Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Cousin(s) (05/22/08)
TITLE: Call of the Wild
By Fiona Dorothy Stevenson
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Adventure: going out into the unknown, seeking your fortune in undiscovered places, facing imagined and unimaginable fears. Adventure is perilous, insistent, tugging at your heart, your mind, pulling your feet. There is the promise of fame and fortune, the fear of failure.
Adventure is all of this, yet it also comes in smaller packages, with plainer wrappings. In thinking of the adventures of life, I am reminded of two boys, cousins. As young boys, separated in age by several years, they often shared school holidays. In those times, younger Gray mentored Philip in the ways of the farm, the remote valley and mountains where he lived. Philip was a quiet, serious boy. He hated the town where he grew up, came alive in the wide grasslands. He loved the wild, wonderful creation of God. For mischievous Gray life was action, fun, adventure, and he wanted all of it. Sooner than walk, he loved to run.
At boarding school, ten years of age, Philip stayed in a home with eleven other children whom the school hostel was unable to accommodate. One afternoon he and his sister took their dinky cars to the long disused garage on the property. Here they could build roads, farms and villages – play without interruption until called for supper. An older boy, Victor, was already there. In one corner he had built up a series of cages where he kept a small menagerie of lizards, frogs and tiny birds. When the younger children arrived he was busy tearing at the leg of a living lizard. Philip turned white. Removing the lizard from Victor’s hands, he dispatched the poor suffering creature with a large rock and thrashed Victor before turning his attention to the cages. Every defenseless creature had been mutilated in some way. Wordlessly, with wet cheeks, he dealt with the victims while his sister dug a communal grave and gathered straw and leaves to shroud the corpses.
After leaving school Philip became a Natal Parks ranger, spending long days on horseback in the Drakensberg mountains. Later he was transferred to the Umfolozi Game Reserve nearer the coast. Here he became involved in the protection of an endangered species, the white rhinoceros. These animals were being researched, and many were sent to other parks and overseas to zoos for controlled breeding. They had to be caught.
Philip was one of two young men detailed to follow the – hopefully – sedated rhino on horseback through thorn scrub and over uneven ground until the drug took effect. After the animal fell, a truck was brought in to load and remove it to a secure pen before it was sent away. There was excitement, fear, pain. They developed protection for their horses, for themselves.
Philip died a very young man. On learning of his death his senior officer wrote, “I was stunned. Could so kind and gentle a person be dead? …we worked harder at rhino capture to try to forget.”
Shortly after Philip’s death, Gray, who had not seen his cousin for several years, followed him into the Natal Parks ranger service. He trained in the Umfolozi Game Reserve where the rhino capture program was not yet complete. While Gray was also involved with the capture program, his work was much more inclusive in a reserve which hosted a wide variety of animals and birds – warthog, lion, black rhinoceros, various types of deer, zebra, hyena, and smaller animals like the mongoose. As a young lad he had gathered blue clay from a streambed near the farmhouse, washing it in the stream to remove grit and pebbles. From this he made animals, domestic and wild, baking his models in the hot sun. His fingers were quick and dexterous; the animals were lifelike. His love of the animals, and his eye for detail, were very obvious.
Philip’s greatest interest had been the plant ecology of the land, God’s creation of the third day. Gray’s greatest interest was the animals and the birds. Philip wrote scientific papers, valued in the Parks service, about the grasses and plants of the bush veldt. Gray wrote an exciting, funny and informative autobiography, and for children a series of animal ‘biographies’ based on his experience and insight. They were written to educate with understanding and with humor. Now retired as a ranger, Gray lives on a remote farm, still involved with and loving the wild life who live alongside.
Cousins. So different. Yet so alike.
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