The Leopard’s Leap

Mrs Brummel named her three children as follows:

1: Lionel Brummel

That was okay, nobody minded, nothing strange about that. Her husband continued to nod over his newspaper like a genteel, old-fashioned toy in the corner.

2: The next son she named Tiger T. Brummel. The T. didn’t stand for anything; she just liked the sound of it. People said it was a bit much, but Mr Brummel, in his way of ignoring the world and its more frivolous permutations, paid them no heed.

Mrs Brummel was just getting into her stride

3: The next child, a daughter, was named Ocelotta Edwardina Summerglow Brummel. People scratched their heads and talked behind their hands. And in some countries, of course, it would not be allowed; Mrs. Brummel had read that in Germany, for example, you have to name your daughters things like ‘Irmtraut’ and ‘Edeltraut,’ from an approved list. But in little Deerpath Meadows, Kentucky, there were no such strictures.

Still, people talked.

“Poor child,” they said, and, “If she were mine, she’d be named Kayleigh Tiffani! Good solid names!”

And so Lionel, Tiger, and Lottie played their childhood away amongst the fruit trees and streams and wildflowers of their yard and the countryside around the little town; and Mrs Brummel took courage from the lack of retribution for the unusual names, and began to branch out.

She decided that when her children grew up they would start a Big Cat and Poetry Sanctuary. Her theory, contested by no-one, was that both of these were endangered species; and it was time to put them under the same roof, so to speak, and save them both from extinction.

Mrs Mary Lynn Brummel (she’d never forgiven her parents) read aloud, of course, to her children each evening before she put them to bed. And so they imbibed The Highwayman, and Overheard in a Salt Marsh, and Jabberwocky, as surely as they ate corn on the cob, with much buttery smunching, from the garden; and crunchy cucumbers, and little sweet-tart red tomatoes like Christmas tree baubles, and long, yellow, slightly-hairy squashes smelling wonderfully of leaf and earth and air; alive as hands when one’s own harvesting hand clasped one.

…For Mr Brummel, in all his absent distraction, nevertheless loved to garden; and in long summer evenings and hot muggy weekends he built raised beds and fenced them against deer and rabbits, and staked up his vines and admired his busy cauliflowers and heavenly sweetpeas and strutting sunflowers too – for he did not disdain to grow flowers.

And Mrs Brummel had much to cook with, and much to delight her eye. And so she gazed on Mr Brummel a little more fondly; for he had measured up, despite his silence; and her exacting nature found him plausible again.

There was a Big Cat Preserve in Arkansas, and every year the family would pack their SUV with sun hats and coolers and sweating glass bottles of water (for Mrs Brummel did not approve of plastic ones) and off they would go to observe the pacing lions, the climbing ocelots, the leaping cheetahs. And when they returned in the evening to the wood-sided motel under the ticky hardwoods, Mrs Brummel would set the children the task of writing about what they had seen. She’d make it a point too that they would picnic by a stream, and frolic in it in their bathing suits; and then, after a nap, they’d write about that; and they would, each trip, view a sunset and also a sunrise, and write about these. And each year they visited a different tourist attraction: Hot Springs, Arkansas; Garnet Hollow, a mine for semi-precious stones (just overturned dirt, really, and people in baseball caps with sieves, who’d paid $10 for the privilege) – or whatever they found along the way – a particularly high waterfall; or, once, the birthplace of that most joyous and earthy raconteur, Mark Twain, in Hannibal, Missouri – and the three children, like good pupils, set about writing on what they’d seen.

And Mrs Brummel kept these writings, and compared them year by year, to see how each child was doing in its own self (for she could feel this out from their prose or verses,) and how he or she was coming along in skills and inspirations, spelling and grammar and penmanship.

It is true that in the normal schools, which the children were obliged to attend, they got good grades in English; and Mrs Brummel insisted that each studied another language too – though these were hard to come by, and often needed separate tutors, which the Brummels could just barely afford.

And so the years went on; and eventually Lionel decided to study to be a veterinarian; and Tiger chose to be a forest ranger; and Lottie opted to become a chocolate-maker and, yes, a free-lance writer on subjects far and wide. She wrote about bridges, and ports, and satellites, and algae; about cat-habits, and kindergartens, and peonies, and WWII airplanes. And such was the deftness of her prose that she was published widely, and she flourished.

But still the mother’s precise dream was yet unlived by her children; and none of them was precisely a poet. They were happy and well-fed, and by and by they married and each begot children, and those children tumbled in their gardens with cats and large wheeled toys, while their harried mothers took a break.

And so it was that one day Mary Lynn Brummel sat by herself in the porch swing and idly looked out over her fecund homestead. Mr Brummel was away fishing (for he had retired,) and the hired girl was having a day off (for Mrs Brummel differed from her neighbors in that she indulged herself and had Help.) And as she gazed out over the misty grasses, the fruit-hung leafy tees, the near hills …she had an epiphany. It struck her like a cool spring of water suddenly arising in her breastbone and spreading into her throat; enthralling her tongue with its clean clear taste of nothing-and-everything…

”It is I who must go find tigers, where they sprang from! I who would write about them! I who will go to where ocelots live, and I who will seek lions in their natural habitat!” And as she sat, with the joy of her discovery swelling in her like music over fields of corn, she had a further understanding: “…and I who will have a different name!” For a name is the briefest, most succinct poetry of all.

