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Of Lion Paw and Tiger Jaw

Of Lion Paw and Tiger Jaw

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Of Lion Paw and Tiger Jaw

302 pagine
4 ore
Nov 6, 2011



Humans may not be the only animals who crave freedom.

In these stories, we enter the minds of thirteen wild creatures and the humans that interact with them. There is no anthropomorphizing here--the beasts in this collection may be sentient, but they do not think like people, whether we encounter a captive tiger aching to kill a deer or an Alaskan eagle nervous about a pair of photographers approaching its nest. When a gray whale finds itself stranded on a California beach, it has no frame of reference for the dog sniffing its overheated body. Nor can an orangutan in an Indonesian rehab center understand the origins of the flood threatening its cage.

The interior world of non-humans can only be explored through fiction--fiction based on what scientists have learned both in the laboratory and in the field. Only via story can we understand a giraffe struggling through a nasty drought, the sizzling in a white shark’s neural bundles when it finds the sea awash in tuna chum, or the pain an elephant feels from a poacher’s bullet.

People living close to animals best understand how they are different, yet similar to humans. Nature photographers, zookeepers, wildlife biologists, even Central American macaw smugglers, have knowledge of wild creatures urban humans lack. Within this volume we find a scientist exploring the underwater Antarctic world of a leopard seal, a drunk getting a bit too close to a polar bear in Churchill, Manitoba, and a crocodile expert in Northern Australia with a grudge to settle.

In a world where ever-growing human populations steal more and more ecologic carrying capacity from wildlife, it might behoove us to try to understand the animal mind. To understand a creature is to know it; to know it is to love it; and to love it may help keep it alive.

Nov 6, 2011

Informazioni sull'autore

Glenn Vanstrum’s fiction has been published in LITnIMAGE, the Bellevue Literary Review, and THEMA. His book of nature writing, The Saltwater Wilderness (Oxford), won a San Diego Book Award. Essays of his have appeared in Sierra, California Wild, and the Los Angeles Times. Vanstrum has written five novels and two story collections. Setting plays a major role in his character-driven fiction, work that often uses nature, music, or medical themes. His novels range from drama (Let Fall Thy Blade; Certain Stars Shot Madly) to historical fiction (Northern Liberties) to satire (S.I.C. Memorial). His latest work, Humboldt, a story set among the Northern California redwoods, is part roman noir, part satire, and part thriller. A Minnesotan by birth, Vanstrum majored in music at Grinnell College in Iowa and attended U.C.S.D. medical school. He has spent most of his life in California, where he practices anesthesiology. A professional nature photographer, he publishes images in numerous venues worldwide. Magazine credits include Audubon, Sierra, Terre Sauvage, National Geographic Traveler, National Wildlife, and Discover. The photographic stock agencies Animals Animals/Earth Scenes and Custom Medical Stock Photography represent his photographs. Vanstrum, a pianist from age five, still practices daily and performs works from the classical, romantic, and modern repertoire on a regular basis. A student of Cecil Lytle and the late Nathan Schwartz, he plays both solo and chamber pieces. The author, a lifelong surfer, has ridden waves in Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Bali. Still riding a shortboard, he wipes out with great regularity. Further information on Vanstrum’s writing, including book reviews; music, including concert schedules; and surfing, including a surf blog; appears at "Glenn Vanstrum is a force of nature. In addition to being a published author (The Saltwater Wilderness, Oxford University Press, 2003), he is a concert pianist (and regularly performs complex pieces by Beethoven and Mozart in public venues near his home in San Diego), a highly regarded medical doctor, an accomplished surfer, an underwater photographer who has worked around the world, and a dedicated husband and father. Somehow, in this incredibly busy life, he continually produces exemplary works of fiction and non-fiction. "I've known Glenn for fifteen years. In that time, I have read every single one of his books, and they are uniformly excellent. His fiction is distinguished by fast-paced plots, fascinating characters, amazingly realistic dialogue, and passages of great strength and beauty. His innovative treatment (in Northern Liberties) of Thomas Eakins' painting 'The Gross Clinic' was absolutely brilliant, and his collection of animal stories is par excellence--certainly in the league with such notables as Roger Caras and Ernest Thompson Seton. "His non-fiction, best exemplified in the essays of The Saltwater Wilderness, reflects his love for the sea and dedication to the conservation of oceanic resources. In summary, any book by Glenn Vanstrum is worth reading and owning, and I enthusiastically encourage all those who value contemporary literature to explore the corpus--now available as e-books or print-on-demand--of this gifted American author. " --John A. Murray, senior editor, The Bloomsbury Review (1987-present); founding editor, the Sierra Club American Nature Writing annual (1994-2005); former director, graduate program in professional writing, University of Alaska; author of 42 books; recipient of Southwest Book Award and Colorado Book Award.

