Last evening the gaur returned. On my way to a friend’s house I heard some crunching in the forest leaves and looked up the hill. There stood a group of about ten bison staring down at me, perhaps 50 feet away.
I stared back.
They didn’t move.
I didn’t move.
It’s sort of a gunfight waiting to happen. Who will draw first? Will I yell and charge him or will he snort and charge me? Or will we both start off at the same time? “Yaaaaaah!”
The bull wagged his tail, turned and moved on after his herd.
Armed with camera and some bravado, I returned up the hill. I followed the herd at a distance until they came to a forest clearing. I snapped as many shots of them as I could in the evening light (apologies for the blur and murk: my amateur camera and amateur skills didn’t stand up to the job very well) .
I lay awake most of last night, thinking about the 1-ton beasts hanging around our garden. A man had been recently killed on the Kodaikanal golf course when he saw some gaur, got closer for a photo, and used his flash. The bull didn’t like that at all, and took the matter up with him. I can only imagine the man protested, but the gaur didn’t listen.
I wondered if I went outside and turned on the porch light, what would I see? Would I find a herd of gaur lounging in our deck chairs? I could see their massive heads all turn to me as I switched on the light. And their stares. The frozen moment would last far too long. Would it be best to switch off the light? Hard call.
I began to see versions of my tombstone:
Teacher at Kodaikanal International School
Stomped to death by Bison
Dared to Pester Bison Lounging on His Porch
Yelled “Hey Big Nose!” at a Bull
He forgot to turn off the flash
The last was a little too close to home. Sometimes I do forget to turn off my flash.
Later, I felt a guilty pang about the last blog. Well, it was more of a fear-of-discovery kind of thing. I was reminded of wise words once given to me by a Captain of American Industry:
“Son, never lie about anything that can be independently verified. Do this, and you will walk unmolested though life.”
And he had.
So I worried that one of the readers would get on an airplane, fly to India, drive up the Ghat road and head straight for the old cemetery to verify James McDonald’s gravestone.
I hadn’t remembered it exactly, you see, when I wrote the blog. So I made most of it up.
Yes, for shame, Mr. Purdy.
So this morning, first thing, I got on my motorcycle and drove to the cemetery to find the old gravestone, write a new blog, and come clean about the unintentional mistruth, or the inadvertent obfuscation, or all-but technically accurate gravestone inscription.
The cemetery is suitably on a quiet road, behind a big locked fence. There’s no apparent way to get in (except the obvious), so a little fence climbing is necessary. It occurred to me that trespassing is also a crime; but I didn’t let it cloud my conscience. The gravestone fib was already clouding it and that had to be erased. Up over the fence I went .
The last time I visited, fallen tree branches and leaves littered all the gravestones. No one had been there in years. It was sadly moldering away, a bit of forgotten history. The graves were mostly mid-19th century. Soon after that, a new, bigger church was built on the other side of town. Current residents stayed, but nobody else moved in.
On this visit, the place looked positively tidy. The central memorial to the first Kodai church stood proudly in bright sunshine, new flowers planted around it. Other gravestones seemed to have been tidied up. One broken cross-top had been set back up .
I paused at the grave of a D.C.S. There was no complete name on the stone, either side.
The inscription read:
Missionary of the A.B.C.F.M.
In Southern India.
Born in Boston, U.S.A.
Oct. 27, 1835
Landed at Madras
June 26, 1861
Drowned in the Vaigai River
Nov. 19, 1862
This leaves much to the imagination. Some Hawthornesque tale of betrayal, two husbands, secret love, jealousy, a vision of hair being combed out of a window at night, and a stuttering offer of a boat trip across the Vaigai river, then a struggling missionary pushed from the boat with the tip of an oar.
Many graves had anchors on them. As Kodaikanal is high up in the mountains, and hundreds of kilometers from an ocean, an easy explanation lacked. The names under the anchors were not relocated sailors. A metaphor for feeling “at sea in life?” Perhaps they were Jonahs to the missionaries, people who had to be sacrificed for the common good. Now that’s a mean idea. For shame, Mr. Purdy.
I moved on.
Finally I found the bison gravestone. Someone had recently tried to scratch off the inscription. No, it wasn’t me. Perhaps it was bison, worried about their reputation.
To the Memory of
Dudley Linnel Sedgwick
Third son of the Late William Fellows Sedgwick
Of Cashio Bridge. Watford In the county of Hertford, England.
Who was killed by a bison, whilst shooting in the Pulney Hills
On the 29th of March, 1875 Aged 31.
So I was off a little bit here and there.
The actual means of death is not described. Stomping is too prosaic, too believable. One could imagine the bison, fifteen feet tall standing on his rear legs, challenging Dudley to a duel. One could imagine Dudley sneaking through the forest Elmer-Fudd style (“Ssssh. We’re hunting wabbits”) being tapped on the shoulder from behind by the bison. One could imagine the bull coming home to find his wife and Dudley…. No, on second thought, I don’t want to imagine that.
Poor Dudley. God rest his soul.