2021 “MAKING FRIENDS WITH ANIMALS” Calendar – February Story

This post and photo are dedicated to Pamela Mary (Newel) Sellers, May 21, 1925 – November 11, 2020

Harimau Kayu, who adores his Keepers

Same to you, buddy!

As I mentioned in last month’s blog post, I chose most of the featured animals in my 2020 calendar based on whether I had never (or almost never) written about them before. One of the exceptions to this was my photo of Vasili, because I had wanted for quite some time to capture one of the tigers lying in the water and, having finally done so, wasn’t about to waste the opportunity to share it widely as soon as possible. And thank goodness I did, as my first story will show you. And thank goodness I have that first story to tell you, because as much as I have written about the penguins in previous years, I have probably written about our two species of tiger even more, and most of those posts have centred on our two gorgeous Sumatran tigers: Kemala (featured in 2019 and 2016) and Hari (2017 and now again this year). The only reason I haven’t written about them more often, in fact, is because neither couple has had any babies. Yet. So I was genuinely concerned about filling an entire blog post this time around without repeating myself, until a bittersweet story fell right into my lap, one which I am recounting with the blessing of my good friend, Tim Sellers.

Pam Sellers and her tiger

The woman in the photo is Pam Sellers, Tim’s mom. Every year since I first started selling these calendars he has bought one for her and asked me to personalize it on the back. And every year I addressed my comments to my “biggest fan” and probably the “earliest adopter” next to my buddy, Adam Socha, who encouraged me to sell them in the first place. Tim, for his part, took a chunk of my first year’s batch and worked his networking magic in selling them to a great many of his own contacts, for which I am grateful to this day because there’s no telling whether I would have continued or not had it not been for that bulk of sales (which I don’t have at hand, but my recollection is nearly 25% of the total sales were directly due to Tim). Take a close look at this photo, taken by Nora, Tim’s sister. First, observe the beautiful, whimsical smile on Pam’s face. Now note the month showing on the calendar. Vasili’s photo was the featured shot for August of last year, not October. When Tim made his annual purchase for his mom, he mentioned that she was so in love with that shot she wouldn’t let anyone change to the next animal. Because nobody wanted the calendar to say “August” for the rest of the year, I imagine her kids simply tore the following pages out as the months changed, so that Vasili was featured in August, September, October, and November.

Pam Sellers: A Portrait

Tragically, however, it didn’t have to be done for December as Pam passed away on November 11 (which happened to be the fourth anniversary of my dad’s passing). I offered to buy back this year’s calendar from Tim, but he wouldn’t hear of it, saying that he would, “keep the calendar forever,” in part because the note I had written for her was put there before she died. Because I was already aware of her health issues, I chose to put Hari’s photo as early in this year’s calendar as I possibly could (I probably would have placed it in November otherwise) to maximize the opportunity for Pam to be able to see it. I’m pleased Tim and his wife, Hedy will be able to have it, though, and I hope this month it brings them wonderful memories of his mom. Her funeral service took place on November 21, and remains to this point in time the only virtual service I have ever attended. It was magnificent and Pam was lovingly and brilliantly eulogized by two of her children, Tim and Nora. I wrote a short piece about her on Facebook the day before her funeral in which I mentioned that the Sellers family has always brought to my mind the Glass family from JD Salinger’s novels, and I think the comparison is a very apt one, indeed.

Of course, now I wish I had made a special calendar for Tim that had nothing but tigers in it – or even just this shot of Hari for every month. But I very recently heard another story concerning that very same photo of Vasili from last year, and this one is along very similar lines, spiritually.

Breathtakingly handsome

Whenever I have to mail a calendar or several in the fall, I visit the same Post Office at our local Shoppers Drug Mart. Over the years I have become good friends with the lady who most often is the one at the counter, and she is such a great help with these mailings that I began, a couple of years ago, to set aside a calendar to give her (usually one of the “sample” I had been showing around, but she has never been bothered about it not being “pristine” when I give it to her). When I gave her the 2020 calendar late in 2019, she remarked that she really hoped it had “another beautiful tiger picture in it,” because they are her favourite animals. I assured her it did, and flipped the pages to show her the Vasili photo, which made her gasp audibly, which in turn delighted me immensely. I had more or less forgotten about that encounter through all the troubles of the past year, until I saw her in the late summer just by chance and she reminded me of how much she loved that shot. I told her there definitely would be another one in the 2021 calendar and she was very pleased to hear this. When the time came to give her her copy, mid-December or so, she was too busy to look at it right away and it wasn’t until mid-January of this year that I received her feedback on the shot of Hari. She told me she thought was “amazing,” and then proceeded to tell me something that stunned me.