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Of Lion Paw and Tiger Jaw - Glenn Vanstrum


The Eyrie

A male bald eagle soared above a treeless shore. Piles of driftwood lined the rocks and sand, the logs drifting in from some distant continent, winter surf battering them above the tideline to the edge of the tundra. Thick clouds hung in the air, the gray gloom broken in places by shafts of summer sunlight. A creek emptied into the ocean, and from the air the eagle could see dark shadows shifting in the saltwater near the outlet: salmon waiting for high tide. A harbor seal harassed the fish, its whiskered head breaking the surface for air between attacks.

The eagle held his wings steady to let the westerlies hold him over the creek. A strong bird, hardened by eight Alaskan winters, few predators gave him pause.

The tide moved in, and the salmon began their climb up the stream. The eagle zeroed in on one slower than the others. The fish labored its way to the first pool, stopped, and made a vain attempt at leaping up a small waterfall. A female fat with roe. As it made a second leap the eagle struck, talons digging deep. The bird struggled under the weight of the salmon, beating its wings furiously to get airborne, but only just dragging the fish to the grass on the creek’s edge. The eagle held still there, talons squeezing the life from the prey, before tearing into the belly with his beak to feed on the pink eggs. Hunger satiated, he ripped free a thick strip of flesh for the flight back.

As the eagle took to the air a dozen sea gulls descended on the carcass, screaming. The flesh firm in his talons, the bird ignored the gulls and climbed into the wind to soar down the coast, past the cliffs to the pinnacle rising from a buttress on the side of a mountain.

At the peak of the pinnacle the two of them had built a pile of woven sticks and driftwood shards. Here the female greeted the returning eagle with a melodic rising and falling whistle. The bird plunked the fish-flesh down for the eaglet, whose eyes shone limpid and alert from its bald, black head. White and black feathers grew in on the wings, breast, and tail. The eagle and his mate shredded the pink meat into bite-size morsels, the chick devouring them with gusto.


Dante Yoreman strode down the path toward Charnley Creek, a twelve-gauge slung over his shoulder, a pair of binoculars around his neck. A broad-shouldered bear of a man, he dressed in faded woolens that blended with an unruly shock of brown hair and gray eyes, eyes tinged with steel. Behind him followed nature photographer Tom Beeves. The Tom Beeves, the guy who’d published forty glossy coffee table books, the famous National Animal shooter, the man whose wilderness photographs graced hundreds of magazines, calendars, postcards, and book covers.

Dante did his best to treat the celebrity like any other client at the lodge he managed here on the Alaskan peninsula. Something about the fellow, though, rubbed him the wrong way. Beeves owned the chiseled features of a male model. He wore the latest in Patagonia fleece and nylon outdoor clothing.

We’ll follow the routine, OK? said Dante.

And…that is?

We hike in quietly along the path to the knoll, sit still, and photograph Equinox and her cub for as long as you like.

If the place is so safe, why the shotgun?

Equinox is a big sweetie-pie, 500 pounds of gristle, fur, fat and love. I damn near ran her over one night going from my cabin to the outhouse. She took off like a scared chicken. But every now and then a stray male shows up from the national park to work her salmon run. Some of those guys can get ornery. I’ve never had to shoot one and pray I never will. But we don’t want our guests in any danger.

It was a long explanation, longer than usual. Beeves asked a lot of questions. Dante thought a guy with his experience should already know some of the answers.

They trudged through dew-covered, knee-high grass. Dante pointed out fireweed, wild iris, and Burnett rose. Weighed down with a huge tripod and a pair of telephotos, the photographer seemed less than interested in wildflowers. Dante halted.

What is it?

Look. Six feet off the path.

A mother ptarmigan in summer plumage of gray, brown, and white. Three babies, frozen, still as statues. No. Four.

Nice camou, eh?

Beeves pulled out a wide-angle lens and went to work. The ptarmigan let him shoot for a while, but when he got within three feet, the mother led her babies deeper into the grass. Beeves wanted to follow, but Dante pulled him back.



The eagle took his turn minding the nest as his mate flew off in search of prey. Salmon, again, or muskrat. Bigger than the male, the female bore an identical white-feathered head and black and brown-feathered body. This was their third year raising young together. The birds had succeeded each of the first two years in fledging a chick.

