Writing the Book, Post #2
As I write each paragraph of the story of the Indian Tigress and her cubs, thoughts like this go though my head.
Sure, there are cat lovers, people who are going to oooo and ahhhhh over the adorable photos (see right). There are environmentally minded folk concerned about preserving the earth. Biologists, naturally, care about preserving their species of interest.
But then there’s the rest of the world. And it takes more than cat lovers, enviros and scientists to save a species that could easily vanished from the earth’s wild places in less than a decade.
So how do you make someone who doesn’t think much about animals, who’s more concerned with, say, paying the electric bill and what to have for dinner on any given night, care about tigers?
I was thinking such thoughts this morning on my commute to work on Washington, D.C.’s Metro. I love riding the metro because it gives me a solid 20 minutes of reading time. (And believe me, a working mama can get a lot done in 20 minutes.) Today, I was reading Valmik Thapar’s Tiger: The Ultimate Guide. Thapar is a big deal tiger conservationist, mainly associated with a major tiger reserve north of Pench, the one I’m writing about. I like his book because he’s extremely knowledgeable about the species but also because he has so many first-hand encounters with Panthera tigris.
In a section about the family breakup, he writes something that amazed me:
“I often wonder what exactly happens as family groups break up. After watching wild tigers for decades, I remain convinced that you cannot generalize about this or anything else to do with their behavior.”
I don’t know why this should surprise me so. Why should different animal families of the same species reach certain milestones at exactly the same time? The animals certainly have individual traits and personalities, so why shouldn’t their family dynamics be just as diverse?
Before reading this, I thought I was writing a story about a tiger family. Now, I realize I’m writing a story about THIS particular tiger family—and the distinction is important. For example, while my tigress may not associate with the father of her cubs (she doesn’t as far as we can tell), some tigress actually do. While my tigress leaves the cubs for days in search of a meal or to lure threats away from her young, other tiger mothers make a different calculation. Such divergent actions point to the fact that female tigers think, decide and act upon information in their environment and weigh the effect their choice will have on their offspring.
Very much like a human mother. Hmm.
Once I started thinking about this tigress as an individual, her story looked different to me. Writing a tale of one individual—any individual— in the context of the wide world is far more interesting than writing about a representation for an entire species.
What a difference a commute to work makes.