Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Animal Stories: Clara the Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros's are strange and wondrous creatures with their giant horn, their rough skin and lumbering stride. But in the modern era, we have seen images of the rhinoceros since we were children. A long time ago, in most countries at least, the rhinoceros was truly a legendary beast and a creature of mystery!

One rhinoceros from history was Clara, a rhino from India who was orphaned at a young age when her mother was slayed by hunters. The innocent baby rhino was left helpless to the whims of the world without her mother to care for her. But a man of means and wealth swooped in to rescue the hapless Rhino. The head of the East India Trading company, a man named Albert Jan Sichterman adopted young Clara and tamed her to be a sweet pet rhino. Just as a pet dog or cat would, Clara wandered around Sichterman's property freely. Although Sichterman had the kindness in his heart that motivated him to adopt and nurture Clara, he never formed that unbreakable bond one often does with the animals in their life. So he soon relinquished parenthood of Clara to a boat captain named DouweMout Van Der Meer.

In his days of sailing the seven seas, Van Der Meer likely had much experience with fabulous beasts. On sunny days, he probably saw the whales breaching or the dolphins leaping. On stormy days, he may have seen a giant octopus weave it's menacing tentacles toward his boat. On sleepless nights he may have felt an unnatural jolt of the ship, making his mind wander toward all types of sea monsters likely to lurk under the jostling fathoms of the sea. And Van Der Meer likely respected these creatures. When you are vulnerable to the unpredictability of the natural world, you learn to respect and admire each of it's inhabitants. So embracing Clara into his life was likely easy.

Van Der Meer was a man who loved travel and a man who had a flare for showmanship. He easily turned his new pet Clara into a traveling exhibit, with fans and wonder-seekers flocking to see the kind-hearted giant. They traveled all through Europe together like glamours celebrities. Together they hobnobbed with the rich and famous and indulged the curiosity and excitement of those most down trodden of all.

The world found Clara to be magnificent and fabulous! But what did Clara think? Maybe she found the world magnificent and fabulous herself. Maybe she stared with equal awe and wonder at all the places, people and things she experienced. Maybe she gazed out the windows of he carriage that took her traveling around the world and sighed with a sense of peace. She lived in a world so full of mystery but she was peeling it back and learning a little bit more about it with each trip she made. And although she was a rhino in a human world, she had her constant companion Van Der Meer who treated her like royalty.

Or maybe Clara dreamt of wandering free. Maybe she had the dimmest memories of her life as a normal rhino and longed to follow that path of living in the wild, where she could feel the wind and hear and see the birds and meet other rhinos just like her. Maybe she looked out the window of her carriage at the dimly twinkling stars above and felt as lonely as a pin prick of light traveling countless light years just to be seen briefly before fading away.

Whether Clara stared at her fans with dull-eyed wistfulness or with eyes gleaming with joy, the eyes that stared back at her were full of admiration and mirth. She unleashed a fury of whimsical imaginings in her wake. She was a rough skinned, lumbering and gentle-spirited muse to all that beheld her. She inspired verses of delight by poets, flattering portraits by painters and lively songs by musicians. She inspired curiosity about the world. Her very existence and proximity encouraged those that witnessed her to empathize with a creature so wildly different than themselves. She changed the society of Europe just by being herself- a sweet-natured giantess animal so out of place yet so ready to embrace everything around her. 

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