September 25, 2018 by The Citron Review
by Jeanine Pfeiffer
- Commission a bird walk in Bardia National Park, home to the second-highest density of Panthera tigris (Bengal tiger) in Nepal.[i]
- Awake late. Neglect to drink coffee before departing.
- Greet the local guides: one binocular-wielding, bird-enthusiast younger brother, plus one bamboo-pole-wielding, tiger-enthusiast elder brother.
- Enter a wash of deep, dusty, quiet green.
- Appreciate each watery splash and cracked twig penetrating one’s oversensitized eardrums.
- Train one’s binoculars on a riverside kingfisher, adumbrated by early morning fog.
- Be lured by the placid setting, then jolted by sudden shriek-barking.
7a. Register the short, sharp cries increasing in intensity, the shrrwwsh-shrwwshhh-shrswwshh-shrsswwhhing of terrified ungulates slamming through the underbrush.
- Note when the sounds stop.
- Refocus on the kingfisher.
- Continue holding the binoculars, extending one’s idiocy long enough to lose both guides.
- Execute a trembling, 360-degree turn.
- Contemplate the crunch of solitary sneakers on an empty path.
- Calculate the probability of becoming prey while standing still vs. becoming prey while running after the brother-guides.
13a. Compare, in the fuzzy recesses of one’s mind, the known density of tigers per square kilometer with the expected density of multiple feline species in the immediate vicinity.
13b. Multiply zero data by zero choice.
13c. Self-bifurcate: one-half laughing at the absurdity, the other half deeply anxious.
13d. Lose additional precious seconds weighing non-options.
13e Allow the anxious half to win.
- Hot-foot it out of there, following skid marks in the forest floor detritus.
14a. Congratulate oneself on successfully tracking a deer-dragging kitty.
14b. Drop the pretentiousness. Realize one has no idea of precisely what one is running to.
- Halt abruptly when the tracks terminate at a massive thicket of brambles.
15a. Behold body-sized openings yawning randomly around the thicket’s base.
15b. Observe the brothers pacing around the thicket.
15c. Thank the Nepali goddess Durga[ii] for a bloodless reunion, thus far.
- Absorb the brothers’ taxonomic identification: kitty is an Asian leopard, Panthera pardus fusca, 40–60 kilograms of high-strung, carnivorous muscle, as opposed to Panthera tigris, 200–300 kilograms of high-strung, carnivorous, [hu]man-eating muscle.
- Abandon relief when snarled warnings vibrate through the bramble
- Estimate new probabilities: the odds of a hungry, pissed-off leopard choosing offensive tactics the odds of a hungry, pissed-off leopard choosing defensive maneuvers.
- Attempt a feeble joke: “Um, uh, can’t we let kitty finish her breakfast?”
- Retain one’s faith even as the brother-guides continue circling the bramble, muttering and randomly thicket-thwacking.
- Experiment with alternate phrasing. Postulate, “I always heard it was a really bad idea to bother cats while they were eating.”
- Absorb the brothers’ complete lack of a response.
- Excogitate food-chain dynamics. Acknowledge the banality of an herbivore—such as one’s vegetarian self—in the presence of an omnivore.
- Wake the hell up. Transform into an imperious vegetarian. Yank bird-enthusiast brother firmly away from the thicket.
- Stride rapidly back to civilization. Attempt to confirm predator-free zones by swiveling one’s head around in manic 180-degree arcs.
- Return to the lodge intact. Hand over thousands of rupees; bid younger guide adieu.
- Resolve that any and all future Nepali bird-watching tours shall occur on the backsides of 2000-kilogram pachyderms (Elephas maximus indicus), whose tiger-bashing reputations ensure no predatory felines will be cornered, teased, agitated, vexed, or otherwise harassed.
[i] According to the Nepali Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation 2014 Report, Status of Tigers and Prey in Nepal, Bardia National Park contains an estimated average tiger density of 3.33 individuals per 100 km2, only succeeded by Chitwan National Park, with an estimated average density of 3.84 individuals per 100 km2.
[ii] A fierce, demon-fighting deity manifesting fearlessness and patience, Durga never loses her sense of humor.
Dr. Pfeiffer’s life is devoted to the celebration and conservation of biocultural diversity: the intrinsic connections between nature and culture. Her Pushcart Prize-nominated essays are anthologized in Selected Memories (Hippocampus, 2017) and Humanity (Paloma Press, 2018), and published (or forthcoming) in Bellevue Literary Review, Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment, Hippocampus, The Guardian, High Country News, Langscape, Silver Needle Press, Sky Island Journal, Between the Lines, Altered Syntax, and Nowhere. More at jeaninepfeiffer.com