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THE FIRES OF LOHAGHAT

Following in the Tracks of Jim Corbett of India

Charles W. Norris-Brown

March 2020

The Song of the Alaknanda

In the 1980s, a budding, but not very young, anthropologist was on his way into the interior of the Himalayan hills to Joshimath, about as far as you can go on the road before you enter the boundary region with China, then a restricted zone. His first travels took him from Delhi to Haridwar to Rishikesh and up the river to Joshimath through places lik Devaprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandaprayag and Vishnuprayag. These, the five prayags, were located at the confluences of rivers along what is the Ganges below Devaprayag, and above where it is called the Alaknanda. These little towns, as well as other centers along the river were the sites of ancient temples, and all part of a pilgrimage route that ended at the very head of each branch of the Ganges, far up in the Himalayan snowy range.

That budding anthropologist was me, and my research took me into the interior of the modern state of Uttarakhand, to the edge of settlements where the hardy Shauka (Bhotiya) people lived. These people were my research subjects and I would finish a PhD on that work in 1984. Like in many alpine regions, the Shauka would move between winter and summer homes along with their sheep and goats which they took as pack animals between the lower hills and across the passes into Tibet. To Jim Corbett in his book on the Rudraprayag leopard, these were the packmen he met often moving up and down the roads.

As I criss-crossed between this region, known as Garhwal, and that which would become my home base, to the east, at Almora in Kumaon, I would travel across a range of hills to Karnaprayag, and go from there north to Joshimath or down river to Rishikesh. The route across the hills to Karnaprayag went through a small settlement known as Gwaldam. There I spent the night once, now many years ago, and someone suggested that I take a short walk up a hill where I would have a view of the great snowy range of the Himalayas. Climbing, with my back to the view, I settled down on a stone wall and turned around.

There before me, as if covering half the world, in all its sunset orange glory, rose the mountain known as Trishul. Stunned, I began to cry. Trishul: the three pronged trident of Shiva. Even today in my old age, tears still come to my eyes when I think of that view. I understood then, as now, why people of the hills, the Pahari, and so many others of South Asia, when they look upon the mighty range of mountains, believe that they are the abodes of the gods, and thus to try to make a pilgrimage at least once in their lives to pray to those mountain gods at the very sources of the most famous of the rivers.

As Corbett notes in the first pages of his book The Man Eating Leopard of Rudraprayg,

to praise these gods, people came from the plains of India, starting at Haridwar and Rishikesh at the base of the hills and traveled up the river to Rudraprayag, where the Mandakini River flows into the Alaknanda, and thence flows northwest to the shrine at Kedarnath. Or pilgrims proceeded on to Joshimath where the streams veer off again again at Vishnuprayag then northwest to the shrine at Badrinath. These two shrines are some of India’s most famous ones, in the abode of the gods, accessed by roads as challenging today as they were long ago. In Corbett’s time, the bravest of the pilgrims preferred to do the trek barefoot. In the 1980s, a trip from Rishikesh to Rudraprayag would take a matter of hours, in my case, in the local buses, which drove to near the shrines.

It is a landscape, then and now, that makes access a challenge. Small farmsteads still cling to the steep sides of the hills, their Pahari (hills) people eking out a living from terraces which Corbett called a “series of lines across the face of the steep mountains.” Terracing is the only way to combine any flat area for cultivation with a water source by digging out from the hillside and diverting the streams. They maximized what space they could find, even if the terrace was 10 long.

The little hamlets responsible for the terraces could be seen far off on hillsides, and the only way to get there, in Corbett’s day as well as today, is by foot — up and down these steep hillsides, skirting the terraces on narrow dirt paths and on stone stairways.

Once you got to the road, dirt in Corbett’s time, mostly surface now, you could board the many buses and private “taxis” to get to your destination. Then as now, the main roads to Rudraprayag are only so wide and so straight. The hills are high as they rise above the river valley roads clinging to the hillside, with hairpin curves requiring a high degree of skill, especially when trucks, buses and cars meet on those curves.

