Safari Africa: a Hemingway Adventure at Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, Illinois
November 3, 2006
By Redd F. Griffin, Past chairman and a founding director of The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park
Part I -- On the bus from the Discovery Center to Habitat Africa
Thank you for joining us on our “Safari Africa: A Hemingway Adventure.” Our route winds through worlds of reality and imagination. Our trip begins in the Des Plaines River Valley’s woods and fields. The river flows through dense forest just east of us. Author Ernest Hemingway was born in this valley in 1899. Brookfield Zoo began here in 1934. Our first destination is “Habitat Africa.” Here African animals live in settings that make visitors feel as if they were there. Hemingway’s stories do the same for their readers, conveying to them, as he would say, “how it was.” It was in this valley in the early 1900’s that young Ernest began acquiring the knowledge and skills he would one day need in Africa. Here his father prepared him to hike, camp, fish and hunt. He taught him to closely observe animals and their habitats. His mother made him aware of how life and art affect people’s feelings. Later, Hemingway would apply these lessons in writing his observations to make people feel what he felt. Ernest learned about animals around the world from books and magazines at home in Oak Park and exhibits in Chicago’s Field Museum. At two, he drew a giraffe as a diagonal line crooked at the end--getting to the essence of his subject, as he did in his later writing. A half century later, a giraffe photo appeared above his Look magazine story on his second African safari. In the early 1930’s, when Brookfield Zoo was founded, Hemingway had gone on his first African safari to hunt and to write about what he saw. The settings of his adventures included the plain which the Masai called Serengeti, meaning “wide open space;” the kopjes, which is what the Afrikaners call the low rock outcroppings rising above the Plain; and Africa’s tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro, which the Masai called “the House of God.” At the upcoming exhibit, we can learn from these creatures and their habitats, as Ernest did. In its kopje environment are superb starlings, lilac breasted rollers, red bishop weavers, dwarf mongooses and pancake tortoises. Giraffes, subjects of Hemingway’s art, tower, like Kilimanjaro, above the rest. They winter at the kopje and summer on the savannah and the waterhole to its north and east. One animal lives at the Habitat much as its relatives do in the steep rocks of Kilimanjaro. The klipspringer, a sure-footed antelope, often stands motionless, looking out for its mate for life. Its devotion suggests metaphors in Hemingway’s stories. Here creatures’ observable qualities make readers aware of more abstract spiritual truths that he considered “impalpable.” The hyrax is another animal found near Kilimanjaro. It is a minuscule relative of the elephant. People craving its fur threatened its extinction, like many of the Zoo’s vanishing species. Now please enjoy the sights, sounds, food and drink in this Hemingway Adventure—a safari to discover his Africa.
Part II -- On the bus from Habitat Africa Back to the Discovery Center Past the Theodore Roosevelt Fountain and Gardens
In young Ernest Hemingway’s days in this valley, he enjoyed fishing and hunting for sport. Decades later, he described his initiation six miles north of here in this passage from a 1935 article in Esquire magazine: “You can remember the miracle it seemed when you hit your first pheasant when he roared up from under your feet to top a sweet briar thicket and fell with his wings pounding….” One of Ernest’s boyhood heroes, Theodore Roosevelt, also began hunting as a boy. He, like Ernest, had a mini-museum of animal specimens. As adults, they both lived the “strenuous life” Theodore advocated. They pursued fish and game in the American West, Latin America and Africa. Roosevelt and his party on an African safari in 1909 killed more than a thousand animals. The animals were then displayed in museums, which was a sign that Roosevelt’s interest in animals went beyond hunting them. He became deeply concerned when he saw whole species vanishing. He described the American bison, once forming herds in Texas a mile wide, being reduced to less than a thousand in the whole United States. He saw flocks of migrating passenger pigeons that once eclipsed the sun become extinct. Roosevelt was concerned about not only losing animals, but their habitats, which people needed to learn from and enjoy. He wrote to the nation’s governors and 500 most influential men, as follows: "It seems time for the country to take account of its natural resources and to inquire how long they are likely to last." Roosevelt, as President, urged Congress establish the U. S. Forest Service in 1905 to manage the nation’s woodlands. He set aside 194 million acres of land for national parks and nature preserves. Brookfield Zoo has long shared Roosevelt’s concern to preserve animal species and the natural world they live in. In 1954, the year Hemingway returned from his second safari, the Zoo dedicated the