Sunday, May 22, 2011


I often wondered why my neighbor's cat at the old place in Towson would leave a headless bird or mouse on the welcome mat for us. What makes cats leave offerings? Why are cats revered in ancient religious traditions around the world? Is it their physical prowess, their intelligence, their uncanny skills? Esotericist Schwaller de Lubicz wrote that the Egyptians venerated cats because they always made the appropriate gesture at the appropriate time. In Tai Chi class we learned that the cat exemplifies living in the moment. Even when prepared to strike its prey a tiger is totally relaxed.

John Vaillant narrates with detailed and engaging context the story of an Amur or Siberian tiger who becomes a man-eater, and the efforts of a group of game wardens to track it before it kills again. The relationship between tigers and the native population in this forested region near the Chinese border is described in detail, and Vaillant's portrait of environmental degredation and poaching at the end of civilization is more disturbing even than the desperate tiger's behavior. I don't think Vaillant's intention is to justify the tiger's actions, but he does try to explain them. I think now in new ways about cats leaving offerings for humans; in the Siberian forests native hunters describe tigers leaving haunches from kills for humans, and the hunters reciprocate when they kill by leaving a haunch for the tigers. The tigers and human hunters come to know each other and respect boundaries. When European Russians violate these ancient rules the "Czar of the forest" tracks them and kills them. I found this book utterly fascinating.

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Enjoyable post. Mr. Vaillant is also a gracious host to his readers on Facebook.