Last week, I mentioned a book Paul Fuhrmann forwarded to me for review. I found it so remarkable that I spent most of the night I received it reading the book from cover to cover.
The book is Martin and Susan Tyner’s “Healer of Angels.” The angels of the story are golden eagles and the healer is Martin himself, a falconer and animal rehabilitator. We follow his progress as he grows from a child afraid of birds due to an encounter with a parrot to an adult whose career is associated with wildlife, and especially with large raptors.
His adventures are interesting and often funny, at least in retrospect. In one of them Tyner is asked to bring in frogs for his fourth-grade teacher’s terrarium, but there is no lid on the display and the tiny frogs soon fill the classroom.
In another, between jobs working with birds, he is interviewed for employment at the theme park Lions Unlimited. Here in his words is how that interview unfolded: “We walked over to a large enclosure. Inside were a half-dozen full-grown African lions. The trainer unlatched the gate and we walked inside. He immediately turned around, stepped out of the enclosure and locked the gate behind him leaving me alone with the lions.
“ ‘What are you doing?’ I asked. The trainer replied, ‘You want to be a lion tamer; there are the lions, go train them.’ I protested, ‘This isn’t funny.’ Very seriously he answered, ‘No it’s not. There is a big male coming around behind you. You better do something about it before you get eaten.’ I glanced around, quickly spotting a small, wooden stock cane hanging on the fence. I grabbed the cane, turned and then ran toward the lion swinging the cane and yelling ‘Hah, Hah!’ at the top of my lungs. That lion backed down only to have a second move in from behind, so I went after him as well.
“Understanding that even though these lions each weighed about 400 pounds, when they were standing they were about 4 feet tall. I may have weighed only 160 pounds, but at 5 foot 6 inches, as far as the lions were concerned I was bigger than they were. There was no way with a small wooden cane that I could hurt one of these big cats, but as long as I was bigger, louder and more aggressive, I could back them down. After about 10 minutes, I had all the lions backed off and the head trainer said as he opened the gate, ‘Come on out, you did just fine. You have the job.’ ”
There are many more interesting stories in this book, but there is a subtext that made the stories even more appealing to me. Tyner was born with dyslexia. For many people, this serious learning disability represents an insurmountable problem. But there are examples of people who have overcome it, almost always with the assistance of talented and committed teachers. We are most fortunate to have in this region the Gow School in South Wales. But for every youngster able to get that kind of high-quality professional help, there are hundreds left to their own resources.
In Tyner’s case, his grandmother addressed his problems. Seeing how poorly he was doing in school, she worked tirelessly with him, in the process convincing the youngster that he had gifts that balanced his problems, and that he could succeed.
And indeed he does succeed. With his wife, Susan, he created and now operates the Southwest Wildlife Foundation in Cedar City, Utah, a nature center that not only supports animal rehabilitation and falconry but also provides programs for schools and Scout groups throughout the West. Visit southwestwildlife.org.