story time: the king’s ankus

These are the Four that are never content, that have never been filled since the Dews began — Jacala’s mouth, and the glut of the Kite, and the hands of the Ape, and the Eyes of Man.

— Jungle Saying.                                      

THE KING’S ANKUS 

Kaa, the big Rock Python, had changed his skin for perhaps the two-hundredth time since his birth; and Mowgli, who never forgot that he owed his life to Kaa for a night’s work at Cold Lairs, which you may perhaps remember, went to congratulate him. Skin-changing always makes a snake moody and depressed till the new skin begins to shine and look beautiful.

(click here to continue…)

The tale of The King’s Angkus is one of my all time favorite stories by one of my heroes, the great Rudyard Kipling, and clear inspiration behind many of my own short stories.

cool stuff round up

I cried tears of joy when I saw this:

Resident Charlottesville McGuffey artist Arnaud Boudoiron is doing a truly beautiful job of illustrating the animals, and the acacia tree, for Law of the Jungle, the animated short of The Red Toad and the Buffalo. It is a rather tricky task to illustrate in stained glass, but “Arno” has a very natural grace with it and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Meanwhile, I have been enjoying a pleasant correspondence with someone who doesn’t have a lot of general notoriety, but at least to me is a celebrity: Kristin Laidre.

Her groundbreaking work with Narwhals first came to my attention in this truly amazing Smithsonian article from 2009, In Search of the Mysterious Narwhal. I thanked Kristin for providing great context and background for The Young Narwhal. Kristin writes:

Thanks, very nice! I’m doing field work in Greenland on narwhals right now so it’s fun to read the story. I like their names!”

Awesome.

I am also working on the last short story for my collection of animal fables. The others almost wrote themselves, but this one is not coming easy. The concept is crystal clear, but the story is shrouded. It will probably end up reading nothing like this, but here is a sample of where #7 is today.

There were two of them. The sky gleamed grey like a cannon over the heavy sulfur glare, and there were two of them.

The black one’s features were swallowed up by his midnight darkness. A hint of shoulders, a suggestion of flanks, a shadow of a tail, permitted the correct conclusion: cat.

When the black cat walked alone, his bright, right forepaw alone drew the eye. Its movement, devoid of context, was like a frog’s. An arc and a pause; an arc and a pause. It was fiery orange.

The orange one’s features were stenciled in sharp relief by the fine stripes that seemed to drip down from his spine like blood. His emerald green eyes did not blink.

When the orange cat walked alone, it startled the eye that he did not stumble. His left foreleg appeared to end at the ankle. But no; the paw was there, and sound. Just blacker than the pit.

But when their steps fell in together, as they did that night, the illusion was imperforate. One orange cat. One black shadow.

the young narwhal

A new story starring the real unicorns of the Arctic is up! The Young Narwhal is a tale of growing up in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Asavakkit (ah-SAW-vah-kit) is Greenlandic for “I love you”. It is a fitting name for a little character who snuggled his way right into my heart.

For me, nothing sets the stage for a polar tale like ‘iluliaq’ (ih-LOO-lee-ahk), or icebergs. They are dangerous to surface dwellers floating about in boats, but to narwhals like Asavakkit they provide shelter, safety from predators (like orca), and a sense of home.

narwhals rule

Did you know that narwhal means “corpse whale”? (It’s because of the appearance their weird mottled hide.) Or that no one really knows what that horn is for? Apothecaries in London adopted the unicorn as their emblem because they made a mint selling ‘unicorn horn’ as viagra.

Narwhals are 50% blubber. And they thrive in the dark and cold of the arctic circle. They are one of the most enigmatic animals on earth, since, unlike their merry cousins the beluga whales, they cannot be kept and studied in captivity (despite their incredible survival skills in the wild, they die very quickly if contained). And their preferred habitat makes them very difficult to study in the wild.

I myself find them adorable, much like the sloth. So bizarre, it’s totally endearing. So, my next story, “The Young Narwhal”, features one of these fascinating creatures off the coast of Greenland.

If you want to learn more about narwhals, I highly recommend an article that has stuck with me over the years, “In Search of the Mysterious Narwhal” by Smithsonian Magazine. The best part is the world’s foremost expert in Narwhals is an ex Pacific Northwest Ballerina, Kristin Laidre. Enjoy.

it’s all about the usagi

As promised, The Black Rabbit is ready to read.

It’s about the friendship between the black rabbit, and Shiro, the white rabbit. Shiro is Japanese for ‘white’.

Shiro has a swimming race with a river otter, Yorokobi. Yorokobi is Japanese for ‘joy’.

A tanuki, or Japanese Raccoon Dog, starts the race.

She also has a nut-gathering competition with Isogashi, the squirrel. Isogashi is Japanese for ‘busy’.

Shiro’s brush with Fukuro the owl is fraught with danger. Fukuro is Japanese for ‘owl’. (Such a cool word!)

But ultimately, it is the black rabbit who helps Shiro find what she is looking for.

I hope you’ll enjoy The Black Rabbit.

Oh, and – usagi is Japanese for ‘rabbit’.

the black rabbit

“ ‘Look how they love the otter Yorokobi,’ said Shiro to the black rabbit. ‘If I am the best, they will love me.’ ”

-The Black Rabbit

I have always thought of rabbits as competitive (perhaps because of The Tortoise and The Hare). In the fable I’m working on right now, Shiro the white rabbit is always on the lookout for a chance to be the best.

I love this painted scroll, the Choju-jinbatsu-giga (“Animal-person caricatures”), from 12th-centry Kyoto. Credited by some as the first manga, it shows a wrestling match between a rabbit and a frog.

I’ll be posting The Black Rabbit sometime in March.

what’s in a name?

I drew on Swahili for the names of several of the characters in my latest fable:

This is Kiburi, the Cape Buffalo. Kiburi means “pride”.

This is Shirazi, the Lion, and Mkuu, his son. Shirazi is for the merchant peoples who greatly influenced and spread the Swahili language throughout East Africa over the course of several centuries from Shiraz, in Persia – which also means “lion”. The Shirazi people still live in parts of East Africa today. Mkuu is Swahili for “prince”.

This is Amani, the White-Headed Weaver Bird. Amani is Swahili for “peace”.

These are Moja and Mbili, the Meerkat brothers. Moja is Swahili for “one” and mbili means “two”.

I love writing stories because it is always a good opportunity to learn something new!

red toad of africa

In the next month or so I will be posting a new fable up on the site. So far, the name of this fable is YTBD. Sometimes coming up with a good name is the toughest part.

But I wanted to introduce you to Schismaderma carens, the split-skin toad, also known as the African Red Toad.

Pretty cute for a toad, right? Toads are often quasi-villains in tales. They’re warty, they’re gross, they live in dank places and eat bugs.

But there’s a good side to these creatures, too. That’s part of what I’m writing about. More to come…