Gram and Gramps take Sal on a road trip from Kentucky to Idaho, Sal passes the time by telling them how she and Phoebe attempt to identify a lunatic and a murderer, and behind both tales is the third layer, Sal’s facing and accepting her own loss.
Sal’s other grandparents appear only in one description:
Once I asked my mother why Grandmother and Grandfather Pickford never laughed. My mother said, “They’re just so busy being respectable. It takes a lot of concentration to be that respectable.”
No wonder Gram and Gramps,–unconventional, impulsively responsive, and in love for a lifetime–so effectively bind the layers of the book. The “respectable” characters are important only in their unimportance.
Sharon Creech mixes tears and laughter in a road trip through sadness, guilt, acceptance, and caring. I’ll get this book of hers back to the library and check out another.
Eric Dinerstein traveled by elephant for the final fifty miles to the Royal Karnali-Bardia Wildlife Reserve in Nepal, where he was to study tigers. “…and this was a slow elephant.” In the seasonal rain, the path turned into a mud swamp.
After the rains stopped…we reached the banks of the Babai, and, to my dismay, the river was a deep brown torrent. Across the surging water beckoned the rosewood and acacia forests of Bardia. The drivers were determined to cross without delay. The mahout, sitting behind the elephant’s head, urged her down the riverbank. She stalled at the water’s edge, perhaps guaging the the speed of the current or the stupidity of the humans sitting on her back. The mahout would have none of it. Whacking her with his stick across her broad forehead and muttering curses, he drove her forward. Within seconds, the elephant was up to her knees and elbows, then shoulders, and before I could tell the driver that we might want to consider our plan of attack, we were swept away.
For a brief moment, only the tip of the elephant’s trunk and my head were above water. Elephants are surprisingly bouyant, however, and powerful swimmers, and the drivers, who held onto the saddle ropes, soon had us back on the riverbank.
I had learned a priceless lesson that all of us must discover in our own way:
When life knocks you off your horse, or your elephant, get back on and cross the river.
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.
“The best way of travel…, if you aren’t going in any hurry at all, if you don’t care where you are going, if you don’t like to use your legs, if you want to see everything quite clearly, if you don’t want to be annoyed at all by any choice of directions, is in a balloon…you can decide only when to start, and usually when to stop. The rest is left entirely to nature. How fast you will go and where is left to the winds.”
“A balloon is a wonderful way to travel, particularly if you want to travel from home to school. On your way, many delightful things can happen, such as:
the wind will be calm and you’ll never get to school.
The wind will blow you in the wrong direction and take you fifty miles out into the country away from school, and
You might decide to play hookey, just once, and nobody can bother you in a balloon.
So Professor William Waterman Sherman constructs a balloon, suspends a basket cabin from it, and takes off—
Part of the fun of this book is solving the riddle of what’s true, what’s fiction. The happy colonists using diamonds as foundations for their homes and children racing around the living room on electrified chairs are, as you would guess, fiction. The French balloonist Gaspar Felix Tournachon, known as “Nadar,” was a real person. In 1858 he took the first aerial photograph. He did fly an enormous balloon named Le Géant.
With history (and added fantasy), the plot of The Twenty-One Balloons blows up on an island named Krakatoa. Google that!