The Rogue Walrus
My favourite is Sally Carrighar, whose books were published in the 50's and 60's. Her knowledge is stunning. She writes in detail about animals from great whales, to miniscule ocean living shrimp. She describes their lives in ways that the reader feels close to the animals, just as we feel for human characters in the stories we read. She's unafraid to show the animals' emotion, which is a real plus for me. I don't appreciate nature writers who insist on depicting animals as emotionless beings who operate strictly on instinct. Sally Carrighar has found a perfect balance. The animals she writes about are real. They are obviously natural and animal, she doesn't "humanise" them, but she shows their maternal feelings, their love displays, their tension, rage, terror. She describes their methods of evading predators, or, in the case of predators - their strategies for capturing prey. The animals are marvelously intelligent as they call upon their aquired knowledge to survive another day.
The scenery description is breathtaking. She has a thorough knowledge of what takes place in all the seasons. She describes the process of ice floes breaking and crashing down river, seeds bursting open underground, currents undercutting the banks of rivers to expose the roots of trees growing along the shores. The whole thing is a scrumptious smorgasboard of NATURE. Reading her books, I always get the sense of digging into a decadently healthy banquet. All the while, I'm learning facts about Mother Earth and her creatures. Sally is the ultimate teacher.
The book I'm re-reading now (for the dozenth time), is called Icebound Summer. It covers the time of ice breakup in Alaska. Each chapter showcases a different animal, and what happened to it during the few days that make up the timeline in this book. A lemming, a beluga whale, a hair seal, an Arctic fox, a loon, an Arctic tern.... their stories are fascinating and often heartbreaking. I'll tell you about one of them - a rogue walrus.
Walrus live on clams. Their bodies are perfectly built so that they can balance on their head, scraping the ocean floor for the tasty molusks that make up their diet. For the first two years of a young walrus's life, it does not develop tusks, and so it can't dig up the shellfish and must depend on its mother's milk for nourishment. If its mother is killed during these first two years, the little walrus will likely die for lack of food. The motherless animal starves to death surrounded by food, because it does not yet possess tusks.
Some orphaned walrus manage to find a horrific way to survive. They become cannibals. These are called rogue walrus. Through accident, or driven by desperate hunger, they discover that they can kill and eat other seals. Over time they hone their predatory skills as best they can. Their bodies are not built for agility - they are suited for balancing on their heads and scraping up their dinner from the sea floor. They are not intended for rushing after swift prey, but these rogue walrus do their best to stay alive. They use all their skills to do what does not come naturally to their kind.
Because of their diet of flesh and blood, they grow much larger than others of their kind. Their tusks, instead of growing long and curved downward, remain short and curved to either side. Over time, they take on the odour of a meat eating predator. The other, more natural walrus whose own milder scent is that of an animal whose diet consists of bland foods, smell the difference, and avoid the poor, lonely rogue. They know that the rogue will kill their young, and so they refuse to allow him anywhere near. He becomes an outcast. The price of his survival after the untimely death of his mother is a lonely, solitary life. The rogue will never mate, or lay with companions on the ice, or play with others. It's mood is rarely calm. Rage and frustration rule its existance.
Natural walrus who live to old age, enjoy their golden years in lazy companionship with others who have lived as long. No longer making the difficult and dangerous passage North with the rest of the herd, the old ones stay in one place where food is plentiful, and their days can be spent relaxing in the sun. Like octogenarians taking their retirement in Florida, these fortunate beasts live out their remaining days. Not so for the poor rogue. He has no friends, and must continue to hunt for prey, forcing his aging body into feats it was never meant to accomplish. It is a tragically sad life for the rogue walrus.