These hills are “rugged and rough” Corbett wrote, “cut up by innumerable deep ravines and rock cliffs.” In and around these gullies and copses of woodland, the hamlet farmers collect oak leaves and grass for their goats and cattle. These pathways, gullies, and rock outcroppings figure throughout Corbett’s hunting of the man eaters. Victims were either, in the case of Rudraprayag, pilgrims along the main roads, or more generally hapless Pahari who needed to venture out — men, women and children killed while farming a terrace or collecting fodder and dragged off into some ravine. We read often of such ravines and of how Corbett would set up watch in a structure built in one of the oaks.

In the 1980s, I knew about Jim Corbett, but only later bought his books. When I finally did read his work, I knew the scenery, since I also walked those narrow paths, climbed up or down earthen steps from terrace to terrace, sat on stone walls in the homestead courtyards, ventured into gullies where women lopped oak leaves or cut grass beneath mighty pine trees, followed children to a water source to get their buckets filled, clambered up stone steps, and shared in their meager meals of dal and rice.

And Corbett knew the river, the Alaknanda, churling its way down to Rishikesh and, as Ganga Ma, across all of northern India. It is a steady roar in the higher places. Bluish in color, with mighty waves it carries with it the words of the gods from high up in the mountains; carries the words down to share with the world. If the world will listen, it will hear a song begun on the likes of Mount Trishul, carried down its streams, touched by all matters of life, caressing rocks, merging with neighbors — a song from the heart of the earth. If the notes of the river were colors, it would paint a million rainbows.

The Road to Champawat

My travels then took me all over Kumaon — to Muksteshwar, Naintal, and Ranikhet, all in Corbett’s turf, and north to Bageshwar and the interior. But in the 1990s it also took me farther eastward, to the beautiful Talla Desh, one of Corbett’s favorite places, and site of another well-known hunt for a man eater. He praised the beauty of his camp in the terai at Bindukhera, and traveled from Kathgodam via Bareilly and Pilibhit to Tanakpur — — then up the Sardar River separating India and Nepal, all places I visited and would eventually return to. Corbett trekked the route on foot. I rode buses bouncing along sometimes dusty and bumpy roads all over beautiful eastern Kumaon from Tanakpur to Pithoragarh and along the Mahakali from Munsyari far up where the Shauka lived, to Barmdeo. Like Corbett, I heard the barks of the kakhar, the squawks of the pheasant, the whoops of the langur, when I could get off the road and into the homes and pathways of the Paharis.

This eastern part I suspect is still far from the madding crowd with names and places as mysterious as they sound. In the 1980s, it was an area low in tourism since there was not a lot to see as an outsider other than in passing through, as in Rudraprayag, to tourist centers in the high mountains. Officials seemed to be the biggest travelers up and down the roads form Tanakpur to Pithoragarh, the regional government seat. When the cars and buses stop for the night, life returns to the silence of the mountains and the singing of its streams, and I, once in a while back then, spent a night in a hamlet, under heavy covers with bed tea served by a shy young woman in the early morning as people got up to face the day of toil ahead of them.

Both Corbett and I shared the feeling of the mysterious beauty of it all from Lohaghat to Champawat. The people, their terraces, small homesteads, sharing walks along terraces and down into the jungle. There, where people and animal share a world, where bare human footprints share muddy paths with animals of the forest; where anklets jingle in the still air; when langurs bark and tigers call. Men and women with large piles of hay, grass, leaves, or sticks on their heads. Men plowed terraces with water buffalo or cattle, whole families working in the rice paddies. There were the smells of water buffaloes and hay, lopped oak leaves; of milk tea and dal and rice; of hard stone house interiors. A strong and self-sufficient people, the smell of healthy humanity, taste of buffalo milk. The spicy children smell of mischief and head colds, always smiling — almost always, that is. A tear here and there from maybe a little boy who did not get in the picture — saved by the kids who surrounded him and brought him forward. In these farmsteads, no one was turned away, and the guest is “god.”

