From the book jacket (excerpt from Wildflower):
She marveled over the natural world, had such respect for its seasons and cycles, its ability to rejuvenate, reproduce, and sustain itself. She kept meticulous and intricately detailed logbooks, noting the times her recuperating or visiting animals were fed, as well as their activities on the road to survival. . . . She noted when plants on her property came into bloom, when they went to seed, and when various animals bred–not to interfere but to be prepared in case her help was needed. She knew that animals time their birth to the rainy seasons–and in cases of drought, so common in Naivasha, she might have to be there with a helping hand, a pan of water, a warm shelter, or even a nest, which she built in so many trees around her property for the birds that might become unable to build their own. This women who could never have children of her own was serving as midwife to infinite numbers of creatures.
Assisted by some European and African snake catchers, Joan and Alan collected six “good spitters,” according to Joan. Alan came up with the perfect idea for the shot–getting the cobra to spit at Joan. Naturally, Joan was game for it, even knowing that cobras aim for the eyes when they spit, and their venom causes blindness if it is not immediately removed. She bought a pair of glasses with nonreflective lenses, the better for the cobra to see her eyes–two bit bull’s-eyes set in her beautiful face.
. . . Of the six cobras, they settled on “a huge one who had many scales over its eyes,” Joan wrote. Alan held its neck and peeled off its blinders, and when it charged the light boxes and attempted to bite the camera equipment, they knew they’d found the perfect snake for a landmark film.
Alan stepped behind the camera, Joan walked into the frame, and . . . Action! Feeling safe behind her glasses, Joan began to dance, bobbing back and forth, getting the cobra to bob right along with her. Since the light had to be just right to illuminate the stream in full force, they worked within a four-foot radius of the snake, with Alan and an assistant cameraman on one side and Joan on the other. Infuriated by the humans surrounding it, its hood in grand display, the cobra reared to its full three-foot height, opened its maw wide, and unleashed the money shot.
It was glorious. The spit looked like a stream of pure gold against the sunlit savanna. As planned, the venom went straight to the eyeglasses. Not unpredictably, some also went into Joan’s eyes.
She calmly backed up a few steps, pulled out a handkerchief, wiped off the glasses, and dried her eyes. Then she asked Alan if reshoots were required.
They were. Again and again they did the shot, and each time the cobra’s venom found its target. Again and again Joan calmly stepped back to wipe the glasses and her increasingly burning eyes. “Alan says I look like a geisha, white face with red puffy eyes, and it shows on film,” Joan wrote proudly to her mother. Luckily, she avoided any lasting damage to her eyes.
Several years ago, I remember viewing some film footage of the Roots with African animals. If memory serves, the photographer Peter Beard narrated some of the film or was present in the film. It was extraordinary to watch these animals come right up to Joan Root. Hence, my interest in this book I picked up at our local library.
“In January 2006, Joan Root, a sixty-nine-year-old naturalist, Oscar-nominated wildlife filmmaker, and staunch conservationist, was murdered by two masked men armed with an AK-47 shortly after midnight in her bedroom the shore of Kenya’s beautiful Lake Naivasha.”
Posted on November 2, 2009, in Books and tagged Alan Root, books, Joan Root, Kenya, Mark Seal, murdered, non fiction, photographer Peter Beard, reading, Wildflower. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.