Monday, September 26, 2011

Goodnight Buffalo!

The soundtrack of today's daily life is composed largely of discordant tones, a cacophony of mechanized techno noise we've grown adept at tuning out with itunes, ipods, ipads, iphones, and other inert media we depend upon to re instill soothing sounds making existence more bearable.

While it's nice to imagine that during the proverbially simpler time of frontier America things were, by nature, a lot more peaceful, it's not necessarily true.  As pioneers settled the Palo Duro Canyon area of Texas, for instance, critters continually punctuated the days and nights with enough noise to keep those wide open spaces wide awake. (Anyone who's lived in the country can attest that animals aren't silent creatures by any means.).

But for one woman especially the sounds permeating life were a welcome treat. For Mary Ann Goodnight, nothing could be sweeter than the symphony she liked to describe as "buffalo music."

Freelance writer Tracey E. Fern's first children's picture book was inspired by Ms. Goodnight's  good works which helped to preserve America's buffalo herds. In her tale, beautifully illustrated by Laren Castillo, Molly (based on Ms. Goodnight) rescues orphaned buffalo babies who somehow escaped their breed's wholesale slaughter by  hunters. 

When i first settled here, hard on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon, I had no company but for the animals. I woke to the reveille of the roosters. I did chores to the choir of the crows. I dreamed to the chorus of the coyotes. Mostly, though, I lived to the music of the buffalo.
I stirred the fire to the huff-huff of buffalo breath clouding the chill dawn. I hoed the garden to the scritch-scritch of buffalo scratching themselves against the cottonwoods. I scrubbed the bedclothes to the slosh and splash of buffalo bulls wallowing in the mud hole. I swept the dugout to the thunder of buffalo as they drifted like a dark cloud across the prairie.
 One day different sounds filled the canyon--the boom and blast of rifles. "What are all them shots?" I asked Charlie. "Buffalo hunters, Molly," he said. "Fixin' to turn a profit on hides and hooves." 
Seemed like every man in Texas was afire to make a fortune in the buffalo business. Day after day, the hunters galloped into the heart of the herd. Shots echoed over the hills and through the hollows from sunup to sundown. And day after day, another hundred or more buffalo lay dead..."How many till they've killed enough?" I asked Charlie as we rode by a mountain of buffalo skulls, tall as ten men. "Guess they figure no matter how many they kill, there's enough to roam these plains forever," Charlie said. But forever came fast. Within six season, the hunters were gone. So was the buffalo music.

Along with her other chores Mary Ann aka Molly rescued orphaned critters. Given her reputation for these good deeds, two scrawny buffalo baby foundlings were brought to her for care for. These were the first of a captive herd which eventually reached one hundred head, some of which she donated to Yellowstone National Park.

The rest, as they say, is history., and gladly a story as engaging and inspiring as it is informative (those who fear history as necessarily dull and dry  will be most pleasantly surprised). Children as young as prekindergarten through second grade as well as those lucky enough to read Buffalo Music with or to them, will learn how one person (and a simple pioneer woman at that!) can truly make a difference in our world.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What is Your Heart's Desire on Valentine's Day??

What could be simpler than celebrating Valentine's Day when you're a little girl?

Sadly, for little Heather life isn't quite as uncomplicated as it might seem to grown up eyes. It's a holiday, but still her mommy has to go off to work, leaving the house early in the morning not to return before it gets dark out.

Her grandmother tries to raise her spirits by engaging her in cookie baking -- together they roll out the dough and cut out animal shaped treats as well as one special heart shaped cookie she'll be able to offer her mom as a Valentine's Day present.

In between baking, grandma and Heather visit the barn to check on Clover the sheep. She has delivered three babies! Two are just fine, but the third one is cold and very still. Alarmed, grandma and Heather carry the wooly babe back to the house, bathing him gently in warm water and drying him in a warm blanket. After reminding grandma about the cookies in the oven, Heather helps out by holding the lamb in her arms by the fire, gently comforting and caring for the helpless critter. The little girl instinctively knows how much the babe needs her to provide the care its mother can't give.

At day's end, the cookies, though brown and crisp, have been salvaged, even the large heart shaped one. Best of all, the baby lamb has begun to show signs of life. When her own Mommy returns home, Heather has an extra special gift to share along with the heart-shaped cookie: the precious new life she helped nurture while Mommy was away.

When asked what they should name the lamb, Heather doesn't miss a beat in answering. She knows exactly what this little miracle of love should be called -- "Valentine".

With beautiful watercolor illustrations and a subtle but substantive storyline, this gently moving tale will warm the heart of the reader and listener alike on Valentine's Day.