The Waters of the Kosi

In the 1980s, from my base in Almora, I would often visit Naintal. But by the 1990s, my travels had shifted southward and westward, and by 1999 into that part of the terai ecozone in which Corbett Park lay. My research focus had shifted somewhat away from the people of the hills toward the terai, and in 1999 I set out to start what I thought would be an academic study of the people of the Corbett Park buffer zone. By then, I had read all of Jim Corbett’s books and as part of my 1999 sojourn, paid a visit to his home in Kaladhungi. I had also made contact with The Corbett Foundation (TCF) which had an office just outside the park entrance. My association with them would be a game changer for me.

My intention at that time was to develop an “applied” research project around Corbett Park, the aim of which was to find ways to help save the endangered Bengal Tiger. TCF provided much information and the allowed me to ride around with them in parts of the Corbett buffer zone on both medical visits and visits to look into tiger kills of cattle, the goal of which was to collect data as well as reimburse the villagers so they would not be tempted to kill the tigers.

But I was not happy with my applied anthropology. Much of it had been done before in that region and would in part become the Terai Arc Landscape Project under the guise of already established, and thus financially secure, academic “experts.”

But something wonderful happened. Accompanying TCF took me right into the heart of the buffer zone, to places far from tourists. This took me into places that I had never imagined existed. They were the simple farmers of the flat interior, with almost magical, large homes of grass. There I met them and their children and touched a little bit of their lives.

I had also taken with me some of my art material. I think I was curious to see what watercolor combinations I could use to get the beautiful skin tones of the people. On one of the trips around the buffer zone, I asked if anyone had any better suggestions as to how to help protect the tiger. Seeing my art, someone suggested that I write and illustrate children’s books.

It was an epiphany and struck deep into my soul. Now I could combine what I loved about my field of anthropology with my art, and that with my closeness to the local people whether in the hills or the flat area known as bhabar (where Kaladhungi is located) and the terai. It would also direct me toward sharing my feelings and interpretations around conservation and forests — with the world’s new generations. And last but for me far from least, it liberated me from academia with its identitarian and self-protective politics. No more books on shelves or published articles in rare journals whose only readers were other academics whose only purpose was to secure university status. I felt that my connection with the issues went straight from the hearts of those “small” people I had paid wonderful visits with. In time, my book Did Tiger Take the Rain? was published (my book is now an open source book at https://storyweaver.org.in/stories/99107-did-tiger-take-the-rain).

My book starts out on a day in the terai. It has been exceptionally hot and dry. One day, a tiger crosses the river and walks through one of the village fields. People run in fear and believe that the tiger is an omen — the tiger took the rain. Two little girls decide to set out to ask Tiger why she took the rain. But Tiger did not take the rain after all. Forest degradation can affect the climate cycle of transpiration, evaporation and precipitation. It is a sensitive balance. But most importantly the girls begin to understand that when it rains, it rains on people and tigers alike. We feel the same wind. We all breathe the same air. In the end, they set out to replenish the forest and restore the balance.

In an article from 1936, ten years after his confrontation with the Rudraprayag leopard (“Wild Life in the Village: An Appeal,” Indian Wild Life I(2)), Jim Corbett notes two major adverse things happening at that time in the volatile interface between human and animal/forest. One, was the wanton killing of wild animals. This not only reduced the numbers generally, but, as in all such compounding factors, killing many of the tigers’ prey put pressure on the tigers to seek out easier prey, including human. The second adversity was habitat destruction, and here Corbett lists several, including the effects of Forest Service policy. Again, with the destruction of the forest, the habitat of the tiger and so many, many more species, humans and wild animals are pitted face to face.

Forest degradation and its effects on both humans and animals is part of my book’s theme. But reading Jim Corbett made me even more aware of an empathy for the local people, the front line in the big picture.

