Hello, after a long absence, I’m finally putting up a new blog. I know, it’s been two years, but what is Ho Hum for you, is brain surgery for me !!
I’ve been doing a series of live radio talks on Siren FM Midweek Drive for about 3 years. They’re a diverse collection of my thoughts & opinions on a wide-range of topics, everything from the lunacy of driverless cars, to an overview of the rides and rescues I’ve endured in pursuit of my career, and of course, my passion for the animals. An example of these talks is included in this post - the extraordinary seven-year relationship I had with Wanda, a black bear & her cubs, on our Hudson Valley property.
I’m in the process of compiling a book of a dozen or so of these rambles titled “Airwaves”, and would appreciate your thoughts & comments on this “Letter From the Other Coast” & the two others I’ll be posting in the coming weeks. When published, a percentage of every sale will be donated to the Born Free Foundation
If you haven’t tuned in to Siren FM, you’re missing a unique mix of music & intelligent thought-provoking conversation delivered fresh to your mind each Wed. by host Alex Lewzcuk, compere extraordinaire. You can hear this drive-time treasure live Wednesdays on www.sirenonline.co.uk/section/shows/midweek-drive starting at 5pm UK time, or download at www.southsidebroadcasting.podbean.com/
Once again it’s that time for my annual promotional sale of autographed & personally inscribed photos from my photo gallery page. Purchase any two and receive a third free of charge ! This sale will expire on 15th Sept. 2015, so please don’t hesitate to take advantage of the savings now for either your collection or for gifts. Click here for more information.
Letter From the Other Coast April 29th.2015
“Lost in Translation”
It’s rare that a book comes into my life and unexpectedly is not only a wonderful read but offers a solution to a problem that I was unaware existed.
“H is for Hawk” is just such a book, and I’ll be eternally grateful to its British author, Helen MacDonald, for the illumination.
Those of you who have heard me on this show rattling-on about animals and the rights we don’t allow them to have, or followed me on Facebook know that I’m batty for all creatures great & small. “H is for Hawk” is right up my alley. It chronicles the devastation the author experienced at the sudden loss of her father, and how she decided to fill this void by acquiring and training a young wild goshawk. Those who would dismiss this as just another example of an animal lover’s need to humanize a wild creature, you’d be not only wrong but denying yourself a unique insight into the ability of an animal from the wild and a human to create an intimate common dimension.
But before we go any further, let me state unequivocably that I can never condone the taking of a wild creature to satisfy a human need, and in the process invading and altering its nature. Whether it’s a zoo or Helen MacDonald it’s wrong & can never be made right. That said, it’s the only negative I have to a book so filled with fine writing and deep insights into the human and animal natures.
Like Helen MacDonald I, too, once had just such a relationship. Not with a hawk but with a female black bear I named Wanda. And therein lies the intersection of how MacDonald’s Mabel and my Wanda provided the answer to a question I was unaware needed asking.
It’s almost a year now since I’ve moved three cats and a husband from a mountain-top in New York’s Hudson Valley to a home in sun-drenched Southern California. Every day, as I take-in the miles of white sand beaches and temperate climate, I count myself blessed – especially when friends back in New York tell me they’ve just come through the most brutal winter imaginable.
And yet….and yet. In the past month or so, I’ve had a vague but growing feeling that something’s not quite right, a bit unbalanced and drifting off course. But on what course was I off and what balance had I misweighed?
My thoughts kept turning to Mabel and Helen MacDonald’s attempts to modify the hawk’s instinct to hunt & kill prey with a necessary set of commands that would impose order on a creature who is purely a killing machine. The hawk was built for speeds swift and sure as a sniper’s bullet. Once Mabel locks onto a target there’s no need for the fat lady to sing.
And then, on one of my early walks on the beach it hit me. The problem that I’d been avoiding and hard on the heels of this came the solution. What was missing in this California paradise of mine was Wanda and the indelible bond that had joined this being from the wild to a woman who had spent her life playing by the rules of civilization.
I met Wanda while attempting to carve a hillside garden out of what should have been a geologist’s playground. The slope was more ice-age rocks than soil. I was deep in consternation about a particular rock that remained stubbornly embedded no matter how hard I applied the crowbar, when suddenly I was aware of a presence above me. I glanced up – and there, resting on a huge, flat-topped boulder not ten feet away, was a black bear looking down at me with large, liquid brown eyes.
If this situation had been in one of the TV scripts in which I played the damsel in distress, I’d have gasped in shock and then let out a shriek that would’ve catapulted Simon Templar to my rescue.