Kemala’s favourite toy; those eyes

My friend reminded me that her religion is Hindu, and told me that she therefore has a prayer room set up in her home. She explained that she had set it up in a particular way that would bring her peace, joy, and spirituality when she was praying. And then she told me that she had taken last year’s photo of Vasili from the calendar and placed it on the wall so that she would be able to always see it during prayers. She told me this like it was just an offhanded remark, but I can assure you it very nearly made me cry when I heard it. What an incredible testament to the power of these amazing creatures, and to know that I have had such a profound effect on her spiritual life… well, I am honestly still processing that information. I have learned in the past few months, through this news and that of Tim’s mom’s steadfast refusal to let anyone change the picture on her wall, that one might think they have some idea of the impact they might have on others’ lives, but at the end of the day, the reality is much, much deeper than could even be imagined. I love taking these photos; I love spending hours with the animals in order to get them to relax and connect with me before I get the shots; and I love sharing this love with others whether in calendar form, Facebook album, Instagram post, or simply on my phone in person. I have had tremendously positive feedback in general for my calendars over the years – and for my photos in general – and I am proud of this, but I often try to deflect it, simply because I tend to not believe my own “press.” But these two bits of information – incredibly, centred on the same photo – have touched me very deeply and I feel blessed to have had this happen in the midst of such a difficult time in all of our lives. The lives you touch – and the way you touch them with your web of contacts – are always exponentially more affected by you than you will truly ever know. I guess the message here is simply: do what you’re doing and never feel you’re shouting into the wind. Create, share, reach out, and know that there is certainly somebody who is profoundly moved in unexpected ways – and you might never know it.

The original shot before I cropped it

I have just realized that I am pretty much at the end of this post but have not yet told you the story of the shot of the month. The photo was taken as the Zoo was about to close and I was on my way out, exactly one week before the first lockdown hit us, in March of last year. (There must have been something about the light that day, because next month’s photo was taken earlier that afternoon.) I had paused in front of Hari’s enclosure for a few minutes as he was lying out in front of his den, relaxing and enjoying the cool temperature and relative quiet of the Zoo at that moment (little did any of us know). Because it was time to shift into the house for the night, a Keeper (Sarah) suddenly called out to him from across the boardwalk and behind the northern enclosure. And because Hari adores Sarah, he was instantly alert and looking to see where she was, and what she wanted. This shot captures that moment, with the interest and even devotion written all over his face, and then the next instant, he was gone, off to pass through the walkway between his yard and the house. Luckily, I knew the moment was coming because both of us had heard Sarah in the house just a couple of minutes earlier, so I was able to be ready to capture this expression on his face. I was extremely pleased with the results when I got home and was able to see the photo on my PC monitor.

Beautiful Kemala

Well, I think I’d better wrap it up here. After all, there’s probably a better than even chance that I’ll be using another tiger photo next year and I don’t want to use up every one of my stories, just in case. I will just say this: that chance will shoot up to 100% if Vasili and Mazy, who have been breeding quite a bit while they’ve had so much peace and quiet (we’ve been on the second lockdown since November 23 with no true end in sight), produce a striped bundle of joy, or two, or three… In fact, if that were to happen there’s a non-zero chance that I would make a whole calendar just out of shots of those adorable fuzzballs. Ha ha ha! No, seriously. Don’t think I wouldn’t. In the meantime, I’ll put together a small collage of photos of Hari and Kemala taken since the last time one of them was featured, in September 2019. And I’ll thank you, as always, for your support, for reading this blog, and for being animal lovers in general. The world can never have enough of us. Please join me again in March for that photo I mentioned that was taken the same day as the one of Hari at the top of this post, and let’s keep our fingers tightly crossed that things start to get better and that I might actually set foot in the Zoo again before the anniversary of the first lockdown. See you then!