A bedtime story for adventurous types

Just when you thought it was safe to go birdwatching…guess again.

Early morning walks in nature preserves home to feline (and other) predators can take sudden turns – and unwary hikers may find themselves in rather precarious situations.

Such was the case when I went on a birding tour in the Nepali Western Terai. The story is recounted in the humorous essay “Of Fur Not Fowl (Or How Not To Catch a Tiger,” a piece carried in the online journal Words for the Wild, based in the United Kingdom and edited by Amanda Oosthuizen and Louise Taylor.

This quote by Louise parallels my own experiences:

“I’m lucky enough to have seen, first-hand, some of the world’s most iconic natural species and spectacles, including the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti and wild tigresses with their cubs in the Indian Sal forests of Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’.

However, the woods and fields that surround my small village, near Winchester, are as beautiful and precious as any exotic place I’ve visited. I cannot bear the thought that future generations might not see tawny owls sweep across the tree-tops in the half-light or watch a hare, at dawn, stretch its long legs across a stubble field.”

– Words for the Wild, About Us

During my years living in Anderson Valley, whenever I drove home down the country roads at night, my headlights invariably captured various critters: foxes, skunks, deer, bobcats, and black-tailed hares: a thrill for my Mini Pinscher, Lusa, who stood on her hind legs, front paws pressed against the steering wheel, urgently keen-barking at anything that moved.

More recently, while camping in the California Sierra foothills, each night I listened to the “hoot-hoot hoot-hoot” of a Great Horned Owl, hidden in the tall treetops of surrounding Ponderosa pines. With their voices, my dog and that owl were telling stories.

Storytelling is one of our most ancient cultural traditions, a traditional shared with many other species. (If you’d like to geek out on this, see the 2016 Proceedings of the Royal Society scientific article “A Systems Approach to Animal Communication” by Hebets et al.). I’m fascinated by the myriad possibilities for telling (and re-telling) stories; alongside the many new forms of sharing (and re-sharing) stories. I pray we learn to do so more responsibly, authentically, and without shying from the truth.

The story “Of Fur Not Fowl” is a true story – from my perspective. The Nepali guides, and the other beings present in that stretch of forest that particular morning, would likely recount the same series of events in very different ways.

For now, although I can’t physically take you to Nepal with me, I can transport you through this story, which comes alive in the mind’s eye via spoken-word in this audio file.

“Of Fur Not Fowl” Recorded by Jeanine Pfeiffer in January 2020

(Voila! A bedtime story!)

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