Theodore Roosevelt Fountain and Gardens as its centerpiece. The gardens honor his appreciation of indigenous flora with one and a half acres of 23,000 perennial wildflowers. Eight hundred flowering trees and shrubs were added to four areas nearby. Animal sculptures and Roosevelt’s messages on conservation appear in the garden area. Roosevelt’s legacy can also be found in his writing about nature and its preservation. Besides numerous articles, he wrote eighteen books that included several on ranching, exploration and wildlife. A quarter of a century after Roosevelt went to Africa, Hemingway made his first of two safaris there from 1933 to 1934. His second was from 1953 to 1954. Both were led by Philip Percival, the same man who accompanied Roosevelt as one of his great white hunters in 1909. Ernest’s son, Patrick, accompanied him on the second safari, and taught wildlife management in Africa for many years. In 1999, he edited and published True at First Light, a novel based on the first safari. Patrick, a member of our Foundation’s Advisory Board, was told of our safari tonight, and signed his book for our auction. Hemingway shared Roosevelt’s concern about the loss of natural environments in this passage from the Esquire article mentioned earlier. Ernest wrote about what he found when he returned decades later to sites he prized in the Des Plaines Valley: “I came by there five years ago and…there was a hot dog place and filling station and the north prairie where we…skated on the sloughs when they froze in the winter, was all a subdivision of mean houses, and in the town…they had cut down the oak trees and built an apartment house close out against the street.” That world whose changes are increasingly familiar today is six miles north of us. How have things changed there since these transformations nearly eighty years ago? And how should those who care deal with the prospect of more changes to come? Hemingway and Roosevelt offer us hope—and guidance. Their most durable trophies from their adventures in Africa and elsewhere are not animal specimens, heads and pelts; but laws, organizations, lands set aside and published works that are still impacting generations after them. Places like Brookfield Zoo continue the tradition. At its Discovery Center, people of all ages study animals and the natural world as Hemingway and Roosevelt did. If the Center and the Zoo deepen people’s awareness of that world, can they save more of it? Now the safari continues to the Discovery Center for a brief program, dinner, dancing and auctions.
Part III. Program at the Discovery Center
Ernest Hemingway, like Theodore Roosevelt, wrote prolifically about animals and his life in the wild, and specifically in Africa. While Hemingway’s writing did not focus as much on conservation as Roosevelt’s did, he may have promoted it indirectly by moving his readers to care more about the natural world. Hemingway through his journalistic discipline and poetic sensitivity presents richer, fuller encounters with what he writes about. He describes what is happening in the world to awaken authentic feelings in his readers. This comes through two excerpts from stories published in 1936 based on Hemingway’s first safari. These passages frame Africa’s natural world from the Serengeti to Kilimanjaro. In this passage from “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Hemingway manages to lead his readers into the mind of a wounded lion—a very different kind of safari. “The lion still stood looking majestically and coolly toward [Macomber]….he turned his heavy head and swung away toward the cover of the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a…solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach. He trotted, heavy, big footed, swinging wounded full-bellied, through the trees toward the tall grass and cover…. In this second passage, the epigraph of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Hemingway goes from empathizing with the inner life of a lion to contemplating the mysteries of a mountain summit. Here he uses pure facts to evoke a poetic and spiritual vision on a safari to the boundless. “Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai, ‘Ngaje Ngai,’ the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” Could such safaris of empathy and awe, lead people to care more deeply about the natural world, and work harder to conserve it? Readers of Hemingway’s writings on Africa’s natural world have been moved to follow his trail there. Among them are Allan Baldwin, president of our foundation and his wife, Jan, who have brought video clips from their safari, including their long climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro. This was a feat both Roosevelt and Hemingway could applaud as “strenuous.” Jennifer Wheeler, our former executive director, visited sites familiar to Hemingway with staffers of Chicago’s Field Museum whose African exhibits had informed and inspired the young Hemingway. Her videos to be shown this evening offer a contemplative view of things such as Hemingway often brought to nature. We hope you enjoy these visual treats along with your dinner this evening.
©2006 Redd F. Griffin, All rights reserved.