There is one scene in Corbett’s story the Muktesar Man-Eater that struck me, not only because I could see and smell the very places on which it was based. It added another, empathetic dimension that no academic research could ever attain. It is the brief account of the meeting between Corbett and little Putli, the brave little girl that delivered her uncle’s cow along paths no one else wandered in fear of the man-eating tiger. She had shown Corbett where a late kill had taken place. Ensuring she was safely home, the rest of the story is about his hunt for the man-eater. This is one example of Corbett’s intimacy with and love for the simple people of the hills. Nor was it only of his touching concern for the safety of Putli. He moved among the people, knew them, loved them, and knew that the first line in the breakdown between humanity and Nature lies among people such as these.

There they have lived for ages among these beautiful hills or in the flat terai. Smoke curling up from home fires boiling water for tea or making food in such mysterious places as Rudraprayag, Champawat, Mukteshwar and Davidhura. In the clear, crisp air of the hills there is the sweet smell of clothing perfumed in smoky corners lit up by the sweet perfume of the fires in far away places such as Lohaghat.

“And, greatest satisfaction of all, at having made a small portion of the earth safe for a brave little girl to walk on” (Jim Corbett “The Muktesar Man-Eater”)

Tiger is loose

 

I know. I know. I am not great at blogging.

Time just flies by. That does not mean that things are not happening. Of my several projects, the one I call Distant Thunder (see this website) is going a little slowly. But that is because I am trying to refine some artistic technique — and bashing my head up against how to incorporate dreams into a narrative. But more on that some other time.

Other things are happening. Tiger (that is, the tiger from my book Did Tiger Take the Rain?) got loose. She just decided to take off into the big, wide world. In reality. I regained the rights, and Tiger and the book are on their way into the open source world of Creative Commons.

There is a lot of information out there on what open source is. Just see Wikipedia (which is itself “open source”). It started out in computer software. In the bigger world that most of us inhabit, like music, education, medicine, science — children’s books — the concept of “open source” is what lies behind the Creative Commons movement.

According to the study Made with Creative Commons:

“The commons is not just about shared resources…A resource is a noun, but to common—to put the resource into the commons—is a verb. [It is a] … social practice of commoning, managing resources in a collective manner with a community of users…Special regard is given to equitable access, use, and sustainability” (Made with Creative Commons, Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchliff Pearson, Cntrl+Alt+Delete Books, Copenhagen, Creative Commons 2017; https://creativecommons.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/made-with-cc.pdf).

A major criteria of the Creative Commons strategy is to bypass the controlling, profit-based capitalist market — to restore the balance in environmental sustainability, personal relations, etc., Their case studies show that the main focus is a “social mission”: “to make the world a better place” through involving the commons — i.e. the public at large. Reaching out to the “commons” can decentralize distribution, ensure access for all, maximize constructive participation, have a global reach, etc..

So how did Tiger get involved with this? A copyright lawyer contacted me to ask if I would be interested in being part of an effort she is spearheading that works to bring regularly published children’s books into the hands of children who would not otherwise be able to afford them. She notes that most of the world is experiencing a virtual a “book hunger” (see Lea Bishop-Shaver (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2694318). If I went along with the idea, putting my book out there under Creative Commons means that the book can be made available to children around the world who would otherwise not be able to afford it. It will be downloaded, copied, printed, distributed and even changed by anyone, virtually the whole world.

Tiger will not directly bring in money through sales. But it never did anyway. So here is the rationale. It is possible that up to one billion children worldwide do not have regular access to books simply because they cannot afford them. Through a Creative Commons license, Tiger has the potential of becoming accessible to thousands of children worldwide.

Can you think of any payback more wonderful than that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to the wind. It tells no lies.

I grew up in the woods of northern Pennsylvania. I was blessed with a feeling of oneness with Nature. That was enhanced by a fascination with the lives of Native Americans whom I could count as my neighbors (Seneca) and who played a role for me through great leaders, in my Boy Scout career (Eagle Scout, Order of the Arrow). Out of this developed a feeling of how it is possible to live in Nature by closely working with it, by not destroying it. I think it was Nature’s destruction that early made me a skeptic. How can “Man” think he is so superior that it is his own ego that he puts on display? And when his own ego is put on display, is it any wonder “truth” is abandoned?

