at a time. “They look so peaceful just laying there now,” she said. “They don’t have to hold their heads up anymore.”

In reverence she now refers to that basement room as her Game Preserve. She could not have attempted the whole project she said unless I had been there to encourage her, get down and dirty beside her and wield screwdrivers and position ladders. I helped her to reclaim this old trophy room full of tired masculine energy into a beautiful studio. This woman is a professional photographer who does photographic safaris. Her framed African photographs now adorn that space. I felt like I had been the catalyst to move her into a new stage of her life and reclaim this home as her own, doing so with a sense of objectivity, respect, dignity and sheer determination. It was like solving a big puzzle and seeing all the pieces eventually fall into place. She now ranks me in the Saint category. It was by far the strangest thing I ever did as a professional organizer/ interior redesigner. And I certainly revelled in a well-deserved shower.

Our past sometimes literally hangs over us.


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