NaNoWriMo Day 9 word count: 17,666
I learned an important lesson about looking up books on the library’s computers while my daughter is with me: Don’t read the titles out loud unless I’m sure they are ones I want her to read.
We were at the library a couple of months ago looking up mountain lions. This was the result of days of intense questioning about big cats and other large predators. Where they live, what they look like, what they eat, do they hunt alone or in groups, would a cheetah eat a lion or would a lion eat a cheetah, which animals eat people? My basic knowledge of wildlife, although bolstered by a life-long love of nature shows, was quickly exhausted under such rigorous examination. I took refuge at the library.
“Let’s see,” I said, scanning the page of results for the nonfiction books in the children’s section, “The Mountain Lion, Ezra: A Mountain Lion, Cougar: Ghost of the Rockies, When Mountain Lions Attack—”
“When Mountain Lions Attack! I want that one. I’ll write down the number.”
“Well, it looks like they’re all around 599.75, so we can go to that number and then look at what they have there and see what we want. It looks like they have a lot.”
I have a policy of not keeping information from my daughter. If she wants to know about a subject, we look it up, and she can pick out the books that interest her. I try to make sure that the information she receives is age-appropriate, so I sometimes censor a bit. So far, she’s still not a strong enough reader that she can tell when I’m editing what I’m reading to her, but I know those days are numbered. We also stay in the children’s section of the library, which provides us some buffer.
When she picked out When Mountain Lions Attack! as soon as we arrived in the mountain lions section, I couldn’t think of a good reason to tell her she couldn’t have it. I talked up the other books I found (“Oh! This one has pictures of baby mountain lions! Aren’t they so cute!”). She put those in the bag, too, but she held When Mountain Lions Attack! in her little hand for rest of our visit.
Come to find out, When Mountain Lions Attack! is part of a whole series of “When Wild Animals Attack!” books. Bears, tigers, snakes, crocodiles, sharks, all attacking humans, all in the children’s section of the library.
That night after my husband read to our daughter and turned out her light, he asked me, “Did you know she has a book called When Mountain Lions Attack?”
I explained what had happened at the library. “How bad is it?” I asked.
“It’s pretty bad,” he answered. “But she loves it. I try to read it in a very unexciting voice, and I skip over some of the gory parts.”
“Gory parts?” I’m fairly certain I raised one eyebrow while asking this.
I would hear about some of the gory parts from my daughter in the coming days.
“Mommy, tonight I want you to read chapter 5 with me. Daddy read it to me, but you haven’t read it yet. It’s my favorite.”
“Oh, really?” I asked. “What’s in chapter 5?” I already knew because my husband had warned me, but I wanted to know what she’d gotten from chapter 5.
“A mountain lion attacked a woman and it took 2,000 stitches to put her face back together.” When I read chapter 5, I learned that this phrase, “to put her face back together,” was pretty much exactly what it said in the book. My goodness, I thought. This is a children’s book?
Months later, my daughter talks about chapter 5. I told her I was going to blog about When Mountain Lions Attack! and I asked her what I should be sure to include. She said, “You should say that it took 2,000 stitches to put her face back together and that’s how many kids were in my concert.” She was in Suzuki Celebration last month. There were 2,000 kids between the ages of 3 and 18 performing. I had not realized my daughter had made this particular connection.
Last week, I listened to an episode of To the Best of Our Knowledge entitled “Red Tooth, Red Claw.” It was about, among other things, animals attacking people. On it, Gordon Grice, author of the book Deadly Kingdom, talked about the evolution of our thoughts about nature. Until the 1960’s, he said, we accepted a biblical kind of view that man was on top and the rest of nature was here to serve us. In the 60’s and 70’s that view was in part replaced by one in which people were viewed as “especially evil, that whenever something bad happens, it’s our fault.”
Grice calls this view “arrogant” and says it’s not the whole story. “Most times when there’s a problem between humans and big predators,” he says, “it’s the human’s fault. But this really isn’t always the case. And we do know of cases where animals like grizzlies have stalked and attacked and even eaten people who had no idea that the animal was in the area.”
In Grice’s opinion, either belief, that animals are subservient to humans or that animals are somehow innocent and should automatically be exonerated from all fault if they hurt a human, isn’t giving an accurate view of nature and doesn’t protect us.
As someone who has a tendency to think of all of the dangerous things in any situation first, I feel somewhat vindicated by Grice’s opinion.
I was talking with the woman who drops off eggs to sell from our front porch every week. She told me how over the course of two nights, raccoons slaughtered 80 of the turkeys they were raising. They left only two alive.
“You know,” she said, “if a skunk gets in, it will kill one or two, whatever it wants to eat, and leave the rest alone. But raccoons, they’ll eat what they want and then slaughter the rest. To me, it’s one thing if an animal is hunting for food. That I can understand. But what raccoons do I just have no patience with.”
I had no idea raccoons did this kind of thing. I’ve watched the three raccoon kits who den under our neighbor’s roof come out at dusk and wrestle around and play. I knew they could carry rabies and that they may well be responsible for some of the headless birds I’ve found in our yard, but it had never occurred to me that they could be so bloodthirsty as to kill for sport.
What’s interesting to me is that my daughter is neither surprised nor frightened by all of this. If anything, she seems to have less fear and worry about danger in the forest the more she learns. She accepts that animals kill other animals and that sometimes they kill people. She’s not worried.
I wonder if this is just because, at five years old, she’s too young to have grown accustomed to the idea that we eat everything but nothing eats us, an idea, Grice contends, that does not exist in Kenya. Kenyans, apparently, are very used to the idea that humans are just another source of prey.