I recently spent almost a month at my family cabin in the woods of northern Pennsylvania. There I focused on the structure of my children’s book Thunder Basin.

After my stay at the cabin, I walked along what is known as the “mall” at Penn State University. As I walked there, I remember being a young skeptic student walking that same route in 1967 — 50 years ago. As a 21-year old, I wanted to find places where I could gain deep knowledge. I still have an essay I wrote back then, parts of which I want to share with you. It reads as follows:

“Suppose that we have approached a thoughtful, erudite young scholar, and have asked him as to why he patterns his educational life such as he does. He may answer that his aim is to learn of the secrets that the earth possesses. His goal in seeking knowledge is to become versed in the affairs of the world, and to pursue the ‘truth’ that lies hidden therein …

[asking about society] But in history, as in the wider realm of which our truth is sought, the logic of the events lies beyond the compiled elements [we recognize]. The locus of truth may lie, for example, in an understanding of the events between those of which we study [. It may lie]  in the behavior of those who created the events … [composing our knowledge. It may lie] in the environment in which the events are staged, in the framework of the society … [which made our] history, perhaps in the direction the events are taking or their predestination, or in a consolidation of all these matters…

Beyond the pine ridge, below the “chin” of Mount Mansfield, is Thunder Basin.

If truth is so elusive in our example of history, then what can be said of the search for the more profound truth?…[T]he whims of men many times are themselves opposed to the aim after which they seek. Many vain attempts by men to grasp truth are hindered by ridiculous adherence to traditional ‘virtues.’ Man seeks condolence, and in his blind adherence to his own petty standards which he originally set up as the absolute morality, finds ease in the solitude of tradition when confronted by facts of truth.”

Where am I some 50 years later? I set out to find “knowledge” and ended up writing a children’s book and working on another. I have tried to belay my skepticism in thinking that the mind of a child can still be the locus of that kind of perception in which the world is seen as a highly connected wonder. In Did Tiger Take the Rain? the girls realize:

“We all live under the same sky…When the sun shines, it shines down on humans and tigers together. When it rains, we share the same rain… We feel the same wind. We breathe the same air…” (p 27).

In Thunder Basin, we are still at that stage in a child’s life when she can rediscover her curiosity, before being throttled into “normality.” Although the obstacle is not so much that of my esoteric 1967 essay, that of “man’s blind adherence to his own petty standards which he originally set up as the absolute morality,” Thunder Basin tries to expose blind adherence to the dictates of a smartphone. It is still no less than adherence of the “whims” of society. For Native Americans, the quintessential character that upsets this complacency is Coyote, the trickster.

Page sketch for Thunder Basin

In my book, the heroine loses her cell phone in the woods and she is suddenly forced to look around her. The objective is to at least provide an alternative world to what she is forced to see on the LCD screen — a world beyond, which she intuitively knows and trickster helps her find: Nature with all its briers and mosquitoes. But also Nature with its unending wonder and beauty.

Snippets of a transition

TB111413Me in Thunder Basin, 2013

First snow fuses together into fluffy big flakes. A snowfall is a real fall, a myriad small flakes like a waterfall; you are immersed in a cold shower that nibbles at your ears and nose.

Vermont. The Green Mountain State. Beautiful, progressive, and friendly.

JuneberryViewJuneberries, from my window, Bellows Falls, Vermont.

I have been filled with two loves. One, is my beloved Vermont. I have lived here for thirteen years.

Vermont, March: The wind picks up in the afternoon and can get stiff towards evening. I heard it while sleeping in my tent, snuggled down into my sleeping bag. And now again, while leaning against a rock at lake’s edge, it brings a chill. It has a voice, like old man of winter of Scandinavian lore, a message brought from some other place, maybe near, maybe far, some message you need to answer. What hint does the wind bring when it says “I do not come alone?”

