River Crossing by Elephant

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.

Curiosity Forever!

Curiosity is a normal human trait.  Some people are insatiably curious.  Most explorers and scientists possess more curiosity than average.  For some of them, it is their strongest talent.

David McCullough quotes Miriam Rothschild who quotes Karl Jordan who may be the epitome of curiosity.  Karl, 96 years old, curator of the Tring Museum (I didn’t recognize either his name or the museum either, so don’t think I expect you to have heard of it),  is peering through a microscope.  He tells Miriam,  “I shall know it all in the next world.  I shall know it all in the next world.”

Suppose God made us to be naturally curious, which seems evident if you’ve ever tried to answer a small child’s questions.  Suppose there is new life in “the next world,” after death.  If we are ourselves in that life, we will still be curious.  Can you imagine the excitement of finding answers to every question you ever had, a solution to every problem you ever faced?   That’s what Karl Jordan expects.

David McCullough interviewed Miriam Rothschild for his book Brave Companions.  He obviously enjoyed knowing her.  She’d be fun as a friend; there’s no time to be bored with her!

“Miriam Rothschild knows all about butterflies and fleas, birds, fish and poisons, lady bugs (my first real love), medieval meadow grasses, Shetland sheep dogs, photography, farming, Clark Gable, and the wild flowers of Israel.  She designs her own clothes.  She has an art gallery devoted to paintings by schizophrenics.  She owns a pub.  She has raised six children…”

So begins David’s chapter on Miriam in his book.  His interview ends with the quotation from Karl Jordan, the curator of the museum the Rothschild family founded.  Check out the museum website for a photo of Lord Rothschild driving his carriage with a team of three zebras and one horse!

Most of McCullough’s books are at least as thick as the Harry Potter books, but this one is not so thick, and because each chapter tells of a different person, you can read the chapters that interest you most.  The subjects include pioneer pilots, the Brooklyn Bridge architect, explorers, a photographer, of course Miriam Rothschild, and more.

Curiosity drives exploration into every kind of knowledge.  Curiosity must be why David McCullough finds out so much about the people and events he writes about.  Miriam and Karl possessed so much curiosity that maybe you could say they were possessed by it.

“I shall know it all in the next world!”