Loving all creatures, great and small
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
February 13, 2021
The emerald green hillsides of “All Creatures Great and Small” in PBS’s current series of James Herriot’s books are dazzling. But no more dazzling or grand than in the novel itself. Herriot writes so expressively that the green is embedded in your mind’s eye. You also smell the pungent scents from within the old wooden barns, feel the road under your seat as the car bumps along winding dirt roads, and even taste the succulent roasted beef and potatoes, though likely more tasty in your head than what they actually served, using basic salt and pepper instead of experimenting with the specialty herb rubs of today. But who knows? If James was lucky, he was asked in for dinner by an excellent cook in the rolling valley. He was almost always appreciative.
Herriot wrote numerous books of his 50 years as a veterinary surgeon in England. He was born James Alfred Wight in 1916. He studied at Glasgow Veterinary College, graduating in 1939 at the age of 23. He went to work in Yorkshire and made a life for himself and his Irish Setter, later marrying and having a family. He cultivated a highly regarded reputation at his veterinary practice as well as a prolific writer and enjoyed the best of both worlds. But beware. As real as the green hills and bumpy roads and smells are written, so are the actual emergencies and medical needs of the animals he loved. Honestly, I know more about birthing a lamb than I ever expected. Yet, the vivid reality is worth it, in the embrace of the whole Herriot experience, book after book after book.
“The Girl and the Tiger” by Paul Rosolie finds the reader in present day India. Early in the first chapter it reads, “On that day, it begins as so many great stories do: with a snake.” In reality, the reader begins a journey actually unlike many. Isha is a young girl of 15, unable to fit herself within the parameters of regimented school. She is sent from the city to stay with her grandparents in a small village surrounded by plantations and one piece of saved and preserved jungle under the folds of a great banyan tree. She feels the tiger there before ever seeing it, spending day after day within and under the jungle limbs and leaves. The story is narrated by both the girl and the tiger who see the world from two very different viewpoints, and both with very distinct needs. When the tiger approached the sleeping girl, “The tiger stalked her until she stood over the girl and could smell her dreams.” Fortunately, instilled instinct kept the tiger from taking advantage of such a young cub.
The wild animals, including Bengal tigers and grand elephants have lost their jungles and way of sustaining life in a world encroached by man. Jungles torn down to build cities and plant crops, squeezed these regal animals out of the safety of the vegetation and into roads and villages. But one small girl proves bold and brave enough to try to change the heart and soul of mankind by bonding with a Bengal tiger. There are harsh realities and heartbreaking atrocities along with the hope of how man can evolve from being the hunted, to the hunter, to the one who saves them all, if we as mankind are willing. The possibility for great care of others resides in most, if we open up and care deep enough about this world of creatures, great and small.
Which leads me to the classic “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White. We return to a farm and green hills and the typical animals found within that setting. Of course, not only do the humans speak, but so do the animals and rather loudly at times. Though set up to be a story about a girl named Fern and her pig Wilbur, it’s really the spider, Charlotte (Charlotte A Cavatica to be precise), who is both the protagonist and the hero.
Don’t forget to share this well worn and loved classic with the children in your lives. Compassion for others is a gift and seeing it in motion keeps kindness going within a world so full of strife and dissension. If one small spider can change the course of a creature’s worth, within and without, surely one human at a time can do the same.
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Good books. Good reading.
*Midge Lyn’dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.