A monstrous great brute of a heron

Here’s a quick book-reading update! We’ve been reading Swiss Family Robinson lately, continuing our nautical theme. Moomin’s also re-reading Swallows and Amazons, and he’s well into The Edge Chronicles, Volume 2. He read a volume of the Moomintroll comics, some Lightning Thief books, and a lot of other fantasy novels that I can’t remember.

In Swiss Family Robinson we are mostly remarking on how the family either kills or tames every animal or fish or bird they see. They see something cute? KILL!!! Use its guts! Eat its liver! Chop it to bits and feed it to another animal! Pierce its nose and ride it! If it’s a tree, chop it down after a learned discourse upon its uses!

Today we imagined living on Bair Island just across the harbor but without any Civilization. We couldn’t build a boat out of wood, because there aren’t any trees there. We would eat raw shellfish, making our own small shell mound, and we’d make a canoe from dried marsh grasses and reeds, like the Miwok or maybe it was the Ohlone. Ducks would not be cute or beautiful to us anymore. They would be FOOD.

This would not be a beautiful great blue heron. It would be a vile, smelly, monstrous great brute of a heron, a bird of prey, competing with us for fish. We would kill it and make a really nice hat and fletch some arrows.

great blue heron

(Instead of floating by it silently for half an hour, staring and waiting, like we did the other day in our kayaks.)

I explained to Moomin one night recently that Swiss Family Robinson is totally my fantasy. He was like, “WHAT? Why? Do you really like the idea of slaying every possible animal and civilizing every kind of natural beauty without even appreciating it?” Me: No! I like the idea of having a pack of completely obedient children working for me 14 hours a day without complaining, and in between, they say things like, “Oh, Mother! Tell me again about the natural history of the teeth of the agouti! What a fascinating lecture!” At that Moomin laughed so hard he fell over and rolled around on the floor rather like a cartoon of a laughing child.

I realized on reading Swiss Family Robinson aloud, somewhere deep into a tree-chopping chapter, that this book is the source of my knowledge about turpentine coming from pine trees. When I was in kindergarten, a relative who was a child psychologist gave me some kind of IQ test meant for small children, with blocks that were somehow math-y, and shapes and a series of questions of increasing difficulty, which I think were supposed to end when you missed a particular number of them in a row. I remember enjoying the tests and questions. But then disaster struck at the question about where turpentine comes from. I said from pine trees, and she got mad, saying that I must have cheated or looked at the answers and she wasn’t going any further with the test. Though I told her I had read it somewhere, who knew where!? NOW I KNOW WHERE. Oh, the outrage! Unfairly judged! That sort of thing happened a lot. At that age I was reading a bunch of “kids’ classics” including this, Black Beauty, Heidi, and so on. The moral of the story is: don’t piss off 5 year olds, for they are unsubtle and slow to anger, and will blog about you many years later.

We started reading Robin Hood, but I might not continue with it and instead will move on to Kidnapped, which I love because it moves so quickly from event to event, disaster to disaster, covering a lot of ground — and because of how David and Alan become friends and judge each others’ characters. I wonder if Moomin will like it? It might be too intense and bloodthirsty.


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