CHtrail

Vermont, October: A woodpecker picks at a tree nearby. A nuthatch makes its whirling sound. A chipmunk scurries through the leaves. Suddenly, the sun hits the treetops, turning the dull yellow of shadow into a ceiling of gold. It is like turning on a hidden light and the leaves come to life and exude their color. The leaves turned from a strong yellow to a transparent bright yellow. A gentle breeze hushed through the trees. Leaves floated through the air, carried by the wind, lifted gently from the branches where they had lived their lives, and gently placed on the ground on a carpet of color. There, in time, their purpose fulfilled, they would melt into the forest floor.

My second love is the forest of Pennsylvania. My life has changed. I am going there soon. I will be at my cabin to work on my graphic novel. Beyond that is a visit to my daughter in Sweden. Beyond that?

011The porch at my cabin in the Pennsylvania hills.

It is quiet, and it is getting late. Under the trees, the forest is getting dark but the tops are still lit up by a setting sun. In the distance an opening under the hemlocks the sun creates a spot of light and you look that way. You expect to see something move there. Suspense, combining the silence around you, the fading daylight, and the spot of light. A rustling in the leaves sends a chill up your spine. A bird calls. Silence again and you watch that sunlit spot. Evening rolls along and the spot is gone, carried away with the declining sun. It has merged with the darkness of the forest.

What is our attachment to place? How has that formed us?

Early Spring, Pennsylvania 1994

The tops of some trees are turning red
with sweet Spring buds;
On the forest floor, there are patches
of green pushing its delicious color
past the dry amber of last year’s fallen leaves.
The deep blue sky and the sparkling water
in the little streamlets seem to be
manifestations of each other.
As the sun warms away the morning chill,
wafts of sweet leafy odors splash
my face with little puffs of wind.
I am happy I stayed long enough to
be part of this beautiful symphony.

 

Hi again. During the month of April and May 2017 I have some of my art in a display case at the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, Vermont. The theme is how I wrote my book Did Tiger Take the Rain?. Here are some of the things I talk about.

Reading to my daughter long ago from books illustrated by the likes of John Bauer, she and I shared a sense of how text and image interplayed. The wonder of how a child thinks through illustrated books and the belief that I could go there with my art and love of reading background pulled me away from my academic career in anthropology. Bmic career in anthropology, but it was not before the 1990s that I was able to consume as much as I could of the interface between art and writing as in classic texts illustrated by the likes of N. C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Kay Nielsen, Arthur Rackham, John Tenniel, and Charles Robinson. I set out in pursuit to fine tune my own skills in figurative art and watercolor, the foundation of my approach based on the classic masters. It was not until 2011 that I was able to make a trip to Nepal to experience what I used to create my book.

How do you go from an idea, a trip, 1000 photos of children, villages, story tellers, and people working, to create a story?

Since I wanted to be both a writer and illustrator, I needed to be able to both write and draw. The secret: practice and study and practice. Like this:

Practice, practice, study, practice.

Don’t give up.

Boil down what you heard and saw to find a combination of ideas and images that can begin to coalesce into a train of events that make up a story line. For example, during my visit to Nepal, Tharu story tellers told tales that included a tiger, monkeys and jackals. People talked about when the river flooded or dried up, of how the forest had been cut back over many years. One person, Bhadai Tharu, was attacked by a tiger. His face was deeply scarred. But he went on to become one of the best know conservationists in the Bardia Reserve area. His message is that it is not the tiger’s fault. As we cut the forest, we enter the tiger’s domain. We need to protect and replenish the forest.