Abandoned for a time by his mate, the male worked on the nest. He tucked a patch of moss into a gap on the north side where the wind blustered through. He preened the down on the chick. The eaglet had grown almost as big as the adults, and the primary and secondary flight feathers had all but grown in. After a few minutes the male slipped into the air to check for danger.

As he scanned the talus slope beneath the pinnacle, a movement in the distance caught his eye. Along the mountainside. A blur of brown fur.

The eagle swooped closer. Trouble.

The bird screamed and opened its talons, diving out of the sun and just missing the target. The wolverine snarled and reared up on hind legs.

Undeterred by claws and teeth, the eagle harassed the large weasel with repeated attacks. At last he succeeded in driving the animal away. The bird kept his distance from the eyrie until the creature had gone. He soared above the beach using the ridge lift, watching the brown-furred creature scurry up and over a coastal hill. At last the wolverine disappeared, and the bird returned. The eaglet, trembling only slightly, watched everything.


Dante and Beeves hiked to the wind-swept knoll fifty feet above Charnley Creek. Equinox had not yet shown, yet a flock of sea gulls squabbled over a salmon carcass on the bank. Dante wondered who made the kill. Pinniped? No. Harbor seals would finish every morsel. Grizz? Perhaps the bear came and already left. He doubted it: The tide was just coming up. Eagle? More likely. He knew of an eagle nest five miles to the north. It was a long flight with a five-pound salmon.

He watched the silver and red sockeye struggle up the stream. Next to him, Beeves fired away, shooting salmon, shooting the gulls. He was not one to ration film.

Dante knew it was a National Animal rule to burn hundreds of rolls on a single article. It had worked for them for decades. Now that people shot digital images, such wastefulness made more sense. Most film processing chemicals were an ecologic nightmare--one of numerous ironies associated with nature photography. Steeped in tradition, many pro photographers--Beeves among them--refused to use digital gear. They preferred having the original moment recorded on a physical medium.

He saw a movement in the grass to the south. Equinox and Equus, her two-year-old cub, approached, heavy bodies rumbling through the wildflowers. The youngster galloped and gamboled like a pony, hence the name. As the bears grew closer Beeves became agitated, firing roll after roll from the big telephoto, then switching cameras to shoot with a smaller lens.

The two grizzlies scrambled down the far bank to the creek. As if on cue, the smearing of gray cloud cover, so typical of the peninsula, scattered. A beam of sunlight shot down. Beeves, his shutter firing non-stop, went nuts. Light, subject matter--all he needed was a bit of composition and he should, Dante knew, score decent images.

Equinox strolled into the creek only fifty feet beneath them. Her fur billowed in the westerlies, sparkles of brown, gold, and silver glittering in the sunlight. Dante had studied her for five years, ever since she was a cub. She was a favorite bear of his, steady, a good mother. But Equus had yet to catch a single salmon.

The cub galloped after a fat sockeye, pouncing and coming up empty. He gave his mother a bewildered and disgusted look. Even Beeves paused from his shooting to laugh. Dante wished the bear would start showing some independence. This was his last year with mom. She’d kick him out soon when she went into estrus, find herself a boar, and raise another cub.

The small bear followed Equinox. An old hand at fishing, she snagged a salmon with each leap into the shallow waters of the creek. Equus waited until she had a fish in her mouth, then grabbed the other end to tear off a chunk for himself. Sometimes Equinox would put up with it, sometimes not. More than once she gave him a solid cuff with her paw.

Dante realized, with a start, Beeves had risen to his feet.

Best to sit when they’re this close.

Beeves ignored him. He shot a hand-held zoom now. Before Dante could stop him he ran down the steep hillside toward the bears.

Beeves! Get back up here!

But there was no telling the world-famous know-it-all photographer what to do. Equinox looked up in alarm. She woofed at Equus and the two bears ran to the far side of the creek, where they stopped for a moment to stare at Beeves. They climbed the bank and disappeared into the willows.

Beeves laughed in glee.

Great stuff, super stuff.

Dante was beside himself. He slung the shotgun over his shoulder and scooped up the photographer’s multi-thousand-dollar telephotos, banging the metal housings together. Too angry to say a word, he started hiking back to the cabins. He figured Beeves would follow to rescue his equipment. If he didn’t, Dante really didn’t care. For ten years they’d accustomed bears at Charnley to predictable human behavior. People sat on the bluff, and the bears hunted salmon down below. Nobody broke the routine, nobody disturbed anybody, and nobody got hurt.

