Tigerland and other Unintended Destinations

Eric Dinerstein entered college with a goal: filmmaking.  He enrolled in the film school at Northwestern University. Evanston, Illinois.  Perhaps he dreamed of Hollywood, but no Hollywood fantasy could match his adventures since.

During my sophomore year…friends talked me into moving to a farmhouse set on 250- acres of woods, abandoned pastures, and swamp… While wandering along a stream, I accidentally spooked a sharp-billed bird that squawked in indigation and flew off… I did observe the escapee long enough to identify it in my field guide as a little green heron Ia most accurate name, says a colleague, because it sports so little green in its plumage.)… Every new species of bird and wildflower was a revelation, as if I were actually the first naturalist to find it…

I began to dream of the glorious life of a field biologist, while filmmaking seemed less appealing by the moment. The most talented graduates of my program at Northwestern had just been hired to shoot a commercial for a lightbulb factory.

Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations is Eric’s adventure tales with tigers, bats, hippopotamuses, African wild dogs, snow leopards, American bison, and more.   He’s not only an outstanding wildlife biologist/conservationist, but he’s a great writer with an outstanding sense of humor.

More about Eric Dinerstien and his books later, but I’ll end this post with a quotation from early his career, arriving to study tigers in Nepal:

But on this night, my tent mate was Surya Sharma, a studious, high–caste Brahmin in his early twenties and the son of a famous Nepalese judge.  As we were drifting off to sleep, the sound of loud chewing and lip smacking stirred us awake.  Surya peered through the insect netting.  He reached over and clutched my arm.  “Rhinos!” he whispered fearfully, using the English rather than the Nepali word (gaida), not wanting to gamble our lives on my Nepali vocabulary.  We had been warned earlier that rhinos routinely trample and kill several tourists each year.  I peeked through the fly mesh.  Surya’s grip tightened.  I saw an enormous greater one-horned female rhinocerous accompanied by a calf.  Eventually they wandered off, but the interlopers left a lasting impression on both of us.  For me, it was the first face-to-face experience with a creature I would eventually devote years of my life to conserving.  For Surya, it was the abrupt end of tenure as a Peace Corps language teacher.  When our program was over, he went straight to law school.

 

 

Shiloh: A Boy and a Beagle

An abused dog is rescued and the boy who rescues him tries to keep it a secret.

“The reason I don’t like Judd Travers is a whole lot of reasons, not the least is that I was in the corner store once … and saw Judd cheat Mr. Wallace at the cash register.  Judd gives the man a ten and gets him to talking, then–when Mr. Wallace gives him change–says he gave him a twenty.”

Worse yet, Judd kicks his dogs.

Marty will do anything to rescue Shiloh, the beagle who follows Marty home from the “rattly bridge where the road curves by the old Shiloh schoolhouse and follows the river.”  Trouble is, not only does “anything” includes lying, but it risks Shiloh’s life.

It’s Judd who unintentionally hands Marty a solution.  Then Marty, when he’s forced to spend time with Judd, learns that right and wrong aren’t always as simple as the difference between the truth and a lie.

Shiloh is a Newberry Medal book; even better, there are three sequels:  Shiloh Season, Saving Shiloh, and Shiloh Christmas.

Heat, by Mike Lupica

Michael looks too small for his age, and there's a problem with proving his age.

Heat has it all: Baseball at Yankee Stadium–the dream of Little Leaguers who practice within sight of it; Michael and Carlos, determined to keep “Official People” from finding out why Papi isn’t home; Ellie, a girl with a secret; Mrs. Cora who knows something about angels; the Little League coach who doesn’t like kids who pitch better than his son; and Michael’s best buddy, Manny.

Manny told Michael he’d meet him at Macombs…around three o’clock. …that could mean anywhere between three and four.  He operated on Manny Standard Time, and there was no getting around it if you were Manny Cabrera’s friend.   He was loyal, funny, smarter than he let on, loved baseball as much as Michael.  There were so many good points with Manny that Michael couldn’t keep track of them all.

But none of Manny’s good points, not a single one, involved him showing up on time for anything but a real game.

When Michael is barred from Little League and Carlos no longer has a job, it’s looking bad, and suddenly, walking across the field, come the Official People:

It wasn’t just El Grande and Ellie.

Carlos was a couple of steps behind, walking with Mr. Gibbs of ACS.  And another man Michael didn’t recognize, but one who had Official Person written all over him.

Has Michael’s dream become a nightmare?

Like baseball, basketball, and football stories with real-life type characters?  Try Mike Lupica’s The Only Game, and Last Man Out, Lone Stars, Long Shotand others–some of them New York Times Best Sellers.

Hey–I said I’m not into sports.  But I am into  Lupica’s characters.  Just give me a cozy chair and a mug of hot chocolate.

Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet

Chief Crowfoot earned the title "Chief" by his heroism and ability to negotiate in the white man's world.

I met Chief Crowfoot in 1997 when we camped with grandchildren in Montana and in Canada.  Of course I didn’t meet him in person, because he died in 1890, but I found his biography, and we have driven through the country where he lived.  After reading about Crowfoot, I feel as if I had met him.