A story begins to take form. Follow the leads and work, for example, on building up a visual setting with strong characters. Some of this you learn from visiting the site. Other you conjure up in your own mind. For example, the magic of a children’s book allows for talking monkeys. Hidden in the tiger book is also the role played by Jackal, like his cousin Coyote, the proverbial trickster of Native American tradition. He will help you cross the threshold to another world – and help kids fly. Also, for example, Usha, like other Nepali kids, does not do things alone. She needed Anjali. With these two, I was able to let them be the main characters who set out to solve a problem through their own communication and meeting with the other characters in the setting around their village and in the neighboring forest.

How do you develop the story? What were Usha and Anjali supposed to be doing? What problem did they set out to solve? What is the “plot”? Why should I write this book?

Deforestation leading to climate change is the theme.

With the given characters and setting, what is the lived experience that a child could relate to around this theme and still provide both scientific and social knowledge for children as well as incentive for them to get engaged and learn and do more?

Why did it stop raining? Where did the rain go when it was supposed to be there? How will the five main characters living in and around a jungle in Nepal figure that out?

The rain stopped. Tiger wandered away from her home in the forest, crossed the river and approached the village. Something was not right. Did Tiger take the Rain? If not, where did it go?

Let’s find a way to get the question answered. How do you do that? You sit around in cafes, walk streets in a daze, poke at your dinner with a fork, forget to shave, have Usha and her pals follow you around bugging you to move ahead. You get feedback from others.  Don’t give up.

Once you and your characters have come up with what appears to be a logical sequence of conversations and movement around some kind of believable plot, you begin to visualize this in the format of a children’s picture book. That means you need to find a way to combine text with illustration and you need to find optimality in word choice, text length, and coordination with illustrations. That means simplify. It means “show, don’t tell,” to create a story.

Start plotting all of these images and words out in the picture book format of about 32 pages. Make a story board. The one below is a small version of such a thing and is only one of many iterations.

I edited the story board to optimize the final images and to double check that the book as a whole seems well balanced, the images show variety, they follow (if not complement) the story – and to be sure that the children are dressed the same through the story, Anjali has one blue and one yellow hairband and has anklets, both girls have bracelets, and so on. You edit text, refine illustrations, refine the story board, and in time you arrive at something you think is ready.

For me, in the end, I needed to find a method to go from sketch to trial to new illustration. Here is my final image for pages 22 and 23. It started as a drawing to the exact size for the final watercolor. The drawing was traced over to watercolor paper, and finished. The final watercolor was reproduced digitally for publication.

December 29, 2016

Finally, a new blog post. You might have noticed that the last post dated October 24, 2016, just appeared as well. That is because it was somewhere within the website but I did not know how to get it up front. Now with the help of my friend Serenity, I can finally post items again – and learn how to do this myself. Maybe. The photo on the blog page is of Annapurna in the Himalayas seen from Ghorepani 2015.

So, where am I now and what are my hopes for the coming year? For one thing, I am holed up for the winter in a lovely little apartment in Bellows Falls, VT, overlooking the Connecticut River valley, a dam, a canal, and a railroad switch yard. I have my art material out and am working on things on my table which looks out over that view. The trains are so cool. Beyond the yard and train station is a big hill.

What things am I working on? Firstly, I am continuing to build up outreach for my book (Tiger, for short) as a start. That involves reaching out to book stores, schools, etc., with the help of my publisher but also through social media. It also means carrying a book or two around. I sold two in a local diner.

Secondly, I am working on two directions in a follow up to Tiger. Right now there are two possibilities. One is a follow up on what Anjali’s grandfather did when he was a young shaman. There is a story ready, plus preliminary sketches for “Grandfather.” The other is a follow up to what was suggested to me by the Wildlife Institute of India about another tiger conservation story. You read about the latter in my October blog. It is a long way off right now, since it is my hope to raise funding to return to India and Nepal in 2017 to work on that, like Tiger, right there on the spot.