Beeves, though, had broken that rule. To get a shot that was different. In his anger Dante considered chucking the gear over the cliff into the Cook Inlet. Halfway back to the lodge Beeves caught up to him.

What’re you doing with my lenses?

Dante said nothing. It took everything he had to keep from smacking Beeves in the face with the six hundred millimeter lens.

Why did you leave the bluff? They’ll be back.

Dante kept silent.

Listen here, Yoreman, I paid two thousand bucks for four days here. The customer is always right.

Dante turned and stopped so quickly Beeves banged into him. Every muscle in the Alaskan’s body was trembling. He glared at the photographer, his eyes only inches from the other man’s.

Shut up. He had nothing more to say to the fool. If he got any angrier he might have been tempted to unsling the shotgun and blow the idiot’s head off.


Sometime later the female flew back to the nest, wings pumping in slow, powerful strokes. Carrying a dead ptarmigan, she fought a headwind to bring the plump bird up the pinnacle.

The three eagles tore into the warm flesh of the bird and filled their bellies. As they feasted, ptarmigan feathers blew off the pinnacle, the bones falling into the crevices of the nest. A heavy mist fell with the dim light of a June Arctic night. All three slept.


The four other guests returned from their extended hike and climb late, so Summer, Dante’s wife, didn’t serve the fresh sourdough bread, poached salmon in tarragon, and asparagus until 10 p.m., when the sun finally neared the horizon. By dinnertime Dante had a better grip on his anger. Beeves still didn’t get it, so he explained one more time why a world famous outdoor photographer would not be allowed to photograph grizzly bears any more at this particular luxury nature camp.

Because. You broke the pact of trust we’ve developed over ten years with the bears. We don’t bother them, they don’t bother us. Our business depends on that. It’s a bigger deal than what Tom Beeves, celebrity nature photographer, wants. I don’t know now how Equinox will respond to humans on the knoll. You drove her away from her salmon feeding grounds just to get a frickin’ photo.

You’re overstating what I did.

Bullshit. You violated the unwritten contract we have with her. So we’re going to leave her alone for a week. You’ll have to find something else to photograph.

Beeves sipped his California cabernet and gave him a nasty look. Asshole. If Dante could get Mack to fly the Otter over from Homer and haul him out of here tonight, he’d do it in a heartbeat. But Mack, the surly--if excellent--bush pilot, hated non-essential runs. Dante was stuck with the guy for another three days.

Tell you what. If you promise to follow directions and not disrupt things, I’ll take you to an eagle’s nest tomorrow.

Beeves stared at him, a sneering look filled with hatred. It’s the least you can do for a paying customer.

You might want to read the fine print on the contract you signed with us. It states--in red ink--that the customer will follow all rules regarding wildlife approaches and safety. That clause has its own box with your signed initials in it. Break another rule and I’ll ship you out of here early. Play along and you’ll get some good photographs.

Silence reigned during the rest of the meal.


It was the male’s turn to hunt. The eagle returned to the creek and circled, noting the salmon, the grizzly and cub, the sea gulls, the harbor seals. Everything seemed unchanged.

The eagle swooped to take a salmon. As he pulled back into the air, the bird saw the young bear thundering over to steal his kill, and he banked sharply up and over the cub to gain lift into the wind. The eagle kept flying, the fish small enough to be carried in one piece back to the nest.

He pumped wings and held the struggling sockeye in the grip of his talons. After a while the writhing fish went limp. The eagle followed the cliffs above the sea toward the pinnacle, riding the lift rising off the ocean. At the end of the cliffs, he saw them. A pair of two-leggeds. Moving slowly toward the base of the pinnacle.

The heavy fish tired the eagle’s wing muscles. He approached the nest filled with anxiety. The female was gone. The chick held his head low, hiding. The male swooped down with the salmon and placed it before the eaglet.

He scanned the sky and saw his mate flying high, near the sun. The female plummeted down upon the two-leggeds, talons extended and screaming. One of creatures pointed a metal stick at her.



I think it’s trying to tell us something.

I’m going to climb the mountain behind the pinnacle, get higher, and shoot down.

You can try. But if we get two or three more dive-bombs like that, we’re gonna quit.

You’re kidding. We hike for five hours to get here, ‘n you wanna quit?

They’ve got a chick up there. If you scare them too badly, they’ll abandon it. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 still limits disturbing the birds. I’m just trying to stay within the boundaries of the law.

Dante followed Beeves up the mountainside. He was a fool to bring him here. Of course he’d break every rule, defy every suggestion, and drive the eagles nuts. He was that kind of guy.