But that didn’t happen. To my astonishment I was completely calm, and as our eyes locked, I had the inescapable feeling that, as Claude Rains told Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca” …”This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”
And indeed it was just that – a beautiful friendship. For seven years I had Wanda in my life and, as Issac Dinesen wrote in “Out of Africa”, “If I know a song of Africa, what song does Africa sing of me?” I’d like to think that Wanda had a “song” for me.
But before you start rolling your eyes, let me assure you that this was no ordinary hen party. Wanda would suddenly emerge from the woods surrounding the house and take up her place on the huge boulder, whether or not I was working in that part of the garden. She seemed to sense from the very start of this ritual that even if I was nowhere in sight, I’d spot her and take up my position below her. Our time together progressed from my making “small talk” – cooing phrases such as “Hello Wanda, what a beautiful girl you are” and she uttering low grunts at what seemed to me appropriate moments in the conversation, to longer and longer silences, where we just “were.” Other times I would relate the doings of my life, daily and intimate. She “listened,” her head & ears canting now & then, as if processing my words . I wasn’t under any illusion that Wanda had suddenly become conversant in the English language – but I had the inescapable sense that she & I were on the same wave length. Indefinable & unmeasurable.
Let me be clear that Wanda was not my pet but her own being as I was mine. Where Helen MacDonald, in order to train Mabel to return to her after a hunt, was forced to invade and alter the hawk’s instinct and behavior, Wanda and I never interfered with each others innate character. Not once in our seven years did I touch her, nor she, like a domesticated cat or dog, show affection – if indeed she possessed such an emotion – by rubbing against me. Where we met was in a unique “space,”34 one in which I had a transforming peace and tranquility.
That first year our meetings went on until October and then Wanda was gone through the winter – denned-up somewhere in the forest.
When she reappeared in the spring, she was trailed by four black fur balls – her babies born over the winter and soon to become a precious part of my daily life. I had become an “aunt” and as Wanda proudly displayed her new brood, I listened to their squeals And barks as Wanda answered with what sounded to me as a new and quite complicated language of grunts and rumbles obviously directed toward their discipline and survival. Of course, her dialogue was also accompanied now & then by cuffs of her huge paws that would send the cubs sprawling whenever reason didn’t prevail. Tell me that all mothers don’t have the same problems!
Listening to Wanda & the cubs exchanging their vocal gives & takes, it struck me that the sounds they were making weren’t all that different from the harmonies & tempos of the 60’s Doo Wop music. And so, in a madcap moment I named this woodland version of the Jersey Boys, “Wanda & the Gumdrops.”
Over the next year and a half I watched Wanda train her cubs into self-sufficient youngsters, devoting the endless hours it takes to give them, like our human children, the skills and self-confidence needed to keep them out of harms’ way in a world filled with waiting pitfalls.
During this time, an extraordinary event took place – one that indelibly proved that Wanda considered me “valuable” to her.
Every now & then, Wanda and the cubs would be accompanied by another female who looked to be about Wanda’s age. From her take-charge attitude with the cubs, I came to realize that she was most likely Wanda’s sister. And so, in keeping with Wanda’s musical heritage, I named her Peggy Sue.
From her first appearance, Peggy Sue seemed to accept me only because of Wanda’s confidence with me. However, she maintained a wary distance, & yet, in dozens of meetings she never evidenced any aggression toward me. Until she did. One day, as I walked toward where Wanda & the now adolescent cubs were basking in the sun, Peggy Sue suddenly let out a menacing low growl and slowly moved toward me, her fur bristled in anger. Before she got any closer Wanda quickly came to her feet and ran toward us. With a series of sharp grunts, she placed her body sideways between Peggy Sue & me – her eyes riveted on her sister. Peggy Sue halted, hesitated only momentarily & then quickly moved off into the woods.
There could be no mistaking what Wanda had done and no further comment is necessary.
At the end of our seventh year together, Wanda disappeared from my life. I have no idea why or what brought about my loss of a dear friend. Speculation brings no solace. But she was a deep presence in my life on the mountaintop, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I know will never be repeated.
What came to me that day on the beach when I realized that what was absent in my new life in California was not the physical presence of Wanda, but the fact that I have no “other” such friend here, & never will. Wanda will be in my heart forever – but what I had for those precious six years in the Hudson Valley I now realize cannot and should not be replaced here on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
So, what have I come away with from this unlikely bonding? Have I a new-found wisdom into both the animal & human condition? If so, it has so far eluded me. Perhaps whatever, if anything, will become “usable” in my life needs time to percolate. But for now, I’m content to find the question far more intriguing than an answer.
In this new life I have the certainty that Wanda is very much a part of this fresh beginning. No less real than when she & I had our long days together on that hillside garden those many years ago.