Another direction I am taking right now in my little winter hermitage is appropriately to immerse myself in the Vermont landscape and work towards the publishing of the book on the mountain that I started back in 2009. This includes practicing both watercolor technique (the unforgiving medium) as well as figure studies. There will be a lot of studies of woods scenes as well. Then there will also be the refining of the story itself. That is 50% done. But it is really exciting to be doing this as long as I can keep at it. This story is akin to the theme taken up in the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. That book did not inspire the idea, but it falls within the same challenge of finding story lines about how we fit into our natural environment that can be made into a children’s book. In addition to the book itself, the artwork that comes out of my hermitage, plus other earlier work related to this and to Tiger, will be the focus of a show I am hoping to pull together for a local gallery here. Here is an older image along the theme of the mountain book. What you can probably not read behind the girl is about the birds she hears around her.

birdsongsimage

That show will be in May, so I had better keep my nose to the grind stone. One of the themes in the mountain book is thunder. Here is a snippet from the ongoing draft text. Sarah is the original model for the story’s heroine :

“Suddenly clouds pour in overhead, now light gray and white but there are darker rain clouds behind them as the wind picks up. Distant thunder echoes in the valley. It is getting darker. Big rain drops begin to fall with a sound on the leaves like ripples in a stream – a chorus, each drop its own little song, millions of them singing. A smell of wet leaves passes her nose. Raindrops hit her arms. Just as suddenly as it came, the rain stops and the forest is lit up by bright sunlight. A robin chirps nearby. A limb falls in the forest making a suspicious sound. Somewhere there must be a rainbow, but the trees block it. Sarah thinks that maybe she can climb a tree and see the rainbow.”

 

October 24, 2016

Why is it hot and dry? Two curious Nepali girls embark on a search for answers in a jungle near their home. Did Tiger take the rain?

Far away in Vermont, on a cool but colorful, sunny October 14 I picked up my first box of Did Tiger Take the Rain? – virtually on the doorsteps of Green Writers Press’ office and home near Brattleboro.

I took out a copy for myself right there and held it to my heart. I thought of the trips, the hard work, the sad times and the joy – of days in a jeep, the villages and the wonderful people I met there and those at home who supported, advised, and believed as I put my book together. And now the book is out there. I hope it will be an accessible tool for beginning a conversation on climate change which is equally thought-provoking for children, parents, and teachers.

During the ongoing Brattleboro Literary Festival, I signed my first book: one dedicated to a granddaughter named Kathryn. Kathryn, may Tiger forever be your friend and may you and those of your generation understand Anjali’s message: “When the sun shines, it shines down on humans and tigers together.”

The official book launch was November 11, 2016, at Everyone’s Book Store in Brattleboro, VT. Great questions, and some wonderful kids who, like the adults, were pressed to find the three hidden tigers in the book. Here is a photo. It shows me, two of the kids, and fellow writer Jaimie Scanlon and illustrator Ellen Tumavicus along with their book Ralph Flies the Coop which has been published by Green Writers Press parallel to mine.

booklaunch

Please check out my Facebook page for more specific updates and events as they begin to take shape. By the way, on my Facebook page you will see the following image:

Version 2

This is a pen and ink drawing that shows Mowgli from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book as best as I could render him based on Kipling’s original concept. It is akin to the fantastic images drawn by Robert Ingpen in his illustrations for an edition of that book. Kipling spent some time in India and collected material from an area in Madhya Pradesh through which the Seeonee River flowed. He used that information to model the setting for The Jungle Book. By coincidence, during a visit I made to the Wildlife Institute of India in 2015, I was asked if I would be interested in writing a follow up to Did Tiger Take the Rain? based on the re-introduction of tigers into the Panna Tiger Reserve. The Panna and Pench reserves abut the Seeonee region Kipling used as his backdrop for Mowgli, Bagheera and Baloo and the Seeonee Wolf Pack in The Jungle Book. It is my dream to return to the Panna and Pench Reserves in India as a follow up to my book. And if the Mowgli story were not coincidence enough, Kipling actually wrote The Jungle Book in his then home near Brattleboro, Vermont  where Green Writers Press is located. Let’s hope that the tiger of my book is a modern, safer cousin of the ill-fated Shere Khan.