June 13, 2014

The Yeti

        Our most recent read-aloud was The Abominables, by Eva Ibbotson, about a family of eccentric yetis fleeing evil tourists and hunters.  I’m sorry to say that we weren’t that thrilled with it; I found its morality painfully heavy-handed, even when for the most part I share her judgments.  I didn’t appreciate being told so very explicitly what was good and what was wicked.  Ibbotson has this tendency in all her books, I think, but in some it's done in a rather charming way - or at least doesn't detract too much from the charm.  This one seemed worse than usual.  However, the book reminded me of this funny little poem about the yeti by John Gardner.

The Yeti is a manlike beast,
Unless, perchance, he doesn't exist.
He walks like a man and has hair on his face,
And rumors persist
That in forests and caves where no one goes,
Or high in the Himalayan snows,
He may still be living.  Nobody knows.
If you meet him and ask him,
     "Are you a Yeti?"
All he can say is, "Maybe."

        This reflects the irritating but amusing circumstance that every exploration into the yeti is always inconclusive.  Last October yetis were much in the news when alleged yeti DNA samples were matched to a prehistoric polar bear.  Might there be an unidentified species of bear lurking in the Himalayas?  That would be cool!  Might this bear explain the legends of the abominable snowman?  All we can say is, “Maybe,” but of course it’s all inconclusive!  Trust poetry to capture the essence of the whole situation.

[Pictures: Yeti stamp from a series with traditional depictions of yetis, from Bhutan, 1966;
Yeti stamp from a series illustrating folk tales, from Bhutan, 1996;  (Images from pibburns).]

Poem from A Child’s Bestiary by John Gardner, 1977.

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