“Several Blackfeet women and with a boy were picking saskatoon berries when a grizzly bear surprised them.  The women dropped their berry bags and ran.  The boy tried to fit an arrow into his bow, but the bear swatted the bow away and attacked the boy.  Men from the nearby camp jumped on their horses, shouted, and fired their guns into the air to scare the grizzly.  Crowfoot ordered warriors to the other side of the grove of trees where the bear was hiding.

“With the whole camp gathered at a safe distance, the [men] rode to the other side of the grove.  There, single riders went into the trees and tried to entice the grizzly toward them.  When at last the huge beast came into view, the men shouted to Crowfoot, who was waiting on the far side.  Quickly he guided his horse into the dense bushes and soon was behind the savage bear.  With deadly accuracy, he plunged a spear into the animal and, when his horse became too frightened, dismounted and continued to stab the bear until its lifeless body crashed to the ground…from that time on [Crowfoot] was recognized throughout the tribe as a prominent chief.”

Crowfoot led his people through tragic times in Blackfeet (or Blackfoot) history with dignity and honor.

“Crowfoot learned quickly which white men he could trust, and those men in turn trusted him.  Crowfoot foresaw the end of the buffalo, realized that his people could survive only with dramatic changes in their way of life, negotiated for supplies, tools, and food for his people, protested broken promises and fraudulent dealings.  He co-operated with the Mounted Police and Indian Department officials, not because he could preserve the Blackfeet way of life, but because it was the only way to help his people.

“Crowfoot expected justice from the whites and demanded it from his own people: he was willing to risk his life for it.”
Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet.  He died “beloved by his people, feared by his foes, esteemed by all.”

 

Trapp Family Singers–and a Fly!

When the Trapp Family Singers (Sound of Music) began their U.S. singing tour, they expected audiences who would be impressed by their technical skill and the difficulty of their selections.  Their audiences agreed that they were exceptionally good singers, but that didn’t mean they wanted to listen to a 45-minute-long piece that they knew nothing about!

Their manager said, “There is something you are lacking…something between you and your audience.”

Then came the fly.

The Trapps were finishing a concert of madrigals and motets, Bach and Mozart.  Maria chose a “Jodler”  for the encore.

“In yodeling, one has to take a deep breath and then hold out for long phrases at a time.  We were just in the middle of it when, oh horror!  A fly started circling around my face.  I watched it, cross-eyed, and got panicky,  I knew very soon I would have to take a deep breath, and what if…

“We took our deep breath and it happened.  In went the fly…a good cough would have helped, but to cough the right way on stage is much, much harder than to sing the right way.  I outdid myself in not coughing, but I couldn’t help turning purple.  I happened to have the leading part in this jodler, the melody; but that mountain call had to be finished without it…My brave children tried not to pay any attention to their choking mother, and when they were finished, I was too—with the fly.“

Maria felt she had to apologize.  She announced, “What never happened before has happened now.  I swallowed a fly.”

The audience laughed..and laughed…and laughed.  When they quieted down, she wanted to make up for the spoiled encore with an Austrian folk song.  She explained:  “It describes how a young hunter climbs up in the rocks for hours looking for, and finally shooting, a—”   The animal she meant was a chamois, but instead she said “chemise.*”  Not only the audience, but the rest of the family, shook with laughter.

The missing link had been found–interact with your listeners as if you are at home enjoying a musical party.

  • A chamois is a kind of deer; its hide is the chamois that polishes a car.  A chemise, for those who aren’t familiar with fashion terminology from half a century ago, is a loose-fitting garment that can be a nightgown, underwear, or a simple dress.

 

The Trapp Family Singers: Maria’s Story

The Von Trapp family singers arrived penniless, earned their way to fame.

Anyone who has enjoyed The Sound of Music is likely to enjoy the true story of the Trapp Family as told by Maria herself in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.

Yes, the Captain did summon the children with a whistle.

No, he was not nearly the martinet portrayed in The Sound of Music.

It’s fun to read the biography, picking out the details used in the musical.  The rest of the story, after climbing over the mountains (not true) or supposedly taking a skiing vacation (true), continues with as much drama as the beginning, with laughter and tears.

Maria’s struggle with the language made me laugh so hard I couldn’t talk—and then cry because I wiped my eyes after slicing an onion.  I should have been getting dinner instead of reading.  When I could speak again, I read out loud for any family who were nearby, and it even drew a genuine out-loud laugh from a much-too-serious teenager.  Or maybe his funny-bone was tickled because Grandma looked crazy, laughing so hard.

In Maria Trapp’s words:

I invented a method all my own, in which I tried to apply what I had learned about one word to as many like-sounding words as I could find.  … for instance, I learned “freeze-frozen.”  I wrote underneath in my precious little notebook:  “squeeze-squozen” and “sneeze-snozen”.. When I admired the tall “hice” in New York, I got quite offended because they seemed to overlook the logical similarity between mouse-mice and house-hice.”

Maybe the funniest chapter in the book happens before the Nazis invaded Austria, when the Trapp family joined cousins for camping on an island, “Uncle Peter and His Handbook,” but you’ll have to read The Story of the Trapp Family Singers yourself.