And so it came to pass that Mrs Mary Lynn Brummel set out on her travels at last. She went here and she went there, she petted half-captive tigers in Thailand and listened to them purr, and marvelled at spotted jungle-cats in Brazil; and always she wrote – sometimes prose, sometimes poems, and sometimes prose-poems. And she enjoyed herself hugely, and carried her work around with her in a special cloth folder in her backpack.

One evening, just near dusk, she found herself beside a tall chain-link fence in a wooded parkland up in the foothills of the Himalayas. Beside her her host, a Colonel in the Indian Army, was discoursing on the marvels to be found in the Nature Preserve just beyond the fence – for all sorts of fauna lived there, bear and deer and leopard, owl and monkey; and much flora too of course – rhododendron and pine and dewy orchid, and daisy and escaped hollyhock and wild rose. And the Colonel, a shortish man with a fine thick grey mustache, well-pressed in his khakis and upright in his bearing, pointed into the dusky interior of the woods behind the fence. “Ah!” he exclaimed. “See, there! See! There is a fellow!”

Mrs Brummel raised her camera – for of course she photographed the beauties she saw, the striped fur and the gleaming or covert eyes of the felines she discovered – and pressed its long snout between the fence-wires through a hole just the right size. And she peered – and there, looking over his shoulder at them, was a large leopard, spotted and slouching, its rounded ears twitching, its muzzle opening slightly in what might be a snarl, so that she could just glimpse the pink.

And then suddenly, all in an instant, the leopard had covered the distance between them and had leapt and hurled his body, the whole side of himself, right against the fence, smashing the camera back through the opening! And what a grimace he wore, and how quickly he moved and with what force he pranged into the fence, so that it bulged back towards the two people, and then righted itself when the leopard slid away again, sneering and hissing, and slunk back with royal aplomb into the shadows!

Mary Lynn Brummel was much shocked. The impact, so near, had knocked the breath from her, and she bent over, unable to think or to rise. The Colonel was laughing, but he hastened then to her side and led her down to his little white-washed cottage among others in straight rows on a shaded green, and summoned a tall turbaned soldier to make some tea. “My dear, my dear, “ he commiserated in his old-fashioned way, “I am sorry that that is all the welcome you were offered! Ha ha ha ha!” For he had been quite thrilled by the action!

Mrs Brummel went back to her hotel that night, half an hour by taxi over the pot-holed roads through the hills, and she lay on her bed in the dark feeling….something, she could not yet say what…as if drilling down in to her being, the place behind the things that people say and do day-by-day. Something about the leap of the beast had reversed the usual direction of her thoughts – next adventure, next big and gorgeous twining, sauntering feline, with its whiskers and its fluid limbs – and sent the energy back towards her own self.

She let this happen, lying in the dark with the sound of a mountain stream coming in the window, and the whole vast looming world of the mountains watching over her silently – and it was as if her whole life she had been waiting for this moment. Waiting to turn away from the beauties and distractions of the outer world, just for a time; and go back in to where she started, and where she would return to; and where even now she truly dwelt.

And so one fine day, in a hill-town not far from that place, at a sort of sanctuary called a ‘meditation center,’ she received from the graceful hostess and her beautiful daughter a new name: Ma Udyata Pritipurvaka, ‘Uplifted in Loving Ecstasy;’ while on the wall behind them all a large photo of a man with luminous, huge and prescient eyes gazed at them with piercing and unanswerable mystery…and a joy of freedom and possibility lifted her up, and made her laugh and weep in turns. And then they all bowed to each other, and danced with their arms above their heads; and then had tea.

And she then began her real journey: to discover the sandy lion, stripeful tiger, brusque and sudden leopard, dappled ocelot, rebel highwayman, veiled and gauzy saltmarsh, ferocious Jabberwocky, within herself; in this thing called ‘meditation’, where, mysteriously, one goes to one place – inside one’s own strange self – to access the whole spring and sprang and sprung of life; and then beyond that – to the one who watches it all. The simple light which had hovered over her Kentucky hills, though she had not seen it; and which sat enthroned in these Himalayan mountains; and which observed each and every animal; plane and ship and tree that she felt herself becoming in her explorations.

And here her writing stopped, for a time; for there was too much to say, and nobody to say it. Or, nothing to say, and too many to speak the words. Or, simply, she could not be bothered, it felt irrelevant to scribble, when her heart was so full and the day so bright and the view so beautiful; and her companions always ready for a long and speechless hug.

But, later, she began again –

And she was happy.

And what did the neighbors say to each other, when she went back to Deerpath Meadows, Kentucky, in the summer when the peaches were ripe and spurted juice down to your elbow when you bit into one? And she, all lit up like a Christmas tree, from within?

“Oh, mmm, yah. Ah saw her las’ week, jus’ for a minute – she looked, you know, thin. But okay, yayuss, she seemed fahn. Don’t ‘spect she’ll stay round here though. Allus was a strange ‘un, when Ah look back. Allus had her head in the clouds. Cain’t live lak that. Thet’s just not how laf is.”

And they nodded to each other in agreement.

And what did Mr Brummel do, he who had been left at the homestead on his lonesome while his wife went gallivanting off to here and there? Was he angry? Had some pleasant widow comforted him? How did he feel when he saw this new Udyata Pritipurvaka, in her drapey cotton clothes in rich, uneven colors?

Did she seize him with joy and kiss him all up and down his face and shoulder? Or did she wait, at a respectful distance, gazing at him, looking into his eyes if he would let her; to see what he would do? Give him space to gather himself?

Did he want to divorce her? Or would he go with her when next she took off into the wide world?

Ah…that’s another story.

2012, Weston, MO