They scrambled higher, using boulders stuck in the tundra for handholds and footholds. The climb was hard enough for Dante, who carried a backpack, water, and lunch. He granted grudging respect to Beeves, who scampered up loaded with the same weight the guide carried plus a telephoto and tripod. As they reached the level of the nest, one of the eagles launched another screaming, Battle-of-Midway, dive-from-the-sun attack.

This is it, Beeves. No higher.

The photographer set his tripod and began shooting. The pinnacle stood about fifty feet distant. The wide-eyed head of the baby eagle poked above the nest, a collection of moss, sticks, and driftwood four feet across and as many feet deep. Dante knew each clutch had two or three eggs initially. Sibling rivalry did in the weaker baby birds. Life at the nest was far from idyllic: When the adults left the chicks alone to hunt, the strongest--usually the first to hatch--killed the rest and threw the corpses out. This survivor looked to be almost ready to fly. For a moment Dante forgot about his mad guest and entered the eagle’s world.

Baby dinosaurs. Flying velociraptors. Strange creatures of the air with hollow bones and eight-foot wingspans. Animals that flew. A sudden wave of jealousy washed over him. If he could but trade in his oversized human brain and Vibram-soled boots for a set of wings, hollow bones, and magical feathers...To fly, to leave earth behind, to gain an eagle-eye perspective on life, to be one with Daedelus, Superman, Hermes...


The male did not like the way the two-leggeds approached the chick, climbing level to the nest on the mountain across from the pinnacle. Again and again he launched screaming attacks.

The baby eagle picked up the fear and agitation of the adults. He began to flap his wings and hover above the nest. The male wondered if it was time for the chick to fledge. He flew back and joined the female in trying to calm the young bird.

The eagle took to the skies again. One of the two-leggeds walked down the mountain to the dip between mountain and pinnacle. It carried a metal stick in its pink talons. The eagle saw a second motion on the far side of the pinnacle. Wolverine. Again.

The bird whistled a warning to its mate and launched a blazing dive upon the wolverine. The female joined him as he flew back for another attack. Time after time his mate hurtled herself at the powerful weasel, the male doing the same to harass the two-leggeds. Neither enemy could see each other, but both approached the nest.


I’m telling you, Beeves, knock it off. You’re out of here. I’m turning you in to Fish and Wildlife, you bastard.

Nothing he said made any difference to the bull-headed photographer. Beeves had bagged fabulous shots of the baby hovering over the nest, but he wanted more. Always more. The idiot climbed the pinnacle, determined to grab a wide-angle image of the baby eagle at the nest with the mountain, cliffs, and sea in the background. As he ascended, the adults dive-bombed him without pause.

Dante dropped his backpack and ran after him. He scrambled up the pinnacle and tackled the man only a few feet from the summit and its bundle of moss and sticks. They rolled and tumbled. At the bottom, it was Beeves’s turn to scream.

My lens. You idiot, you’ve ruined my lens.

Dante glanced at the smashed glass. He felt something sticky and ran his fingers over a slice on his forehead. A fresh lump on the back of his head throbbed.

Too bad it wasn’t your skull.


After driving the two-legged from the pinnacle, the male eagle flew to the other side to help the female. The wolverine could not be turned, having seen the eaglet and his lame attempts to get airborne. The animal kept climbing closer to the nest, oblivious to the aerial assaults. Once it sprang to launch a fearsome set of claws at the eagle, forcing a hard beat of the wings to swerve from a fatal blow.

But the immature eagle had enough. It sprang to the edge of the nest and flapped its own wings. The wolverine scrambled faster, its prey close. As it leaped for the kill, a gust of wind caught the eaglet and swept the young bird from the nest. It caught an updraft and rode the wind for the first time in his life.

The parents and their flying offspring coasted above the pinnacle. The wolverine retreated as the carnivore caught scent and sight of the two-leggeds. The pair scuffled, screaming at each other like magpies fighting over a caribou carcass.

Three eagles floated high above the pinnacle and sea cliff, soaring in and out of the dappled clouds and sunlight. Two adults and one juvenile.

The male and female, against all odds, had once again succeeded in their yearly mission.

Incident at a Fence

The male Sumatran tiger paced back and forth over the concrete floor. The cat roared, filling all eight cages and the adjoining hall with echoes of power, anger, and frustration. Outside, rain poured down, and condensed drops of moisture from the humid air dripped from the animal's straw-like whiskers. Back and forth the tiger marched, bunched muscles aching to spring, to run, to unleash clawed death. Constrained by walls of steel bars, he paced. Paced some more. And he roared.


"Gets to you after a while,

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